‘Kind’ is not a word often used to describe footballers, even by their greatest fans. ‘Kind’ can sound like a weakness within sport but when Pep Guardiola beamed as he used that word to describe Fabian Delph, it was impossible not to beam along with the Spaniard. He also used the words ‘intelligent’ and ‘physical’, but there are thousands of footballers who are intelligent and physical; there are few who are defined by their kindness.
English is not Guardiola’s first language so let’s assume that the Manchester City manager was praising Delph’s attitude, his willingness to listen and remain happy even when a combination of injury and competition has restricted him to two Premier League starts in a season. Certainly, there is a great deal of joy to be found in his words from earlier this week after coming on at left-back against Crystal Palace. Some look at Delph and see a lack of ambition, but Guardiola clearly sees valuable loyalty; it’s easy to see why.
“If I can help the team I am happy. I am a team player – if we win I go home happy,” said Delph. “All the players know the system of how the manager wants us to play. I have played left-back in training, and at Aston Villa, and as a young guy coming through at Leeds. I’m not a left-back but I feel can do a job there. Leroy can play there as well, but if I’m selected you will get nothing less than 100 per cent and if I’m not selected I’ll be on the bench screaming and shouting, pushing the lads on to do well.”
Like Ashley Young at Manchester United, willingly playing left or right-back to retain a place in an impressive squad, Delph has listened intently to team talks ahead of games for which he has been benched or ignored altogether, he has looked around the training ground and known he is lucky to be in such illustrious company, and he has pinched himself that a Bradford lad is wanted by the great Guardiola. And he is very much wanted, despite summer rumours of a move to Newcastle or Stoke.
“No player would ever want to leave a club like this. If you do leave the club it’s because your services are no longer required,” said Delph, who obviously had no hesitation when Guardiola asked him in pre-season if he would provide left-back cover, because the great full-back revolution of Manchester had seen four 30-somethings depart and just three 20-somethings come through the door. He had played there before under Gerard Houllier at Aston Villa so he would definitely play there under Guardiola at Manchester City.
An hour against West Brom in the Carabao Cup was followed by 20 minutes against Palace (marked by a wonderful goal to remind us he has talent to match his kindness), leading Guardiola to start him against Shakhtar Donetsk against the tricky Brazilian Marlos, who was shackled by Delph while Kyle Walker struggled on the other flank. The verdict of the boss? “Man of the match.”
Man City spend over £130m on transfer fees for full backs then start their first home Champions League game with Fabian Delph at left back?
— Duncan Castles (@DuncanCastles) September 26, 2017
Yes. Yes, they did. And it went very well indeed. Because there really is value in kindness, even in football.