It’s been a while since the blue side of Manchester was so prominent in the England shirt. You could perhaps go as far back as the 1970 World Cup when Francis Lee and Colin Bell used their Maine Road success to muscle into a squad full of 1966 legends. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joleon Lescot and Gareth Barry are staking their claims for a place in South Africa, in the present day and creating a sense of excitement that City has not felt since the halcyon days of the late 1960s.
Colin Bell almost certainly never gained the medals his talent demanded – which is a reflection of his huge ability because he won the league and three cups with Manchester City and is widely regarded as the club’s best ever player. Bell was never subjected to ProZone analysis but if they had had such a thing in the 1970s his figures would quite probably have been off the scale. Legends will built of romantic notions and foundations and there the midfield engine from the north east was one of the few who stood supreme. They called Bell ‘Nijinsky’ after the racehorse so renowned for its stamina. His misfortune was not only to have a career cut short by injury at 29 but also to arrive on the scene at a time when the World Cup was England’s and the men in possession did not easily release a grip on the shirt.
Where Bell found Alan Ball, Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton standing in his way on his way to 48 caps, City’s current midfield general Gareth Barry initially found Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard blocking his route to the national side earlier this decade. Yet under Fabio Capello he has established himself as a key member of the squad – moving to 36 caps by winning ball, making the right passes and delivering much valued reliability.
Optimistic voices in the blue half of Manchester will insist that the medals that decorated Bell’s career at club level will almost certainly be added to Barry’s trophy cabinet over the course of the next few years; he is, after all, still at his peak at 29. It is hoped that Gareth Barry can take his team through to the deep end of the biggest tournament of all, by Manchester City and England fans, to take care of Colin Bell’s unfinished World Cup business.