Can Manchester City keep all of these youngsters happy?
The high-minded word ‘project’ is used a great deal in Manchester City circles, a notion often met with scepticism by pundits and supporters of other clubs. However, it does feel as if City have reached a new stage in their ‘development’ (another word they’re fond of). The arrival of Pep Guardiola was confirmation that City have ascended to a higher position within the landscape of European football, with improved performance in the Champions League surely the next rung on the ladder.
Following the Abu Dhabi Group’s purchase of the club in 2008, City embarked on the first phase of their journey which involved massive investment and the purchase of ready-made stars in a bid to catch up with the Premier League’s traditional aristocracy. The likes of Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and David Silva arrived and City established themselves firmly in the upper echelons on the division, winning the title in 2012 and 2014.
However, there now appears to be a change in tact, with an emphasis on greater self-sufficiency when it comes to player development and the targeting of younger players. The purchase of 20-year-old Leroy Sane, announced today, typifies this alteration. At £37m, City are not restricting themselves to a shoestring budget by any means, but there is more than one eye on the future. To a great extent, City have completed the ‘catching up’ phase of their transformation; the priority now is staying at the top without the need for constant re-investment and regular overhauls of the playing squad.
Sane is an exciting prospect, an exceptionally fast and athletic attacker who promises to add further diversity to City’s attacking options. However, he is far from alone at City as an exciting prospect. This summer, City have already added 19-year-old Ukrainian winger Oleksandr Zinchenko. A bid has been lodged for exciting Palmeiras striker Gabriel Jesus, also 19 and a member of Brazil’s squad for the Rio Olympics. Colombian starlet Marlos Moreno has also been secured though he is likely to go on loan. Add to that, Kelechi Iheanacho who has already impressed in the first team. Moreover, there are several highly rated players in City’s successful youth teams; Tosin Adarabioyo, Brandon Barker and Brahim Diaz three such examples.
One cannot blame City for acquiring such an impressive crop of talent, in fact their policy is laudable, but one has to wonder if being at City is best for the players themselves. In order to develop fully, these players need to be given first-team opportunities (providing they are good enough in the first place). Will City and Guardiola, or any subsequent manager, be strong enough to resist the public’s demand for a big money signing in favour of blooding one of these younger players. Will they be strong enough not to sign a direct replacement once Vincent Kompany departs, but instead give Adarabioyo his head, for example?
One way to circumvent this problem is to use the loan system to give your youngsters playing time. Harry Kane is one notable example of a player who ‘survived’ a succession of loans at lower league clubs to make the grade at Spurs. The problem could prove more complicated with some of City’s imports from South America however. For most, if not all, of them, the move to Manchester is their first move abroad and therefore the adaptation process is a particularly sensitive one. Moving them around various European leagues in order to get them minutes is only going to hinder this process, making it hard for them to settle down and eventually they’ll stagnate and a valuable asset is wasted.
City will do well to heed the lessons of Chelsea’s problem with promoting younger players, and think carefully about how all these players can be kept happy simultaneously. Their ideals are commendable, but have to backed up with opportunities. There is a reason clubs such a Porto and Villarreal are preferred as a ‘stepping-stone’ club by promising, often South American, players. City must ensure their youngsters don’t get lost in the system.
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