Anyone's list of the best Manchester City players ever will have changed a fair bit since 2008.
From humble Victorian-era beginnings as a church side to one of the richest clubs of the modern age, it’s been quite the journey for the club once known as St Mark’s (West Gorton).
Despite what rival fans might suggest, Manchester City (opens in new tab) have a rich and fascinating history, even if successes have been sparsely scattered throughout their past compared to the sustained dominance of recent years. Still, even in the club’s lowest moments, City have unearthed individual players who have given the fans plenty to cheer about, and we’re commemorating 50 of the very best here.
Given the significant physical demands of the modern game, it would be tempting to simply pick most of the current squad, with a smattering of those who’ve recently moved on to fresh pastures.
But that would be to ignore the remarkable feats of several pre and post-war favourites and the impact of those whose names were chanted by supporters even as the side languished in the second and third tiers.
Which means no place for some outstanding players who are still inking their names in City history: Raheem Sterling, İlkay Gündoğan, Riyad Mahrez, Rúben Dias, and Phil Foden, all of whom would likely earn a spot in a year or two’s time.
In the meantime, read on to find out who has made this fabled list...
Best Manchester City players ever: 50. Paul Dickov
Not the most technically gifted nor prolific striker, but the tenacious Scot warrants a place here for scoring arguably the most important goal in City’s history.
Without his dramatic 95th-minute equaliser in the 1999 Second Division Play-off Final against Gillingham (which City went on to win on penalties) the club would likely have languished in the lower tiers for years.
49. Ali Benarbia
The Algerian’s flame burned briefly but dazzlingly bright at City. A free signing in the twilight of his career, he was a class apart in the second tier, his sublime passing and silken touch helping Kevin Keegan’s all-conquering side top the First Division with 99 points.
Premier League pace proved too much for his ageing legs, but many City fans still fondly remember Benarbia’s wizardry.
48. Don Revie
Though best known for his successful stint as Leeds (opens in new tab) manager in the 1960s and early ’70s, as a player Revie made the position of deep-lying centre forward his own.
Indeed, ‘the Revie plan’ was coined to describe his role as the focal point of City’s attack, his pivotal displays earning him a Footballer of the Year award during the 1954/55 campaign.
47. Richard Dunne
He may hold unwanted records for the most own goals (10) and the joint-most red cards (eight) in Premier League history, but Dunne’s City legacy is assured for his stalwart defensive displays.
Consistently willing to put his body on the line, he fully earned the affection of the fans, winning the club’s Player of the Year award in four successive seasons.
46. Max Woosnam
Olympic gold medal winner and Wimbledon doubles champion, Woosnam is widely regarded as one of the greatest all-round British sportsmen.
His City achievements shouldn’t be overlooked either: the influential centre-back was appointed captain of a post-war City side, his performances convincing the national team to follow suit – even as his tennis career continued to flourish.
45. David White
Infuriating on off-days but nigh-unplayable at his best – once scoring four goals in an unforgettable display against Aston Villa (opens in new tab) – White was a winger with blistering pace and a real eye for goal.
He flourished under the management of Peter Reid, helping City to two consecutive fifth-place finishes in the top flight: dizzying heights for the side back then.
44. Bobby Johnstone
Part of the ‘Famous Five’ forward line at Hibernian that struck terror into the hearts of Scottish defenders, Johnstone arrived in England with a fearsome reputation to uphold (and a fee to match).
He lived up to the billing, scoring over 40 goals for City, including strikes in successive FA Cup finals – the first player to achieve that milestone.
43. Niall Quinn
A popular figure with supporters and team-mates alike during his six years at the club, the lanky forward embodied the cliché “good touch for a big lad”.
A consistently effective target man, he cemented his cult status among City fans when he donned the goalkeeper’s jersey during a game against Derby County, immediately making a spectacular penalty save from Dean Saunders.
42. Edin Džeko
Despite failing to match the remarkable figures that saw City pay £27m to secure his services from Wolfsburg, the Bosnian diamond became a scorer of important goals in blue.
In a hot streak during the 2013/14 title run-in, Džeko bagged a brace against city rivals United (opens in new tab), alongside strikes at Hull, Palace (opens in new tab) and Everton (opens in new tab). And without his crucial equaliser against QPR, that Agüero moment simply wouldn’t have happened.
41. Uwe Rösler
The powerful German forward’s never-say-die attitude and committed performances during some of the club’s darkest years won the hearts of even the most fed-up fans.
After forging a productive partnership with the mercurial Paul Walsh, Alan Ball’s disastrous stewardship saw his influence wane. Still, Rösler remained a leader by example, staying with the club after relegation to the second tier.
40. Bernardo Silva
Ha ving led City’s defence a merry dance in the Champions League, it was no surprise when Pep Guardiola shelled out over £40m for the twinkle-toed Portuguese midfielder.
Allying phenomenal work rate to his undeniable skill, Silva played more games than anyone else during the record-breaking Centurions campaign, becoming even more pivotal in the much tighter title win the following season.
39. Carlos Tevez
'Welcome to Manchester’ taunted the posters as the Argentinian firebrand switched allegiances from United to City; 29 goals in a whirlwind debut season suggested it was money well spent.
Tevez would later blot his copybook after a ferocious falling-out with then manager Roberto Mancini, but he returned from his enforced garden leave in time to help City to their first league title since 1968.
38. Georgi Kinkladze
A common regret among City fans of a certain vintage is that the Georgian dynamo’s dazzling close control wasn’t allowed to shine in a better side.
Still, the dancing feet of the man affectionately known as ‘Kinky’ helped illuminate the gloom of that mid-’90s slump – most notably with a breathtaking solo goal that saw Kinkladze waltz through a bewitched Southampton (opens in new tab) defence.
37. Dave Ewing
The Richard Dunne of the 1950s, Ewing had a similar habit of scoring own goals (trumping Dunne’s tally with ten for City alone).
Yet this no-nonsense centre-back was a similarly formidable defender: tough in the tackle and brave as a lion. Having pulled on the blue shirt for a decade, he returned to fill the role of reserve team coach in the early ’70s.
36. Ernie Toseland
Blessed with natural pace, Toseland’s wing play was a key factor in City’s first League title in the 1936/37 season. After the sublime came the ridiculous: the following season, he helped the Blues outscore every other side, yet they were ultimately relegated.
It was an ignominious closing chapter to a fine City career; soon after, WWII brought his playing days to a premature end.
35. Shaun Wright-Phillips
Armchair statisticians will doubtless question the diminutive winger’s place on this list. But raw numbers can’t always account for a player’s overall impact. Not since the days of Georgi Kinkladze had City fans witnessed such a skilful dribbler; the fact that he looked like a junior Blue wearing an oversized shirt only made it all the more thrilling to watch him take on defenders twice his size.
Deployed as a wing-back by Kevin Keegan, his speed and skill made him a crucial asset down the right, his performances attracting the interest of then-champions Chelsea (opens in new tab).
An emotional return followed in 2008, with two goals in his first game back before the big-money signings rolled in and this cult favourite found his opportunities limited.
34. Pablo Zabaleta
Signed from Espanyol for a meagre £6m before the Abu Dhabi United Group transformed the club, the Argentinian defender could so easily have become a forgotten man, lost amid an array of more glamorous, expensive signings.
Yet despite competing for a right-back berth with popular academy graduate Micah Richards, Zabaleta quickly became a firm favourite among City supporters. His consistency, bravery and indefatigable spirit on the pitch endeared him to fans as he became a growing influence off it.
Among the club’s foreign contingent, Zabaleta made a particular effort to integrate himself; by the time he left the club in 2017 after nine seasons and 333 appearances he was an honorary Mancunian – with the accent to prove it.
33. Joe Hart
Ruthlessly cast aside by Pep Guardiola shortly after the Catalan’s arrival, Hart’s career quickly hit the skids. So much so, in fact, that it’s easy to forget what a pivotal role he played in City’s success over the previous decade.
Competing with Kasper Schmeichel for the No.1 spot, Hart’s exceptional shot-stopping gave him the edge over his Danish counterpart, who was eventually shipped out to Notts County.
Between 2010 and 2015, Hart earned four Golden Gloves in five seasons for the most clean sheets. During those years he put on several goalkeeping masterclasses, including a remarkable 0-0 at White Hart Lane and an astonishing Champions League night at the Etihad where he almost single-handedly kept Jürgen Klopp’s dominant Dortmund (opens in new tab) at bay.
32. Roy Hart
Proud Welshman Paul plied his defensive trade over more than a decade at Swansea, although the Second World War restricted his career in the first team to just four seasons.
He was 30 when he signed for a just-relegated City in 1950 but quickly established himself as the team’s defensive linchpin, his consistent displays earning him the club captaincy during the Blues’ successful promotion campaign.
Though City’s fortunes in the top division fluctuated, Paul led the team to two cup finals in the mid 1950s: the first, a 3-1 defeat to Newcastle (opens in new tab), was followed by a thrilling victory by the same scoreline against Leicester (opens in new tab).
Recognising he was struggling to keep pace with younger opponents, he played on for another season before retiring from the game.
If supporters’ grumbles about Hart’s departure grew louder after a series of high-profile errors from new No.1 Claudio Bravo, they were quietened by his ultimate replacement.
Arriving from Benfica (opens in new tab) with an eye-watering price tag of £35m (which was soon dwarfed by the fees spent by Liverpool (opens in new tab) on Allison Becker and Chelsea on Kepa Arrizabalaga), the Brazilian keeper’s extraordinary distribution and composure under pressure saw him become a vital component in Guardiola’s record-breaking side.
Capable of sweeping long balls to either wing with almost laser-like accuracy, Ederson has three direct assists to his name – and despite his risky habit of racing from his goal to break up opposition attacks, he boasts a clean-sheet record of one in every two games.
30. Ken Barnes
Barnes joined City on the same day as Roy Paul, though the younger player’s impact was far less immediate. Outside a single first-team appearance in 1952, he was confined to the reserves until City introduced the Revie plan, into which wing-half Barnes fitted like a glove.
When Paul retired, Barnes took over the captaincy and began to weigh in with his share of goals, too – albeit largely from 12 yards.
An influential and admired figure in the dressing room, he took several younger players under his wing. Four years as player-manager at Wrexham followed in the early ’60s before Barnes finally hung up his boots.
29. Shaun Goater
Despite an outstanding scoring record at Bristol City, many were unconvinced when the Bermudan forward arrived at Maine Road during the club’s yo-yo years. Yet “Feed the Goat and he will score” became a regular chant among the City faithful, as his goals helped the club bounce back from the third tier.
Goater continued to prove the doubters wrong, notching 29 goals as City secured back-to-back promotions and top-scoring again despite limited appearances in another relegation season.
His best campaign followed: in Kevin Keegan’s free-scoring Division One side, he became the first City player to pass the 30-goal tally since Francis Lee. And ‘The Goat’ rubber-stamped his status as a City legend by memorably robbing Gary Neville for the first of a brace in a thrilling derby victory.
28. Joe Hayes
Local derbies seemed to bring out the best in the Lancastrian forward, who notched up no fewer than ten goals in 17 appearances against Manchester United.
Then again, goals came easily to the former mill worker, whose 12 years at the club saw him find the net 152 times in 363 appearances in all competitions – making him the fifth highest scorer in City’s history.
As a teenager, he shone in the 1955 cup final defeat before going one better the following year with the opening strike in City’s famous 3-1 victory. His deadly finishing saw him regularly top the scoring charts; only a severe knee injury in 1963 prevented him from eclipsing Tommy Johnson.
27. Neil Young
Young was perhaps destined to become a City hero from the start having turned down United to join the Citizens. His time at Maine Road got off to an unremarkable start, but the dream-team management partnership of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison helped this talented left winger to fully realise his potential.
Pushed inside, Young began to get among the goals, becoming top scorer in the Blues’ promotion in the 1965/66 season and again two years later for the club’s first domestic title in 30 years.
Cup glory followed, with Young netting the only goal in the 1969 FA Cup Final and the first in a 2-1 win against Górnik Zabrze as City added the European Cup Winners’ Cup to their trophy haul.
26. Paul Power
A boyhood fan, Power remains one of the most popular City skippers ever. He was also one of the unluckiest, leading out the side he loved at three cup finals only for City to lose them all.
Throughout those trophyless years, Power was a constant: a defender whose driving forward runs lived up to his name. Having been handed the captaincy by Malcolm Allison during a campaign in which the club flirted with relegation, the armband seemingly galvanised him as he weighed in with seven goals to keep City up.
Four hundred and thirty-six appearances later, he moved to Everton and at last got the reward his efforts deserved as the Toffees lifted the 1986/87 title.
25. Dave Watson
The well-travelled defender was already an England international when manager Tony Book signed him from Sunderland, where he’d originally been utilised as a striker before being shifted to centre-back.
It was here that Watson was at his best – strong as an ox and never flinching from a tackle, his aggressive style would likely attract the attention of modern referees but in the more lenient times of the late ’70s won the admiration of City fans instead.
Alongside Blues legends Alan Oakes and Mike Doyle, Watson made City a force to be reckoned with, taking them to a League Cup final victory in 1976 and one point from the title the following season.
24. Joe Corrigan
Affectionately dubbed ‘Big Joe’, Corrigan remains No.1 in the hearts of a generation of City fans. The 6'4 keeper spent 16 seasons at the club, stretching from the late ’60s to the early ’80s, during which he amassed a remarkable 603 appearances – a tally beaten only by Alan Oakes.
His commanding presence in the box and outstanding shot-stopping abilities helped him to earn City’s Player of the Year on three occasions.
By the time of his departure to Seattle Sounders in 1983 he’d helped City to four pieces of silverware: two League Cups, a Cup Winners’ Cup and a Charity Shield.
23. Paul Lake
One of the most naturally gifted City players ever, Lake could so easily have been one of the all-time greats: many would argue that, in kinder circumstances, he’d surely have warranted a place in the top five of this list.
Just about the complete midfielder, Lake had a poise and composure that belied his age; not for nothing was he handed the captain’s armband at the tender age of 22. But just as his career was taking flight, fate intervened, and an innocuous challenge with Villa’s Tony Cascarino saw him rupture his cruciate ligament.
His injury was poorly handled by the club, his various treatments proving ineffective. Further heartbreaking setbacks followed, ultimately leading to a premature retirement at just 27.
22. Tommy Booth
Having joined as an amateur before his 16th birthday, Booth made his professional debut while still just 18, quickly establishing himself at the heart of the City defence.
In his first season he proved his value at the other end too, tucking home a last-minute semi-final winner in the FA Cup final of 1969 to take them to Wembley and his first piece of silverware.
Two more trophies followed the next season, though by the time he’d added another League Cup to his haul in 1976 the adaptable Booth had been shifted to midfield.
By the time he moved to Preston in the early 1980s Booth had notched up almost 500 City appearances, a testament to the dependability of this devoted Blue.
21. Fred Tilson
The Yorkshireman arrived at City from Barnsley alongside team-mate Eric Brook, though he took much longer to make his mark at the Citizens, finding himself in and out of the first team while his former strike partner picked up the plaudits.
It wasn’t until his fourth season that Tilson started making waves, but once he got started he was hard to stop, racking up 110 goals in just 264 appearances.
The highlight of his career was the FA Cup final victory of 1934, in which he gave Frank Swift – at fault for the Portsmouth goal to which City trailed – a half-time pep talk in which he vowed to the keeper that he’d score two in the second half. Tilson kept his promise, scoring the equaliser and a late winner.
20. Billy Meredith
Some fans would bristle at the inclusion of a player who made more than 300 appearances for Manchester United. But by the time of his arrival at Bank Street (the precursor to Old Trafford) Meredith was past his peak.
Yet in his heyday he was the equivalent of a modern-day galáctico, a skilful right-sided forward whose dribbling skills were only matched by his shooting. He became City’s top scorer in his first full season in sky blue and was appointed captain.
Rough treatment from top-division defenders meant his best-scoring seasons were in the second flight. Bribery accusations led to his departure, but he returned to City at 46.
Indeed, he was approaching his 50th birthday when he made his final appearance for the Blues, becoming City’s oldest-ever player.
19. Dennis Tueart
“Oh, and what a goal! By Tueart! What a goal!” Brian Moore’s iconic commentary sums up the highlight of the Geordie winger’s career: a stunning overhead-kick winner in the 1976 League Cup final.
Tueart had already tasted victory at Wembley having helped Sunderland win the FA Cup in 1973 before transferring to the Citizens.
His terrific close control and pace made him a nightmare for defenders to deal with, and in a strong City side he twice came close to further silverware as the Blues narrowly finished runners-up to Liverpool in the 1976/77 Division One season before losing out to Spurs (opens in new tab) in the famous 1981 FA Cup final replay.
Between those two agonising near-misses Tueart spent two years at New York Cosmos, winning three trophies before returning to City in 1980. His goals tended to come in bunches – indeed, he bagged a trio of hat-tricks in a single season – but it’s that acrobatic piece of skill that confirmed his place in City folklore.
18. Frank Swift
City were struggling to find a reliable pair of hands between the sticks when the Blackpool-born goalkeeper made his debut a day before his 20th birthday. It was an ignominious start, with Swift conceding four, but in the corresponding fixture just a day later he kept a clean sheet.
Swift went on to play all but one game in the years afterwards until World War II broke out (without him, City let in six against Millwall). His height and shovel-like hands made it difficult for opposition forwards to find a way past him, and while he blamed himself for conceding in the 1934 FA Cup final, a string of saves helped City secure the trophy.
War robbed him of more appearances as the Football League was suspended but he continued to play in the non-competitive Wartime League before returning to action, eventually retiring in 1949. His post-career switch to football journalism sadly ended in tragedy, as he died in the Munich Air Disaster, aged just 44.
17. Tony Book
This former bricklayer’s professional career began with a lie: he was nearly 30 when Malcolm Allison, who’d worked with Book at Bath City, convinced the player to doctor his birth certificate, believing Plymouth wouldn’t pay the fee if they knew his real age.
Two years later, both were at City, Allison convincing a reluctant Joe Mercer that Book was the real deal even as he approached 32. The coach was right: before long, Book was made captain and became the club’s first Player of the Year.
Over the next four seasons he led the Blues to silverware, including the Cup Winners’ Cup. Upon retirement he became assistant manager before assuming full charge six months later and leading City to the 1976 League Cup.
16. Tommy Johnson
A scorer during the first league game at Maine Road, Johnson would go on to have a street named after him near City’s former ground. And no wonder: until Eric Brook’s arrival, he was City’s top goalscorer, and his tally of 158 league goals matches Brook’s, the latter only ahead by dint of his cup goals.
Amazingly, the only honour Johnson won at City was the Second Division – yet despite the club’s fluctuating fortunes, this prolific striker was a consistent performer.
He had his best season in City’s return to the top flight, scoring 38 goals in 39 games, still a club record – including five in a single match against Everton. That was enough to earn him a place in the England side, where his meagre five caps saw him bag as many goals. Astonishingly, City’s management decided to sell him to Everton in 1930.
15. Glyn Pardoe
While Book didn’t make his Blues’ debut until he was in his thirties, City’s Mr Versatile was still 51 days away from his 16th birthday when he first pulled on the shirt: a record unlikely to ever be beaten.
Utilised as a forward, Pardoe’s time at City got off to a stuttering start, and he found himself in and out of the team. Yet just as they transformed the club’s fortunes, Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison reinvigorated the still-teenaged Pardoe’s career, installing him at left-back as he became a regular starter.
His experience up front and in midfield had served him well, affording him a calmness on the ball that made him a distinctively cultured presence at the back.
He played a significant role during the golden years that followed, though he was never quite the same after a leg-breaker of a tackle from United’s George Best caused him to lose almost two years to injury. Yet this dedicated one-club man persevered, happy to fill in whenever and wherever until his retirement in 1976.
14. Eric Brook
Strictly speaking, Brook was a left winger, but the sinewy Yorkshireman was not content with hugging the touchline, frequently coming inside to score goals as well as create them.
His muscularity gave him fearsome power in his shots, which he’d often attempt from outrageous distance (one cup goal against Stoke is widely considered one of the best ever scored at Maine Road) while his roving brief gave him licence to terrorise both full-backs and centre-halves.
His goals helped City to Wembley in 1934, and he set up the winner for Fred Tilson as the Citizens triumphed 2-1 over Portsmouth. He also played a crucial role in the first title-winning season of 1936/37, playing every game in a campaign that included a stirring 20-match unbeaten run.
By the time he hung up his boots he’d scored 177 goals, becoming City’s all-time leading goalscorer. His record would stand for almost eight decades until finally being topped by Sergio Agüero in 2017.
13. Mike Doyle
An outstanding – and outspoken – defender, Doyle was the rock at the heart of the City defence during the club’s most fruitful period outside Pep Guardiola’s reign.
A boyhood fan, his fiercely committed performances earned him a reputation as a hardman, and his open dislike of United attracted plenty of attention from the press – and angry supporters from the red half of Manchester. But he relished the pressure of a local derby, rarely ending up on the losing team throughout his time at the Citizens, and his passion for the club shone through in his attitude on the pitch.
By the time he left his beloved Blues for Stoke in 1978, he’d reached 563 appearances, leaving him third in City’s all-time list, behind Joe Corrigan and Alan Oakes.
Doyle sadly passed away from liver failure ten years ago, but his City legacy lives on through grandson Tommy, a talented young midfielder.
12. Francis Lee
After scoring at the rate of almost a goal every other game at Bolton, Lee was signed by Joe Mercer for what at the time was City’s record transfer fee. Mercer called him “the final piece of the jigsaw” – and sure enough the barrel-chested forward slotted neatly into place from the start, scoring in his second game and netting a further 14 times before the crucial final game of the season against Newcastle.
Lee scored again in a 4-3 win to help the Citizens to their first-ever league title. The FA Cup was added to City’s trophy cabinet the following season before a run of five seasons in which Lee was the Blues’ top scorer.
Stocky and fearless, he was particularly deadly from 12 yards, regularly scoring penalties (many of which he’d earned himself, his tendency to go down easily attracting some controversy). Indeed, his 35-goal haul in the 1971/72 season included a record 15 spot-kicks.
11. Mike Summerbee
“The greatest centre-forward in history”, according to City fans in a back-and-forth chant with their neighbours, the rest of which we won’t repeat here. Yet the man known as ‘Buzzer’ to his team-mates spent more of his time on the wing, where he quickly became a real crowd favourite.
Arriving from Swindon – as son Nicky would do almost 30 years later – he immediately established himself in Joe Mercer’s side, playing all 52 competitive games and scoring ten goals as City were promoted to the top tier.
Two years later, they were champions, Summerbee weighing in with 20 goals in his best scoring season, while he provided the assist for Neil Young’s decisive strike in the ’69 FA Cup final. Despite their on-pitch rivalry, Summerbee was firm friends with United’s George Best, sharing the Irishman’s hard-living lifestyle.
But the late nights only endeared this charismatic entertainer to the fans: he remains one of the most popular players of the era and now holds an ambassadorial role at the club.
There have been bigger-name signings during the Sheikh Mansour era. There have been players with more impressive stats, more assists, more goals. Yet the Brazilian has easily been one of the most influential figures of the last eight seasons: a midfield enforcer whose unsung hard work allows City’s flair players to command the back-page headlines.
Fernandinho is undoubtedly a master of one of football’s dark arts – you’ll struggle to find a better tactical fouler in Premier League history – but you’ll find guile, craft and creativity in his game too.
His raking diagonal passes have launched many an attack, and there are few City players you’d want to see running onto a dropping ball around 30 yards out, one laser-like strike against Stoke the pick of his occasional screamers.
Despite Pep Guardiola’s fondness for rotation, he had played more than 300 games in all competitions before the 2020/21 campaign – during which he lifted his first two trophies as club captain. Little wonder that, even at 36 years of age City were keen to secure his services for one more year.
9. Yaya Touré
A manufactured controversy about missing birthday cake and ill-judged accusations against Pep Guardiola shouldn’t diminish Touré’s many achievements in sky blue. It’s easy to forget that many scoffed when the Ivorian signed for £24m from Barcelona (opens in new tab), some pundits believing he was no improvement on the defensive midfielders already at the club.
But Roberto Mancini cannily deployed him further forward in the Premier League, where his crisp passes, lung-bursting runs and powerful shots made him an increasingly influential figure. With the only goals in both the semi-final and final of the 2011 FA Cup, Touré earned City their first trophy in 35 years.
The league title came the following season, though it was under Manuel Pellegrini in 2013/14 that Touré was at his brilliant best, scoring an astonishing equaliser to help City turn around the Capital One Cup final and netting 20 goals – including a succession of unstoppable free-kicks – to pretty much single-handedly drag the Blues over the line as they dramatically secured another title on the final day.
8. Alan Oakes
Tasked with cleaning the boots of City’s much-loved goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, a 15-year-old Oakes surely could never have dreamed how his career would turn out.
Almost two decades later, when he left to become player-manager at Third Division Chester, Oakes had become City’s all-time record appearance holder – and it’s hard to imagine his tally of 680 will be beaten in the modern era.
That’s a testament to Oakes’ longevity but also his professionalism and loyalty: a model servant to the club, his no-fuss style helped him quietly become the beating heart of the City side from the late ’50s through to the mid ’70s.
7. Peter Doherty
Those old enough to have watched this flame-haired Irish winger in his pomp will tell you he’s not only the most skilful player they’ve ever seen but one of the hardest workers too.
An inside-left capable of bewildering his markers with his close control and mesmerising body swerves, he arrived from Blackpool in 1930 – though it wasn’t until his first full season that he made his mark.
The 1936/37 campaign was a season of two halves for City, but Doherty’s goals were a thrilling constant, and when the team clicked into gear after Christmas, he continued to bang them in, his 11 in the final seven games helping the Blues clinch the title on the final day. He scored another 25 in the following season, though that wasn’t enough to prevent the champions from being dramatically relegated.
By the time war broke out he’d scored an astonishing 79 goals in just 130 appearances, and he continued his prodigious rate of scoring in the non-competitive Wartime League, bagging another 60 in 89 matches.
6. Kevin De Bruyne
With just three appearances in two years for Chelsea, the Belgian’s first experience of the Premier League was not a happy one. Yet he subsequently flourished in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg, his 44 goal contributions earning him Germany’s Footballer of the Year.
Upon his return to English football for a £55m fee De Bruyne quickly set about silencing the doubters. A week after his City debut he scored his first goal; the following April, a crisp, curling strike from the edge of the box took City to the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time ever.
Deployed in a deeper role under Pep Guardiola, he soon became the league’s assist king, combining astonishing vision with peerless technique on a consistent basis, delivering Man of the Match displays week after week.
Capable of powerful, driving runs and possessing the ability to score with both feet, De Bruyne is now widely regarded as the best midfielder in the league. In a team of superstars, he regularly shines brightest of all.
5. Vincent Kompany
An inspiration. An institution. The most Mancunian Belgian that ever lived. Were it not for his proneness to injury, City’s greatest leader would easily be top-three material – it’s testament to how well he’s performed when available for selection that he makes it ahead of his fellow compatriot De Bruyne.
Signed from Hamburg in 2008 for an undisclosed fee (believed to be around £6m) Kompany represents one of the biggest bargains in City history. Initially used as a defensive midfielder, the Belgian was shifted to centre-back, where he began to exert his influence.
An authoritative yet composed presence at the back, Kompany was obvious captain material and was duly given the armband for the 2011/12 season as he led his team to City’s first league trophy in four decades – scoring a vital goal against closest rivals United in the penultimate home game with a towering header and securing the individual honour of Premier League Player of the Season.
As the years wore on he would miss more games than he played, yet Kompany was determined to write a happy ending to his City fairytale. His blistering 30-yard drive against Leicester proved the pivotal moment in the 2018/19 title race, helping City maintain an extraordinary winning run of 14 games that saw them pip Liverpool by a single point.
4. Bert Trautmann
Trautmann’s story is a reminder that real life can write more compelling drama than any screenwriter. A paratrooper in the Luftwaffe during World War II, he was captured by the British army towards the conflict’s end and brought to a Lancashire POW camp.
Upon his release, Trautmann stayed in the area and began to make a name for himself playing for local side St Helens Town as a goalkeeper – his height, reach and natural athleticism making him a fine stopper. In late 1949, he signed a contract with City, much to the consternation of fans, who protested the German’s arrival due to his wartime exploits.
Supporters’ boos soon subsided, however, as Trautmann produced a string of impressive performances in goal – although he continued to be barracked by away fans. With the eyes of the London-based media watching, his heroics in keeping the score down in a game against Fulham saw him earn a standing ovation from players and supporters alike, and his reputation grew from there.
The defining moment of his City career would come in the FA Cup final in 1956. With the Citizens leading 3-1, Trautmann bravely dived at the feet of Birmingham’s Peter Murphy, the collision leaving him with a broken neck. Astonishingly. Trautmann played on, making further saves to preserve the score. It was only after three days that the full extent of his injury was discovered.
3. Sergio Aguero
There’s really only one possible place to start. On Sunday, 13 May 2012, with the clock ticking past the 93-minute mark, City are drawing 2-2 with Queens Park Rangers and on the verge of handing the title to their most hated rivals in a game expected to be a formality.
Seconds later, Sergio Agüero collects a return pass from Mario Balotelli and takes a touch as Rangers defender Taye Taiwo lunges in with a tackle, almost connecting with the Argentinian’s right ankle.
Somehow, in this fiercest of crucibles, with the stakes at their highest, Agüero manages to stay ice-cool, using that same right foot to unleash an unstoppable strike past Paddy Kenny at his near post to send the City fans into ecstatic rapture.
It had been 44 years since City’s last top-flight title and with the last meaningful kick of the season they had pipped United to English football’s most coveted prize by two points. Were that all Agüero had contributed to City, his name would be forever chiselled into club folklore.
But this was just one of a record number of goals (260 in 390 appearances) and a litany of iconic moments in sky blue. Not just a great scorer of goals, but a scorer of great goals: near-post thunderbolts, delicate chips, slaloming solo strikes.
2. Colin Bell
As a teenager at Bury, Bell had attracted the attention of a number of big clubs. City’s assistant manager Malcolm Allison, however, seemed unimpressed, loudly pointing out his weaknesses. It was all a ruse: Allison had aimed to sow the seeds of doubt among rivals for his signature so City could secure his services.
In truth, he had no doubt whatsoever about the man he nicknamed ‘Nijinsky’, after the famous racehorse famed for his stamina. Bell was indeed a thoroughbred: he combined natural athleticism with remarkable intelligence, an unexpected turn of pace, a shot as powerful as any striker, and an unparalleled delicacy of touch.
He moved with the grace of a dancer in the famous ‘ballet on ice’, where City demolished a strong Spurs side on a snow-covered pitch, while a glorious through-ball with the outside of his right foot played in Francis Lee for the decisive fourth goal against Newcastle that secured the First Division title in 1968.
A terrible tackle from United’s Martin Buchan ultimately curtailed his career, but it’s testament to the man known as The King of the Kippax (the part of Maine Road that held City’s most raucous supporters) that he now has a stand named after him.
1. David Silva
Every so often, a footballer comes along who seems to be playing a different game to those around them. So it was with the Spanish midfield maestro, known as Merlin to team-mates for his preternatural ability to conjure something from nothing.
City had been chasing Silva for two years when he finally put pen to paper in 2010, though many believed he didn’t have the right build to cope with the Premier League’s physical demands. Yet this quiet, humble little genius had heard it all before: as a youngster, he’d often dominated games against bigger, older opponents.
It wasn’t long before he was regularly collecting Man of the Match awards, scoring a scintillating individual goal against Blackpool for his first in the league. Yet Silva was much more often the provider: his sumptuous volleyed pass to Edin Džeko in the 6-1 derby win at Old Trafford signified a seismic power-shift in the city. With an unmatched appreciation of space, he had the uncanny knack of finding pockets of calm in even the most chaotic games.
Regularly dictating the tempo of attacks, he’d often prove the key to unlocking even the tightest defence. And in his darkest moment, with his prematurely born son Mateo fighting for his life in Spain, a shaven-headed Silva somehow summoned the inner strength to produce some of his very best form. Now that’s magic.
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