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FOOTBALL: Positive Nafti looks for perfect balance; COCA-COLA CHAMPIONSHIP.

Byline: By Ian Clarkson

Mehdi Nafti must be wondering what happened to the Birmingham City he once knew after returning with aplomb following his serious knee injury.

Back in August 2005, Nafti, who had only been at the club for seven months, sustained a cruciate injury in a pre-season friendly in La Coruna.

He recovered in time to play in Birmingham's final Premiership fixture at Bolton Wanderers as well as all of Tunisia's World Cup campaign. Only now has the enormity of Nafti's absence been realised.

He sneaked into St Andrew's almost unnoticed alongside the fanfare that greeted extrovert Walter Pandiani. It is clear, however, which player has provided better value for money.

The side he left behind when he was injured was a cautious lumbering beast with the emphasis on destruction rather than flamboyancy.

Yet in seismic policy shift by manager Steve Bruce, this season they are slowly metamorphosing into all-singing, all-dancing entertainers. Someone, though, still needs to undertake the less glamorous duties and that is Nafti's chosen lot.

While Neil Danns, David Dunn and Gary McSheffrey strutted their funky stuff and created a plethora of chances at Leeds last weekend, Nafti was rushing around, firefighting behind them.

While the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, DJ Campbell and McSheffrey are stealing the headlines, Nafti's role is arguably more pivotal if Birmingham are to maintain their current lofty status in the Championship.

But you won't catch the 27-year-old shouting the odds. He is more than happy to remain firmly in the shadows.

"We have a new team with young players who want to look forward and score goals. You can understand that," said the Tunisia international.

"They want to make a name in the division and in the Premiership, but we need to be careful and learn how to control a game and work on it.

"It was the same in Spain for me. I don't like to be under the spotlight. I want to do my job.

"If the team win 1-0 and I have done my job then I don't care who is going to be the big star, as I am happy for them.

"I just want to be happy with my job, the fans, the manager and myself.

"The most important thing is to have the confidence of your team-mates and the manager and I have that at present.

"I think about my game a lot away from the training ground and after one year off I am happy with what I am doing.

"I am happier as I know I can do even better. Every game is a new step for me and I know that I am going to reach my peak soon."

If that coincides with Birmingham realising their full potential too then it is sure to be worrying prospect for the Championship.

By their own admission Birmingham have only spluttered into life this season but still find themselves in second position.

"At present we have done all right this season," said Nafti. "We have plenty to work at on the training pitch. We have conceded too many goals, but I think we are on the right lines.

"However, we need to be stronger when we play away.

"It is quite positive because even though we aren't at our best, we are still second in the table.

"We can expect that, when we reach our best, we are going to win more games away and more games overall.

"We need to have a good balance on the pitch.

"I know if I have David Dunn, Gary McSheffrey or Neil Danns in front of me, then they are more offensively minded midfielders and I need to keep my position more to try to help them.

"It was different when we played at Stoke and Sunderland because I played with Fabrice (Muamba) and he is defensive like me.

"We had a less creative game but we managed to keep two clean sheets so we need to try and get that balance," said Nafti, frantically moving his hands as though they were a pair of scales.

"We need to work on it and maybe defensively think a little bit more on the pitch but it isn't just a midfield problem, I think.

"We have something wrong in defence, attack and midfield and we need to keep working."



Mehdi Nafti is sure there is more to come from Blues
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 27, 2006
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