Take a walk around Manchester City’s Etihad Campus, as it’s now known, and you’ll quickly get the impression that everything there has been planned meticulously, down to the finest detail. The stadium itself is being expanded, not because of current demand but because of expected demand in years to come, with their £200 million training ground among the best in Europe.
But there has been one oversight.
While Man City have burned through cheques quicker than Greece has gone through Wonga loan applications – signing some of the brightest and best players available – they have neglected their English core. Manuel Pellegrini’s side, after so much reckless investment over the years, fell short of Premier League and UEFA rules on homegrown players, leaving them with a lot of catching up to do before the start of the new season.
This summer window should have been the most important in City’s recent history – at least since Arabian oil billions started pumping into the club. Their team is in need of major rejuvenation having grown somewhat stagnant over the past season, yet Pellegrini’s transfer market strategy has been dictated instead by a need for English players rather than genuine quality.
Premier League clubs are allowed to name no more than 17 foreign players in their squads, with UEFA regulations also ruling that at least half of their homegrown contingent must have spent at least three years with their current club between the age of 15 and 21.
So with James Milner leaving as a free agent to join Liverpool, Frank Lampard finally joining up with New York City FC, Scott Sinclair’s loan at Aston Villa made permanent and Dedryck Boyata signing for Celtic, Man City needed homegrown talent like Johnny Depp needs a successful movie that doesn’t involve him prancing around like a camp Keith Richards.
That explains why £49 million was splurged on Liverpool winger and hippy crack smoker Raheem Sterling, with £8 million also spent on Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph and a further £8 million on teenager Patrick Roberts from Fulham.
Not The Spend Of Their Problems
However, spending so much on English talent this summer could set Man City back years. By neglecting the need to keep hold of homegrown players over the past few years, the Etihad club have left themselves in a situation that could take some time to unravel. At a time when Pellegrini should have been replenishing his starting lineup with top-tier talent, he has been forced to curb his ambition.
Neither Delph nor Sterling will improve Manchester City much, at least in a wider sense. The likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid aren’t exactly shuddering at the prospect of facing either player in the Champions League this season, despite the latter’s hefty price tag. And Delph won’t even appear on the radar of Europe’s elite.
In essence, City have spent £65 million on merely satisfying a bureaucratic stipulation. In fact, with Milner – one of the club’s most consistent players over the past few years – gone it could be argued that Pellegrini’s side is in fact worse off ahead of the new season.
‘Grown Nowhere Fast?
But Pellegrini insists that he is not just targeting English players to meet the quota, arguing that a homegrown contingent will help them become a winning team once again. Of course, that’s nonsense. ‘You’ll never win the title without an English core’ is one of those cliches that has very little basis in truth or precedence – like ‘you’ll never win anything with kids’ or ‘the thing about Arsenal is they always try to walk it in.’ There is no logical reason to believe that the Premier League can’t be won without a Lionheart leader at the back, or a quintessentially English number nine up front.
Had City been smarter about things, they would have packed the fringes of their squad with homegrown fodder, allowing them to target the very best players – without restriction – for their first-team. Instead they now almost have an obligation to hand Sterling a starting spot, given the money spent on signing him.
City don’t exactly have the best record with homegrown players. Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair were bought for around £20 million two years ago, with just over 30 appearances made between the two players in the time since.
Joe Hart is pretty much the only British player to have made a career for himself at Man City having come through the club’s youth ranks – and even he was bought from Shrewsbury Town for £1.5 million as a teenager. The Abu-Dhabi owned team have a lot to prove in that respect.
Financial Fair Play regulations may have been relaxed recently, allowing clubs like Man City more leeway in the transfer market, but they are still restricted to a certain extent. They can’t splash cash like rivals Manchester United can, for instance, so when £65 million is spent by the Sky Blues on just three players, it must count.
The capture of Delph and Sterling has been billed as a proactive nod to the future by Man City, with the club for once thinking about the long-term. Both signings however could prove more of a handicap.