Manchester City's Jesús Navas: there is no substitute for a flying start

The flexible Spanish winger can be City's trump card in the Manchester derby – and not just as an impact man

Roy Hodgson managed to damn James Milner with faint praise a couple of weeks ago when he suggested he was not everyone's idea of a winger, though Manchester City appear not only to have recognised that but rectified the situation. Over summer they brought in Jesús Navas from Sevilla, a touchline-hugging speed machine who is everyone's idea of a winger.

Under Roberto Mancini City were frequently criticised for setting themselves up too narrowly, with David Silva in particular given licence to roam all over the pitch, whereas Manuel Pellegrini now has the option of width should he need it in Sunday afternoon's Manchester derby. Navas is flexible enough to cut in from the wing if necessary, but not afraid to admit he prefers running into space on the flanks rather than heavy traffic through the middle. "There are occasions when it is better to go through the middle, but there is usually more space on the wing," he says. "I don't mind staying out there because I can provide the width and speed to get around the back of defences. It's good to have different ways to break opponents down, and speed is a big part of my game."

Navas is famous for his pace, so quick he could have taken up a career in athletics had he not preferred football, and is happy to confirm the delightful story that he once beat a running machine into submission. "That did happen," he says. "I was supposed to be taking it steady in pre-season training but I did 15 minutes at the maximum and suddenly it just packed in on me. I had to grab the side rails. We used to do tests at Sevilla in pre-season, and I would come out the quickest, but I was only ever interested in football. I don't actually remember my best times, because it is not about me as an individual. Football is a team game and I just want to function as part of the team."

The 27-year-old's speed and technique would get him into most teams, though at the very highest level Navas has found it a mixed blessing. He has 31 caps for his country, and World Cup and European Championship medals, which is a haul no English player appears likely to match in the foreseeable future. Yet many of those international appearances were gained from the substitutes' bench. The World Cup final in South Africa was typical, Navas came on after an hour. Partly because Spain play a patient passing game, and partly because his searing pace can hurt opponents who are starting to tire, Navas has tended to be used as an impact sub or a late game-changer. "Like every player, I want to start more matches rather than be used as a substitute," he says. "I am very proud of what I have achieved with Spain, I know I have the confidence of the coach and I feel a part of the squad, but the next step has to be to really break through and become a regular in the team. That is even more of an aim for me with a World Cup coming up.

"What I need now is a really strong year for City, hopefully winning some trophies. I can only have international success, and be considered when it comes to choosing the World Cup team, if I am a big player for my club."

Navas was a big enough player at Sevilla to gain international recognition, and though Sunday's derby will be eagerly watched in Spain where he says City have a growing reputation, it is hardly the case that players have to establish themselves in England in order to impress Vicente del Bosque.

Quite the opposite, these days, though in Navas's case there may be something to gain from conquering his fears of playing in another country.

At an early stage in his representative career Navas was found to be a somewhat reluctant traveller, suffering from a mixture of anxiety, nerves and homesickness when placed in unfamiliar surroundings. He was very young at the time and claims it is all behind him now, though making a new life for himself in Manchester would be a highly effective way of proving it.

Having his older brother in town will help – Marco Navas has just signed for Bury – though the City player indignantly rejects the implication that he needs someone to hold his hand. "I don't see much of him," he says. "He only decided to come here about a month ago whereas I was making my decision five months earlier. The two decisions were independent. I've got other people around me who can help, who speak Spanish. I spoke to David Silva before signing for City. He was very keen for me to come and I felt like it was the right time so I am happy it has all worked out.

"I did have an offer from Chelsea a few years ago but Sevilla were still winning trophies at that time so I wanted to stay. I ended up choosing City because they showed a lot of confidence in me, I had already made up my mind before Mr Pellegrini arrived, but that only made my decision easier. He has a very positive reputation in Spain.

"He has worked hard and left his mark on several clubs, and everything he has achieved has been through playing entertaining football. I love playing football, and ultimately that helped me get over my anxiety problems. I am over that now, I have managed to conquer it. All I am concentrating on now is playing. I have come here to enjoy myself and to win trophies."

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