Jack Maclaren assesses the short term prospects of academy players at City
Since the takeover at Manchester City in 2008, the club has thrived and has been one of the most successful domestic sides in Europe in recent years. In order to do this the Abu Dhabi United Group has spent almost unprecedented sums of money to craft a squad to rival anyone. However the club’s hierarchy and fan base alike know this level of spending cannot continue. The club wants to change its image and start producing its own players – in short the club wants to be England’s answer to Barcelona.
The reason for this is simple yet worth exploring, Barca are self-sufficient, they produce enough youth talent that they have no need to invest so heavily in buying players. City’s plans to do this are obvious, in recent times we have hired Ferran Soriano as chief executive and Txiki Begiristain as director of football, both previously holding these roles for the Catalan giants. Moreover the club have announced and started work on a new £100 million youth complex which is openly similar to la Masia.
However these changes will take years to implement and even longer to reap any reward from. What can be done short term to make sure some youth players break through?
Interestingly although the changes to the youth set up are much need, the problem for City recently has not been the development of talent but rather the transition of taking excellent youth players and moulding them into viable first team options. Razak, Weiss, Suarez and Roman all fit this bill, great youth team players who failed to make a 1st team impact and subsequently are no longer part of the City set up.
It is the last two names on the list which provide the most worrying examples of the short term problems City face. Despite being voted City’s young player of the year 2012, Suarez left Manchester this summer to return to his native Spain. In itself this is not an overly worrying event, many players wish to return to their home country. However Suarez is now applying his trade for Barcelona B alongside Joan Angel Roman, another player who looked incredible for the City youth team but again is someone the blues failed to keep hold of. Both could have broken into the first team further down the line (there are few who doubt their ability), however both felt the need to pursue their careers elsewhere. The club needs to make sure this doesn’t turn into a trend.
As I write the article there are two players who stood out as youth prospects, but could slip through the net in the January transfer window. John Guidetti, one of Europe’s hottest prospects before a series of injuries, has been linked away from the Etihad on a number occasions due to his lack of first team performances. Similarly Abdisalam Ibrahim has attracted the attention of a number of top clubs after a string of excellent performances in Norway. At 21 and 22 respectively both players are getting to that point in their career where City need to show real commitment towards them or let them pursue their career elsewhere. This commitment could come in the form of a much needed new contract to Ibrahim but more basically it comes with appearances.
I am not a football scout and for this reason cannot claim to know whether these two have the talent to make a real impact in a City shirt. However should we let both slip through the net it sets a dangerous precedent of not fully committing to integrating youth talents into the first team and others, like Suarez and Roman, might leave. Take the example of Marcos Lopes, the Portuguese youngster seems to be one of the best prospects City have had in years, and the club needs to show players like him that we truly are dedicated to becoming a producing club.
I started this article by noting that City have ambitions to be like Barcelona, and the institutional changes the club is making to the hierarchy and facilities should help us achieve this. However ultimately unless we can start thinking of way of blending players from youth starlets to first team regulars we will struggle. In Barcelona we may have someone to aim towards but perhaps we should pay more attention to Real Madrid who in recent years have produced and then lost players such as Juan Mata, Esteban Cambiasso and Luis Garcia. Not to mention City’s very own Javi Garcia and Alvaro Negredo and failed to give them the opportunities they needed.
The changes the club are making will undoubtedly reap rewards in regards to producing players. However in the short term we can set a precedent of backing our youth players. With Guidetti and Ibrahim we have got an opportunity to make a real stamp of intent to our dedication towards youth talent and I sincerely hope it is an opportunity we take.