Manchester City’s rise to power and wealth was never the most organic origin story, but the arrival of Pep Guardiola was at least supposed to bring some balance to the whole club.
Pep, it was foretold, would make full use of the lavish youth facilities at Man City and build the operation up to be as “holistic” (their word, not mine) an approach as Barcelona, wherein La Masia graduates helped them to win two Champions League titles in Guardiola’s three years in charge.
So forgive the confusion, then to see that over £200m has been spent this summer (in addition to the £170m spent last season) in overhauling the squad, while previously highly-rated prospects such as Kelechi Iheanacho are effectively thrown on the scrapheap.
Man City’s squad needed rejuvenation – that much is obvious – but did it really need two £50m full-backs with one (maybe two by September) £30m defender as backup?
Pablo Maffeo, a Spanish youth international that was in and around the first-team squad last season before going on loan, can probably forget about ever making it there now. Patrick Roberts, signed from Fulham in 2015, has just returned from a highly-successful loan spell at Celtic, will likely be loaned out again as Man City don’t have a place for him in the squad – and even if they did they’d almost certainly fill it with a new £40m player instead.
Guardiola pre-empted this in May when he claimed that Man City youngsters will find it tough to get a look-in next season, and the reason for this was that English football has the wrong attitude towards youth development. He stated that the gulf in quality is too large for youth prospects to get a chance, and adopting the Spanish model of putting B teams in lower English leagues (as had been mooted recently) would be the only way to fully prepare young players for senior football.
If that sounds like a cop-out, that’s because it is. Young players can be integrated into teams without being thrown in at the deep end, regardless of who they face week-in, week-out. Iheanacho, meanwhile has 64 senior appearances for Man City under his belt (and 21 goals) – how is he suddenly “not ready” for senior football?
There is a ceiling for academy players (or “Elite Development Squad” as they insist on calling it) at a club like Man City, and while Guardiola was supposed to be the one who turned that around, he has instead just succumbed to the status quo.
Jadon Sancho, touted as one of the most talented English prospects around, is ready to walk out on the club due to fears over playing time. Man City are responding to this by throwing money at him, in what (on the face of it) looks like a cynical attempt to quieten him with money when all he wants is to play football.
But then, this is something we have been seeing at Chelsea for years, and to a much greater extent. The Blues have consistently had some of the brightest underage squads in the English game for the past number of years and yet John Terry was the last prospect that graduated (and stayed in) the first team squad, and that was nearly two decades ago.
This is a club where young players are stockpiled and set out on loan for a few years before being sold on (usually for a profit) down the line. It’s a viable business option but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth – and the chances of any of these players actually holding down a place in the squad are almost non-existent. This is a club that is consistently winning domestic and European competitions at that level and yet the chances of any of the playets involved being a first-team regular at Chelsea are remote.
It recently came to light, for example, that goalkeeper Matej Delac, 24, is now the club’s longest-serving current player, having joined in 2010. Since he arrived at Stamford Bridge, he has gone on nine separate loan spells, never once being able to call himself a “Chelsea player” in real terms.
Lucas Piazon, signed in 2012, is in the middle of a two-year loan spell (his fifth) at Fulham, while Marco van Ginkel – a Dutch international – is at PSV for the coming year, his fourth temporary move since his 2013 arrival.
Even the prospects that were in and around the senior squad last season – the likes of Ola Aina, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Nathaniel Chalobah – have already either been loaned on or sold to make way for more multi-million pound arrivals.
Antonio Conte would rather chase up Swansea’s Fernando Llorente than even consider that either of Tammy Abraham (23 Championship goals last season and now loaned to Swansea), Bertrand Traore (played in the Europa League final last season and sold to Lyon) or Dominic Solanke (star of the U-20 World Cup win and walked out the door to join Liverpool) might be decent shouts for backup.
Clubs like Barcelona have been the envy of Chelsea and Manchester City for years, and yet the two English sides are wasting the opportunity to emulate them. Between them, they’ve paid over £130m in pilfering through a deeply impressive Monaco side from last season (a figure that will more than double if Man City somehow beat Real Madrid to the signature of Kylian Mbappe).
Monaco bought most of those players when they were teenagers and were able to harness them into £40-50m players (and they certainly looked “senior squad ready” when they were stepping over Man City en route to the Champions League semi-final last year) – would it not occur to Conte or Guardiola to maybe develop the young talent already at their disposal than look for the expensive shortcut all the time?
On this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish Football podcast, we caught up with Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor ahead of their move to Preston, and review the League of Ireland clubs’ European campaigns.
Read More About: antonio conte, benjamin mendy, bernardo silva, bertrand traore, Chelsea, Dominic Solanke, FA Youth Cup, kelechi iheanacho, kyle walker, Kylian Mbappe, lucas piazon, Man City, Marco van Ginkel, matej delac, monaco, nathaniel chalobah, ola aina, pablo maffeo, patrick roberts, pep guardiola, Premier League, ruben loftus-cheek, tammy abraham, Tiemoue Bakayoko, uefa youth league