Are Man City's Ageing Squad Running Out Of Time To Be Great?

Or will the academy finally start to come good once more?
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Are Man City's Ageing Squad Running Out Of Time To Be Great?

In a recent column, Gary Neville argued that Manchester City’s squad, the oldest in the Premier League on average, is running out of time to make themselves truly great. He asserts that the new Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, which Neville disagrees with, and the declining value of City’s more established stars represent a mortal threat to the club. City need to reinvent themselves.

He is not wrong. He is not entirely correct of course, but the basic sentiment is on target. 

To start with where our Monday Night Football saviour gets it right; He is correct to say that City’s FFP fine being redistributed to other rich clubs is absurd. These clubs don’t need it and the awarding of the money has nothing to do with ‘Fair Play’.

He is correct to assert that FFP is anti-competitive and has no interest in making sure clubs don’t self-harm in the manner of Leeds or Portsmouth. His suggestion of a bond lodged by the owner in case they hypothetically walk away instead of restricting investment is interesting and innovative. 

He is correct to assert that football is elitist and protects those currently at the top in favour of levelling the playing field – for instance Real Madrid and Barcelona have almost €1 billion in debt between them. He even expresses hope that Sheikh Mansour might bring down FFP.

These are important issues gradually being discussed more and more by journalists and fans alike.

Where Neville comes slightly unstuck is when he discusses Manchester City directly. This is not an unusual occurrence when Neville comes to City, although he is not nearly as bad as some of his erstwhile colleagues.

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The average age of the squad as a whole is high, but that takes into account Martin Demichelis and Frank Lampard who are both really, really old. If you take the aforementioned pensioners out of the equation then it doesn’t look so bad, especially as the core of the team all signed new long term contracts over the summer. That stability will serve City well in the future. 

Secondly, City are in the process of bringing newer blood through into the team which will bear the expectation of future success. The emergence of Eliaquim Mangala against Chelsea at the weekend is the most obvious example of this. The Frenchman was outstanding, pulling a superior performance out of the bag on his debut against a very strong Chelsea team. At just 23 years of age he will be expected to be a partner to Vincent Kompany for many years and then take over when the captain eventually retires. 

Thirdly, the club academy. To Neville’s credit he mentions this, but somehow fails to connect it to his earlier argument that City must sell the current stars and buy young players.

No new stars have come through yet, but that is to be expected. There was a natural break in City’s long tradition of bringing new players through when the Sheikh arrived as instant improvement with established names was required before the existing elite could shut the door to eliminate competition and protect themselves.

However the wheels of City’s youth academy are now turning and there are a few names out on loan who are expected to progress to the first team such as Marcos Lopes at Lille and Karim Rekik at PSV Eidnhoven. 

FFP is a clear and present danger to a Manchester City team which has for the last few years relied upon spending money invested by the owners. However there is no need for rash action such a selling the present stars in order to buy unproven youth. What is needed is a steady hand on the tiller and a long term strategy – luckily for City this is an area in which the owner and the board have proven to be extremely adept. The club will be absolutely fine.