City’s young forward Marcos Lopes looks to be leaving for France in an £8.8m deal following his promotion to the first team squad over the summer. This news has set the City fanbase to doom and gloom. Understandably so.
Hearing @Rony10Lopes set for move to Monaco in £8.8million deal. They may loan him to Lille if deal goes through
— Stuart Brennan (@StuBrennanMEN) August 27, 2015
The issues surrounding City’s approach to youth development were buried in a shallow grave following the City Live event where Lopes, Jason Denayer and Kelechi Iheanacho were promoted to the first team but they have now come back to the surface.
However no matter how disappointing it might be to see Lopes leave we have to try and not conflate the two issues.
Lopes has long been something of a talisman for City fans. He was one of the up and coming stars we could point to whenever the youth system was unfairly derided by people with no interest in looking at the reality.
The Portuguese youngster has no shortage of skill or imagination and looked from the outside to have the right mentality and work ethic to make it into the first team. Between becoming the club’s youngest ever goalscorer and a scintillating display at Upton Park we all convinced ourselves that if anyone was going to make it then it would be Lopes.
Unfortunately that is apparently not going to be the case.
It is very, very tempting to have another long, hard look at the City youth setup here and lay the blame at the Academy gates. Is there a pattern developing here? Perhaps. Is Pellegrini simply unable or unwilling to integrate youth players into the starting lineup? Maybe. Is it simply the case that City have no interest at all in using the youth academy as anything other than an ATM despite the extensive new facilities? Quite possibly.
Whichever way you look at it, if Lopes leaves it will be because he never had a shot at getting in the first team.
What we must be careful of is looking at this particular set of circumstances and combining it with other long standing issues.
Having ability is key for a young player (obviously…) but there are other things out of their control which need to be taken into account. One, yes, is the setup of the club. We don’t know enough about the goings on behind the scenes but it is quite obvious looking back at Denis Suarez etc that there may well be an issue there.
Just as important as all that are things like timing and luck. You can be the best young goalkeeper in the world but if Manuel Neuer is in front of you then your game time will be limited and you’re getting sold. You can be a hugely talented Number 10 but if David Silva is your competition then the game is well and truly up. This is partly what happened with Lopes. He has arrived on the way to being fully formed at a time when arguably the best player in the club’s history plays in his position.
He also only has one year left on his contract. Unless City were to go completely mad and drop Silva then it doesn’t matter what he does on loan or in training, he has no hope of getting a game next season either, or the one after. We can cry on about City not getting him tied down to a new contract earlier, but why would he have signed it? He’s from Belém, not Gorton, he’s not dyed in the wool City. He’s not going to sign a new one unless he’s guaranteed first team football, which he isn’t. You can’t force him to sign it without running afoul of several labour laws.
With that in mind, City were never going to turn down a large fee for a young, unproven player who’s contract is almost up. Nothing would have changed in a years time and Lopes would have walked for free.
However. This is not to let the club off the hook.
There are clearly issues with youth development at City. Add in all the context you like about a rise in quality meaning it takes time to get everything up to scratch. About how short term titles are more important right now than long term development. About how a money orientated youth policy helps with FFP. There are still issues.
The time to truly write City’s youth development ambitions off as just so much noise is if in the coming years there is a direct need for a player and an overwhelmingly talented potential youth player and the youngster is sold in favour of a huge signing. For instance if Iheanacho has a good season this year and is sold in favour of a £50m striker next summer – a scenario which is very far from being out of the question.
Lopes didn’t set Ligue 1 on fire during his loan spell last season. He didn’t demand the world’s attention at the U20s World Cup this summer. He has no chance of tying down a first team spot in the near future. He is a talented player but very far from the one the club needs right now and, hence, he might well be sold.
A pattern is developing but, looked at individually, selling Lopes probably makes sense for the club, even if it is a huge, huge shame for the fans.
Written by Alex Timperley