It’s not often that an international striker with 57 caps, 20 goals and two World Cups behind him is far from an automatic choice at Championship level. Yet this is the situation that Nikola Zigic, the 6ft 7in Serbian, finds himself in at Birmingham City, as they stumble unwittingly from one disaster to the next.
Uncertainty over the club’s ownership, with Carson Yeung facing money-laundering charges in Hong Kong, a disastrous home record of four losses from the last six and a deeply unpopular manager in Lee Clark have made for a potent mix of discontent.
After the warm glow of a League Cup win and European adventure, crowds have now fallen to the 14,000 mark, less than half the capacity of St. Andrew’s. Given financial limitations a side decimated by defensive injuries has been reliant on a cocktail of short-term solutions, selecting loanees, kids and players coaxed out of semi-retirement on one-month contracts.
This is where Zigic comes into the equation. Earning a reported £50,000 a week from a deal with over a year-and-a-half left to run, he has proved impossible to shift from the wage bill. Despite interest from Spain, clubs are understandably loath to match such generous terms.
Thus he is accused by some of being a parasitic blight, while to others he is a cult hero who can do no wrong after his goals against Aston Villa and Arsenal on the run to Wembley. A divisive figure in general, he can by turns be an unstoppable aerial threat or meekly uninvolved; last season he scored four at Leeds one week and was anonymous the next.
However, after a prolonged hiatus from the squad for a supposedly poor attitude and then a suspension for a sending off against Huddersfield, Zigic has started the last three games as performances, if not results, have improved markedly.
When motivated and with the team playing to his strengths, as in the visits of Bristol and Hull, he can be brutally effective. Both defences had a torrid time dealing with his sheer physicality, while two towering headers set up goals for strike partner Marlon King. In time-honoured tradition to that most mystifying of cliches, he also has rather good feet for a big man.
Improved performances won’t convince all of the doubters, and even the most ardent advocates of Nikola Zigic find him maddeningly inconsistent, but he has been a real bright spot in recent weeks. And although Birmingham City continue to languish down in 19th, unable to find even a semblance of form, at least the former Valencia forward has begun to show what he’s all about.