March 1996. Transfer deadline day. Martin O’Neill is attempting to rejuvenate Leicester City’s stuttering play-off bid. Ceefax is giving me names but failing to give me hope. Julian Watts arrives from Sheffield Wednesday for £210,000. Oh, and some kid I’ve never heard of is signed on loan from Chelsea. Frustrating.
I ended up wishing I was that kid, having that kid’s name on the back of my shirt and, eventually, realising that kid is my favourite footballer ever.
Muzzy Izzet made his debut in an infamous home defeat to Sheffield United, during which our beloved O’Neill was castigated by supporters who would grow to worship him. I joined in with the tongue-in-cheek chant of “O’Neill out, Mustafa in” from the top row of the old Carling Stand at Filbert Street as this bandy-legged kid jinked down the nearside touchline. He looked fairly handy, but nobody could have predicted that Izzet’s City career would reach such glorious heights.
The highlights in brief: scoring the winner on the last day that season at Watford to send us into the play-offs; winning the penalty that drew us level at Wembley and celebrating promotion before signing permanently in the summer; winning the League Cup twice and playing in Europe; finally, facing Brazil in a World Cup semi-final representing the nation of his father’s birth, Turkey.
Izzet forged a formidable partnership with Neil Lennon and Robbie Savage in the City midfield. While Lennon was essentially a better, more important player and Savage made life horrendous for his opponents, Izzet was initially the flashy one of the trio. He flicked and tricked his way past defenders and chipped in with crucial goals as City often held their own against Vieira and Petit when Arsenal came to town or Keane and Scholes when it was Manchester United’s turn.
The O’Neill era is well-documented but what truly confirmed Izzet’s place in the hearts of City fans was the way he stuck around after it all went horribly wrong. The post-Taylor years, if you will.
Micky Adams hauled City back to the promised land at the first attempt in a controversial season that most will remember for administration. Personally, I choose not to remember it for that. I prefer to recall a magnificent goal that Izzet scored at Grimsby.
Not the most illustrious opponents nor the most impressive venue, I grant you, but arguably the best goal ever scored by a Leicester City player. Andy Impey dug a cross out and Izzet launched an overhead kick into the roof of the net from the edge of the box. Leicester players just don’t score goals like that. But Izzet did.
We both got something out of it. He helped us achieve great things. We turned him from a skinny Chelsea youth player into a World Cup semi-finalist. Izzet left for Birmingham City when we were relegated back to the second tier in 2004, after eight great years with the club.
Not the greatest football ever, not the most famous and not the most successful, but definitely my favourite.