Blast from the Past no.64: Bruno N'Gotty

Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…

Everyone’s got a favourite galactico.

Most select Zidane; others prefer Figo. Some will go for thin Ronaldo; others will take the chubby version every time. There’s probably even someone out there who will opt for Steve McManaman. But in Bolton, the fans will ignore that lot. They’re far more likely to choose Bruno N’Gotty.

Although the 21st-century superstars of Real Madrid are of more global renown, the Trotters had their own set of “galacticos” during the same period.

Read more: Bayern and United circle White Hart Lane for Tottenham stars 

And this wasn’t just a semi-sarcastic, second-rate set of Lancashire galaticos. They were the real deal. Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Campo – players with league titles, Champions Leagues and even World Cups under their collective belt.

N’Gotty may not be the most famous Bolton galactico, but he was the first, and in many ways the greatest, of them all.

At the turn the millennium, the Trotters were the quintessential yo-yo club, having faced either promotion or relegation for four successive seasons between 1995 and 1998.

They were promoted again in 2001, leaving fresh-faced manager Sam Allardyce – in his first ever top flight season – tasked with keeping the Whites in the Premier League for the first time.

The rest – namely 11 consecutive seasons at the top and a couple of European tours – is history. And it started with N’Gotty.

Signed on a free transfer from Marseille in September 2001, the beefy Frenchman was handed a one-year contract that signalled a cautiousness on both sides.

With Allardyce’s side favourites to be relegated, N’Gotty probably didn’t fancy dropping down to the First Division, while Bolton were similarly wary of signing a defender who, at 30 years old, was potentially past his best.

As it turned out, the signing was so successful that it would become the template for the galactico era, as Big Sam reached out to big-name players of a certain age who – and this was the crucial bit – still had the hunger for a fresh challenge in less fashionable surroundings than they were accustomed to.

N’Gotty had certainly fried bigger fish in his time. A Serie A champion with AC Milan in 1999, he’d also won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with Paris Saint-Germain and picked up a few caps for France.

But his desire was clearly undimmed, as he proved in a not-especially-glamorous home game against Leicester during his first north-west winter – Michael Ricketts scoring a 93rd-minute equaliser to earn the nine-man Trotters a point at the Reebok Stadium.

“Weirdly my abiding memory of N’Gotty is from that Leicester 2-2 game. Ricketts headed the equaliser and Bruno sank to his knees, with his arms aloft. I remember being impressed that a guy that had played at such a high level actually cared about us,” said one fan on the Wanderer forum.

Initially deployed as a right-back, and later in the centre of Allardyce’s defence, N’Gotty added an instant calmness and quality to the Bolton backline that epitomised their improved suitability for top-flight survival.

“He was a classy player. Never hurried and never seemed under pressure. He just appeared at the right time and did the right thing,” said another supporter.

“Bruno was an absolute hero. He never gets enough credit for being the true first of the galacticos. We’ve had some cracking centre-halves over the past 20 years, but I’d probably just about pick him as the best. He had everything,” gushed a fellow Trotter.

N’Gotty also became famous for his “floaters”. Much more wholesome than they sound, this referred to his specialism at drifting free-kicks into the mixer from deep positions – a useful weapon for Allardyce’s “direct” approach.

Not that the team was without flair. The next galactico to arrive was France legend Djorkaeff. It seems N’Gotty had started a trend.

“N’Gotty is often overlooked. Would Youri have come if Bruno hadn’t already been here?” wondered one Bolton fan.

After consolidating with 16th and 17th-placed finishes in their first two seasons back in the Premier League, Allardyce led his Bolton side into a golden period.

Four successive top-eight finishes – along with a League Cup final and two UEFA Cup qualifications – established the Trotters as a top-flight force to be reckoned with.

N’Gotty had several central defensive partners – Gudni Bergsson, Tal Ben Haim, Radhi Jaidi, Hierro, Campo – but he was the mainstay.

He was named Player of the Year in 2005, but in 2006 – with Allardyce keen to reduce the age of his squad – the 36-year-old N’Gotty was allowed to join Birmingham.

He helped the Blues achieve promotion to the top flight in his solitary season at St Andrews, before moving to Leicester, then Hereford, then French sixth-tier side l’AS Lattes, and was last seen playing for amateur side ES Perols at the ripe old age of 45.

You wouldn’t catch Zidane or Ronaldo doing that. But it turns out Bruno is simply a man who loves playing football, and what’s more galactico than that?

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