Editor’s Column: Manchester City’s ageing squad could prove to be a problem

TFN Editor Hugo Greenhalgh believes Manchester City’s squad needs freshening up…

Somewhat unusually, The Sunday Times ran a front page on the day of the Manchester Derby claiming that City were to fight Liverpool for the signature of Steven Gerrard’s next contract. While there may be little truth to this rumour, it would fit in with City’s recent trend of signing experienced players well beyond their peak years. The main reason for this policy is Financial Fair Play; they are a club continually at odds with the homegrown rule that requires a minimum of five “homegrown” players in their Champions League squad, while any free transfers are a bonus.

It will come as little surprise that Manchester City possess the oldest average squad age in the Premier League at 28. This is not necessarily a bad thing. They are, after all, the champions and that age brings experience. Key players such as Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabeleta and Fernandinho are all 28 or over. The concern is that time and time again, City have failed to integrate younger players into their squad. Indeed, there are very few who appear to be challenging for places.

This summer Bacary Sagna was signed on a free from Arsenal and Frank Lampard joined on loan from New York City after he left Chelsea. While both can provide capable cover, as proven with Lampard’s equaliser against his former club, neither are long-term replacements for City. The one ‘prospect’ brought in was Eliaquim Mangala for whom the jury is still out. Meanwhile, Martin Demichelis, an older defender brought in last summer as something of a short-term stop-gap after younger and more prestigious transfer targets slipped by continues to play as a mainstay of the backline.

Mangala has shown some of the makings of a quality centre-back but City’s recent history of assimilating young players is not particularly strong. However, this hasn’t been for lack of trying. City have signed plenty of young players since the Mansour takeover, but very few have been able to establish themselves. One only has to look at Mario Balotelli, Stefan Savic, Matija Nastasić, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell to see how difficult it is to remain part of the City fabric. Rather, the club has preferred to sign recognised world-beaters or take punts on ageing players.

Looking at City’s depth, there are very few younger players who appear ready or capable of taking over from this generation. Dedryck Boyata is the sole survivor from the 2008 FA Youth Cup-winning side but has only featured in the League Cup this season. Over the years, promising talents have lost their way – Michael Johnson, Steven Ireland and to a certain extent Micah Richards – or gone on to prosper elsewhere – Daniel Sturridge.

Success can of course be achieved with older sides, but it is usually best complimented with a splash of youth. For instance, Arsenal’s Invincibles side had an average age of 27.6. There was a backbone of experience but the importance of youthful contributions cannot be overstated. Ashley Cole and Kolo Toure were both in their early 20s and played the majority of games, while January signing Jose Antonio Reyes chipped in with a couple of crucial goals in their run-in.

Ageing sides have also had success in Europe. AC Milan’s 2007 Champions League-winning team was the oldest starting eleven ever in a Final, with an average age of 31. Their back four were all over 30 and featured a 38-year-old Paolo Maldini. Yet it was Kaka, the tournament’s top scorer, who brought the side to life and was their pivotal figure in reaching the final.

This season City have been touted as the only side capable of catching the runaway league leaders Chelsea. This is a group of players who know what it takes to win a league title. However, given the manner in which City laboured to a 1-0 victory against 10-man Manchester United, it could do with some freshening up sooner or later. Perhaps some youthful reinforcements will be top of Manuel Pellegrini’s January wishlist.


7 thoughts on “Editor’s Column: Manchester City’s ageing squad could prove to be a problem

  1. Rubbish. Tying in these excellent players to renewed contracts means a settled team, and it also means time to move Academy players slowly into the first team, not in a rush. It’s very sensible, all the more so as they all know each other so well as footballers.

  2. When the new owners took over, their remit was to build a team that could compete on all fronts as quickly as possible, hence the age of most of the players that came in.

    Now we’re established as a top 4 premiership team, the remit has changed players who we spend money on are to be young, who will improve and either enhance the side staying long term or, if sold, will show a profit on their purchase price.

    Mangala and Aguero being prime examples (remember Mangala has played just 4 matches for us and will adjust to the Prem)

    As for players who will emerge from our youth academy, bearing in mind there are no guarantees with youth players –

    Defenders – Razak Nuhu, Jason Denayyer, Karim Rekik

    Mids – Seko Fofano, Jose Pozo, Albert Rusniak, Bruno Zuculini,

    Att – Devante Cole, Ketichi Iheanacho

    There are many more but, these are the ones who are showing particular promise not all will make the step up but Patrick Viera is proving a very wise choice to lead thee Youth Academy and, I have no doubt, will one day manage the first team.

    All our youth teams, from under 11’s right up to the reserve side won honours last year and it will only get better. City’s future is assured and that ageing squad will slowly evolve with YA graduates and new purchases keeping the success rolling.

    • Thanks for the comment Ian. The remit has changed, which is why I’m surprised the likes of Demichelis, Sagna and Lampard have been brought in when younger alternatives might be available.

      The next generation does sound exciting – I know a lot of money has gone into the ‘Etihad Campus’ and until these players are old enough to play for the first team, it is hard to assess the success of the programme yet. Winning honours at every youth level bodes well.

      Once again, thanks for a constructive addition to the debate.

      • Demichelis was a last minute signing at the start of last season due to injuries, a slow start but he soon adjusted to the pace of the Prem and supporters are quite happy to see him in the side

        Sagna was on a free so why not, plenty of rem and CL experience, we were being a little careful with one eye on FFP so it made sense, he’ll play maybe a couple of seasons by which time FFP will not be a concern so, we can buy a younger replacement or promote from within.

        Lampard happened by chance, he came on loan from New York City purely to keep fit for the MLS season, maybe play a few cup games and the odd PL game against “lesser” opposition and surprised everyone with his fitness and the fact he still had it in him to play at the highest level. he’s now staying until June to see out the season with us and, he’s a fine addition to the squad.

        As I said, FFP will be of no concern to us next season so, signings like this will be unlikely but, if they’re available and as successful as Demichelis and Lampard, no one would be concerned in the slightest. However, the jury is still out on Sagna.

  3. I forgot to mention Marcos Lopez a very promising midfield player who is probably one of our best prospects having already played first team games.

  4. Ian – well said; Hugo, see various answers. From the outside, I can see where you are coming from, but I think we have got it just right. And when we get a fair break in the CL, we’ll do much better in that competition. As matters stand, the seeding is ridiculous, as our being in the Group of Death three years out of four, despite being Champs of what is universally acknowledged to be the hardest league in the world to win demonstrates. That alone has cost us money, so that makes FFP bite even harder. Then there is UEFA’s clear ambiguity about racism – they don’t make the penalties stick and then reduce them; indeed when City played at Porto in the Europa, Porto were fined for racist chanting, City for coming out late for the 2nd half.

    No prizes for guessing which club was fined the most?

    Add to that the appalling reffing – clear Pen at Bayern (3rd in 3 games there – assume they are the United of Germany), same against Roma, for whom Maicon should have been sent off at the early pen, and the appalling decision at CSKA. Many City fans are very disenchanted with UEFA, and feel we have been made a lesson of for having the gall to break in on the cartel.

    Rant over. UEFA, and FIFA are both out of touch.

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