Seven years, eight loans. That is sadly what Patrick Roberts leaves behind at Manchester City.
After turning down an improved contract at Fulham, Roberts swapped Craven Cottage and London for Manchester and the Etihad Stadium, signing for Manuel Pellegrini’s side in 2015. He must have looked on in awe as he saw the array of talent already on display as he arrived.
David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta were all established in the City ranks. And the blues had just signed Raheem Sterling and Fabien Delph, andwith Nicolas Otamendi and a certain Kevin de Bruyne still to come.
It would be a dream for any youngster to be at the same club with this calibre of squad. Of course, Roberts must have known he wouldn’t go straight into the first team, and it was likely that he would be used in the League Cup, FA Cup and maybe as a fringe player for the Premier League.
But, after just three substitute appearances, Roberts soon realised that getting into the first team was much harder than he could possibly imagined. City made it to the League Cup final, beating Liverpool on penalties, but by then, Roberts had already been sent out on loan.
January 2016 had seen the winger join Celtic on an 18-month loan deal. It would give the youngster some valuable experience, but by the time he returned to City, Pellegrini had left and Pep Guardiola had been in charge for a season.
The 2017/18 season saw City break a ton of records as they cruised to the Premier League title, but Roberts had spent another season in Glasgow. It wasn’t all bad; he did win three Scottish titles, two League Cups and two Scottish Cups, but the promised land of Premier League glory must have seemed so distant to him.
Returning to City, Roberts was almost a forgotten man. Loan spells at Girona, Norwich, Middlesbrough and Derby County, followed by a final loan spell at French side Troyes had seen the winger drop way down the pecking order. He has now been snapped up by Sunderland in the hope he can help the Black Cats finally emerge from League One.
Did Manchester City fail Patrick Roberts?
In some ways, they did. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for this to happen at top teams. They sign players with all the intention of integrating them into the side, but the obsession clubs have of attaining immediate success often means players such as Roberts end up on the sidelines for longer than they would hope.
There’s huge pressure on Premier League managers to succeed, and when they suffer a few bad results, turning to an untried an untested young player isn’t the answer. In their book anyway. Like it or not, the Premier League is a cut-throat business and gambling on a player such as Roberts seemed a risk too far.
If a manager were to play him and get it right, he would receive the plaudits. He’d be a genius. It would be labelled a masterstroke by the media, who would be gushing at such brilliance. But, if he gets it wrong, then the unmistaken sounds of a knife sharpener pierce the air as the media vultures get ready to stab the boss firmly in the back.
Sometimes, managers take that risk and take the media backlash on the chin, but City just didn’t give the lad a chance.
But the blues are not alone in this. Okay, Scott Sinclair springs to mind, but throughout the years, even before the Premier League (yes United and Liverpool fans, there was football before 1992), top clubs carried out such practices. United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are all equally as guilty, and while some have gone on to enjoy decent careers, others weren’t so fortunate.
Guardiola’s Mission was Success
Guardiola’s main mission was to deliver success, and, after an uneventful first season, he did just that. But that’s where Roberts could have been given his opportunity. After winning the League and League Cup in the 2017/18 season, the blues could have afforded Roberts a chance, even if it was just in the League Cup.
Instead, he was packed away to Girona while the blues collected a domestic quadruple of trophies.
Maybe Guardiola just didn’t see the potential that Pellegrini saw back in 2015, and perhaps it would have been easier on the youngster for the club to cut ties with him then instead of leaving him for another three years. Instead, they sent him to Norwich and Middlesbrough, before forcing him to work under Wayne Rooney at Derby. Could there be any crueller fate?
Now 24, Roberts has signed for Sunderland and having a permanent club once again will hopefully allow his football to flourish. Luckily for Roberts, he got some valuable experience, an opportunity some don’t get and let’s hope he puts that to good use.
But, in relation to signing young players, City and clubs in general need to do much better. While some take young players on with the intention of developing them but not play them, other clubs (who will remain nameless) have signed players to stop them going to other teams. While the latter is a shameful practice that must stop, the former can have just a detrimental effect on a young players mental health.
Clubs need to start taking responsibility and looking after their young players.