Six former Manchester City players we can’t believe are still playing in 2021

Quick Reads
Roque Santa Cruz holding up a Manchester City scarf at the City of Manchester Stadium, July 2009.

There is perhaps no other top-tier club in the world that has undergone such as dramatic transformation over the past 15 years as Manchester City.

As a result of that transformation, there has been a substantial turnover of players.

Some who have come in have gone on to become club legends; Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero. Others, especially those who arrived during the transitional Sven Goran Eriksson, Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini eras, were quickly deemed not good enough and moved on.

Yet some of those who were discarded went on to forge lengthy careers elsewhere and a few of them, to our surprise, are still going strong. We’ve picked out six former City stars it’s hard to believe are still playing professionally in 2021.

Valeri Bojinov

“Our signing of Valeri is another sign of the impact made by Dr Thaksin Shiniwatra and Sven-Goran Eriksson,” said City chief executive Alistair Mackintosh when Bojinov signed from Fiorentina on a four-year deal in 2007. “Valeri is an exciting young player and a great addition to the squad.”

Unfortunately for Bojinov and City, that is not how things panned out. A knee ligament injury less than a month after he signed ruined his first season at the club. An Achilles injury a year later ruined his second. And that was pretty much it.

Eleven appearances over two years were followed by a loan spell at Parma, who signed him permanently in 2010, before selling him a year later and giving rise to a true footballing odyssey.

Bojinov has turned out in Portugal, Switzerland, China, Croatia, for five different clubs in Italy and two in his native Bulgaria, where he is now on his third spell with Levski Sofia, aged 35.

Jo

Jo was meant to be the next big thing when he signed for City in 2008 – a Brazilian striker who’d won his domestic league alongside Carlos Tevez as a teenager and banged in 30 goals in 53 league games in Russia with CSKA.

But Jo, it turned out, liked fizzy pop and disco dancing a darn sight more than he did training sessions in the Manchester drizzle. A dire first season was followed by a loan at Everton, where he very briefly showed what all the fuss was about. That didn’t last though and City sent him back to Brazil in 2011.

In 2012, Jo joined Atletico Mineiro and won the Copa Libertadores alongside Ronaldinho, but more nights out on the sauce in Belo Horizonte, also alongside Ronaldinho, saw his form drop off again.

Yet when it looked as if Jo’s career might be over after a shoddy spell in China, he found Jesus – down the back of the sofa, perhaps? – and turned his life around.

Off the booze and on the straight and narrow, he returned to Corinthians and led them to another domestic title, 12 years after his first. A spell in Japan followed but he’s now back at Corinthians and has recently been joined in attack by former Chelsea man Willian.

Vladimir Weiss

Weiss was part of the terrific young City team that lifted the FA Youth Cup in 2008, playing up front alongside Daniel Sturridge, and we were excited when he broke through. He looked skilful, quick and clever, nipping around like a shiny-headed sprat in the City attack.

Our excitement was short-lived. Weiss was never quite up to the rigours of the Premier League and was sold to Pescara in 2012. A season in Greece came next before seven years in the Qatar Stars League.

Now 31, he’s back in Slovakia with Slovan Bratislava and has racked up 74 international caps, including three sub appearances at Euro 2020.

Roque Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz scored his first goal for Olimpia in October 1998. Santa Cruz scored his most recent goal for Olimpia in August 2021. How do you like that for longevity?

He had a cracking career in between, too: five Bundesliga titles, 114 Paraguay caps, that season with Blackburn, a very fun time with Malaga. Oh yeah, and a slightly underwhelming spell at City too.

Now 40, and still coming off the bench with remarkable frequency for his hometown club in Asuncion, Santa Cruz has taken on the look of a greying, long-haired, bearded zen master, which somehow feels appropriate.

Mario Balotelli

Oh, Mario, what could have been. All the talent, all the charisma. That bloody wonderful t-shirt.

Then a series of fairly mediocre spells at decreasingly prestigious clubs. He’s 31 now, playing for the newly-promoted Adana Demirspor in the Turkish top tier and still making a bit of a nuisance of himself.

We’ll always love him though, if only for having the temerity to score with his shoulder in an actual Premier League football match…

READ: Celebrating Mario Balotelli’s ‘shoulder goal’, one of *the* great PL moments

Maicon

The absolute definition of a marauding Brazilian full-back, Maicon was already seen as a bit old and past it when he arrived at City in 2012, mostly because of the runaround Gareth Bale had given him in the Champions League in November 2010.

That proved very much the case at City, with Maicon only making 13 appearances in his season at the Etihad. He had a bit of resurgence at Roma in the three seasons that followed and then jetted back off to his homeland.

Remarkably, though, that return to Brazil was not the end. In 2020, he moved back to Italy to tramp up and down the line in Serie D and in the summer of 2021, he moved to Tre Penne, which might sound like a light pasta dish but is actually a football club in San Marino.

Maicon even played in the first qualifying round of this year’s Europa Conference League, but couldn’t help his new side avoid a 7-0 aggregate defeat against the mighty Dinamo Batumi.


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