City’s fabled number eight shirt has been worn by many of its heroes. Often it’s been donned by our talisman, sometimes the captain, but always someone that fans can love.
Picking the best of the bunch is like picking the best of your children, but we all have our favourites.
From the introduction of kit numbers to the end of the 35-year trophy doubt, there’s been a long line of club legends to wear the shirt.
Bobby Marshall was City’s first ever number eight. The Nottinghamshire-born inside forward spent 12 years at City, playing 325 games and scoring 70 goals, as well as winning an FA Cup and a league title on the way.
The 1933 FA Cup final was the first ever to have shirt numbers for identification. Everton wore 1-11 while City donned 22-12. Marshall wore number 15 in Wilf Wild’s famous team that featured England goalkeeper Frank Swift, long-time record goalscorer Eric Brook and eventual Manchester United manager Matt Busby. The following season City made it to the final again. This time Marshall wore the number eight as City lifted the trophy for the second time in their history, with a 2-1 win over Portsmouth at Crystal Palace.
He later converted to a central defender. Though this meant he no longer wore the number eight, the switch was to great effect. City won the title in 1937, with Scot Alec Herd donning the now-famous jersey. The Second World War interrupted both players’ careers, with Herd continuing for City while Marshall ended up as manager of Stockport County.
Joe Hayes was the long-term successor to Herd. He was part of the side that had led City’s post-war resurgence, featuring in the 1955 and 1956 FA Cup finals. City lost the first 3-1 to Newcastle, but won the second against Birmingham by the same scoreline. That final is rightly remembered for Bert Trautmann’s heroics, but it was Hayes that opened the scoring in the third minute from Don Revie’s backheel.
Hayes played a total of 331 games for City, scoring 142 goals, before a knee injury ended his time at the club. He moved on to Barnsley before finishing his career back in Lancashire at Wigan Athletic. His successor would be the man to make the jersey as revered as it is today.
As Hayes’ career at City petered out, the clubs searched for a player to plug the gap in midfield. By the time Hayes had left City, Bell had already broken into the Bury first team and had become captain of the Shakers. After being signed from City’s Division Two rivals, Bell was instrumental in leading City to only their second ever league title in 1968, an FA Cup and League Cup the following year, and a European Cup Winners’ Cup the year after.
Though injury curtailed his career in 1975, his legacy at City remained intact. He hit double-figures in nine consecutive seasons with the Blues, making him City’s fourth all-time top goalscorer. He also racked up close to a half-century of international caps, though his reputation on the international stage never reflected his ability.
Still affectionately known as ‘The King of the Kippax’, Bell’s service to the club was recognised when a stand was named after him City moved into Eastlands in 2003. On a less material level, Bell represented a style of play that still impacts on the side today.
Though a number of decent players wore the number eight after Bell, none had resembled the City legend until Paul Lake emerged as one of England’s brightest talents. The City youth product had the vision, composure and pace that Bell had, and made his debut as a replacement for winger David White.
Though he often wore 11 in his early days, Lake was handed the number eight and the armband at the start of the 1990/91 season. It came after being announced in Bobby Robson’s 30-man squad for the 1990 World Cup. Those early games showed so much promise, but he suffered a knee injury against Aston Villa just three games into his captaincy. That injury would effectively end his career, at the age of just 21, and he officially retired six years later after repeated attempts at a comeback.
Lake’s contribution and dedication to City was not forgotten. The Manchester-born midfielder was inducted into the club’s hall of fame in 2004 alongside Bell, and he was the ambassador for Manchester City in the Community until he became a club support manager for the Premier League.
There was a time when Ali Benarbia was the sexiest man alive. With creative flair and a first touch to die for, he became the focal point of Kevin Keegan’s City side. With 44 on his back, the free transfer from Paris Saint Germain slotted in alongside Kevin Horlock to create a formidable partnership. The Blues coasted towards automatic promotion, with Benarbia pulling the strings in an impressive side.
Following City’s promotion and Stuart Pearce’s retirement, Keegan entrusted Benarbia with both the captaincy and the number eight strip. Though he was not as influential in the Premier League, he improved as the season progressed and still provided some unforgettable moments for Blues fans. His role in the winner at Anfield, his diving header against Villa and his chipped assist to Marc-Vivien Foé in the same game are just a selection of his best moments in that number eight shirt.
More importantly, Benarbia connected with the fans more than any player had done for decades. The Algerian was handed the armband because of that connection, and said on his departure: “I cannot think of a better club at which to finish my competitive career, and my thanks go out to the Manchester City fans, who quite honestly have been the most amazing I have ever played for.”
Arguably the last club legend to wear the prestigious shirt, Shaun Wright-Phillips will always have a place in any City fan’s heart. Known lovingly as ‘Shauny’ to the Blues faithful, the diminutive winger broke into the first team during City’s one-year stay in the First Division. He soon became the club’s most valuable asset, winning the club’s player of the year award in 2003-04 after winning its young player edition four years on the bounce.
SWP left for Chelsea in 2005 but returned in style three years later, scoring two on his ‘second debut’ against Sunderland, and his first appearance in the number eight strip vacated by Geovanni. Wright-Phillips thrived for two seasons under Mark Hughes, chipping in with goals and assists in a rapidly changing side, but saw himself pushed out of the team by Roberto Mancini.
In his final season for City, he came on against United in the FA Cup semi-final as City won 1-0. With the likes of James Milner and Adam Johnson on the bench, Wright-Phillips didn’t make the squad for the final, which many City fans saw as an unfair move. SWP may have been a victim of the cut-throat early Mansour era, but is still an avid City fan, often found on Twitter supporting the boys in blue.
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