Will Manchester City's youngsters get the chances they deserve?
It is a little over twenty years since Alan Hanson’s infamous, ’’you can’t win anything with kids,’’ assertion. The Manchester United side that he was referring to made sure that those words will remain in the annals of footballing history and followed Hanson for the rest of his punditry career by controlling the fate of the Premier League for the next few years.
It is well documented that no team has managed to match the class of 92, or even come close for that matter, but its also true that no-one has ever spent money on academy facilities like Manchester City.
Much has been said about the wonderful facilities and the emphasis that will be placed on youth by the club, and yet there is still no academy graduate to spend a period of time in the first team since Sheik Mansour’s takeover. However their youth teams are now dominating to such an extent that there were reports that suggested United were even considering a boycott after City’s youth teams won all but one of the fixtures against their United counterparts.
Now it would be silly of me to suggest at this stage that the current crop of budding Blues could emulate what happened two decades ago on the other side of town, but there are some extremely talented players whose performances in pre-season belied their tender age. Kelechi Iheanacho, Cameron Humphries, Pablo Maffeo, Brandon Barker and Manu Garcia all caught the eye and, especially in the case of Garcia and Iheanacho, looked ready for a first team chance.
The only youngster to start Wednesday night’s Capital One Clash with Crystal Palace was Iheanacho, who incidentally came off the bench to score the winner at Selhurst Park when the teams met in the Premier League earlier this season. Although counting as a young player, even Iheanacho is not a product of the academy, having been purchased a few years ago. This time he capped off a fine all-round performance with a goal and two assists, but when will he be given the chance to showcase his talent in the Premier League?
Devante Cole, son of former City and United player Andy, recently told the Daily Mail about his struggles as an English player within the academy. Whether Cole would have ever made it to the level that City require is up for debate, and it’s telling that the club has very few regrets with regards to any first team, or those on the brink of the first team, players that have left the club. Denis Suarez and Marcos Lopes may be the exceptions.
Lopes left for Monaco at the end of August in search of regular first team action, after seeing his path to the first team blocked by David Silva, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas along with expensive new acquisitions Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne. City were keen on keeping the talented 19-year-old, however with less than a year left on the midfielders contract City decided to cash in.
Jason Denayer has also left the club on loan in search of regular football. Many thought that after an impressive year on loan at Celtic, as well as showcasing his talent in pre-season, the Belgian would play a big part this year, possibly supplanting Martin Demichelis as City’s third choice centre half. However, after the purchase of Nicolas Otamendi, it was clear that Denayer’s path to regular action would be blocked for now.
Is another issue the man at the helm? City have an academy set up which should cause jealous feelings across in the red half of the city, however, do they have the manager who would be prepared to use such talent?
Manuel Pellegrini arrived on these shores with a reputation for promoting talented youngsters. At Villarreal and Malaga he relied on young talent, mixed with some experienced older heads, to build exciting, attacking teams. However at both clubs a domestic trophy was not necessarily a must, although at Malaga and in particular at Villarreal he came tantalisingly close.
The Chilean has overseen a must-needed change in culture since he took over from Roberto Mancini, but has been extremely reticent to use young players. The pressure on every manager to occupy the Etihad hot seat is enormous. Pellegrini will know that despite his recent contract extension, another trophy-less season could spell the end of his time in Manchester.
‘The Engineer’ may have also seen what happened to Arsenal the previous evening. The Gunners lost 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday and after the game Arsene Wenger admitted that the four debutants that featured in that game were, “not ready to play at this level.”’ With Chelsea and Manchester United also losing on penalties, Pellegrini must sense the chance for another trip to Wembley.
Evidence also suggests that it is experience and not youth that secures trophies. Research from Sky Sports shows that in each title winning team since 1992 there has been on average only 2.5 players under the age of 23 and the past six Premier League champions have included only 11 U23s on a regular basis combined.
This has coincided with the Premier League’s growing global brand and thanks to new TV deals, which dwarf those in other leagues, English clubs are quite often free to outbid, out pay and simply hoover up talent from wherever they see fit. This increase in revenue has meant even the smallest of clubs can now afford to pay for an established talent, rather than taking the harder option of developing from within their academies. It is also a far safer financial option to buy an established player, rather than pay developmental costs over a number of years for a youngster that may not make the first team, or provide no sell-on value.
Due to the facilities and schooling on offer, parents will still be keen on their children receiving a footballing education at the Etihad campus, however City need to prove that Premier League dreams are possible and the only way to achieve this is to give these talented youngsters a chance.
Featured image taken by chao1989.
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