Manchester City missing opportunity to give youth a chance

Jonathan Wilson asks why wealthy clubs in the Premier League are so hesitant to tap the talent in their youth set-ups
Manchester City midfielder James Milner in action during the Premier League match against Crystal Palace on December 20, 2014, at Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England. Philip Oldham / Sportimage
Manchester City midfielder James Milner in action during the Premier League match against Crystal Palace on December 20, 2014, at Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England. Philip Oldham / Sportimage

For all the great goalscoring resources that are at Manchester City at present, the Premier League champions will probably start Friday’s match away to West Bromwich Albion with James Milner at centre-forward.

That is not to knock Milner, whose reputation has suffered because his virtues are those of character and industry rather than eye-catching skill, and because he seems to have been around forever.

He is only 28, but today will be the 12th anniversary of him becoming – at the time – the youngest scorer in Premier League history when he came off the bench to get the winner for Leeds United away at ­Sunderland.

Nobody would pretend Milner is the world’s greatest player, but that does not prevent him being an extremely good player and a highly effective player, somebody capable of playing in a range of roles and doing so with bluff good grace.

He is the ideal man for a team such as City to have in their squad, filling in when greater egos can or will not.

He has played at full-back as well, but the decision to start him at centre-forward in last Saturday’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace came as a major ­surprise.

After all, it is not as though Milner has been especially prolific in his career. He has scored 33 goals in 364 league games, though the fact he was a regular penalty taker for England’s Under 21 side suggests others see in him a calmness under pressure.

Against Palace, his movement was fine and he linked the play well enough. He is obviously not going to make the switch permanently, but he was competent and City are blessed with an array of goalscoring options from deep – David Silva and Yaya Toure in that game.

But the bigger question is how City have ended up in this state.

In part, it is bad luck that their three first-choice strikers Sergio Aguero, Stevan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko are all injured – although given how often Aguero and Jovetic pick up injuries, it is not entirely unexpected.

Why Alvaro Negredo returned to Spain has never been made clear – the club said he could not settle in England, while he accused Manuel Pellegrini of making him play while injured.

City are paying for the decision not to replace him – perhaps a result of attempts to obey Financial Fair Play regulations – or not at least inserting a recall clause into his loan contract at Valencia.

Even without any of the four strikers who played regularly last season, though, it seems strange there is not a youth-team player ready to take his chance.

Surely the 18-year-old Spaniard, Jose Angel Pozo, who came off the bench against Everton and started against Leicester City could be given another chance.

You would also expect there would be somebody in the reserves or youth team – a 16 or a 17 year old – who could be thrown in to make a name for themselves.

City have unveiled their new academy, but as impressive as the facility is, the long term success of it will be judged on how many young players come through and are given their chance, as Milner was.

This is the paradox of English football, and this accounts for several of the teams in the Premier League. Large amounts of money are spent on setting up academies, but this work is up against managers and coaches who, in their hour of need, are unwilling to take a risk on the youngsters they are generating.

Arsenal have precious little to gain by beating QPR

An opponent that has lost every away game this season, scored just three times and conceded 20 in eight away matches.

For almost any other team, certainly for any other team with top-four aspirations, taking on Queens Park Rangers today would look like a walkover.

But Arsenal are Arsenal. It is entirely possible they could win by four or five, get their slick passing going and have their ranks of technically gifted midfielders slice QPR apart as Tottenham and Manchester United did earlier this season.

But it is equally possible that QPR, whose performances have been improving recently, even if results do not necessarily reflect that, could frustrate them, that Arsenal could stutter and send themselves into a tailspin of misery from which they will emerge by hammering a side they should beat just as the pressure seems as though it may become intolerable.

That is the Arsenal narrative: just enough ups that the downs never force change. This, really, is a game in which they have nothing to gain.

Everybody expects them to win, and they should win, but even if they do, it says nothing about their capacity to take on the division’s top sides. That is why they always finish fourth at the end of the season.

Published: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM


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