Connect in the back of the net

Manchester City’s announcement of the signing of Patrick Roberts was terse, with a tweet being sent out to issue the new player a warm welcome as he is pictured in the now clichéd surroundings of sitting at a table with a contract in place, pen in hand with a club representative posing next to him. There was very little else from City about the 18 year old who became their 4th signing of the summer.

That maybe because what there is to tell about Roberts, who joins from Fulham for an undisclosed fee, is currently rather scarce. The midfielder joins after spending just one season in the Championship with Fulham in which he made 17 appearances with another three coming in the cups, and after nurturing him since joining from AFC Wimbledon as a 13 year old, the Cottagers are seemingly waving Roberts goodbye before they got the chance to properly acclimatise him to the demands of first-team football.

Of course, with a fee that totals £11 million, made up of £5 million up-front and another £6 million to follow in add-ons, Fulham are being handsomely rewarded for honing Roberts’s talent for the last 5 years.

During that time he would be afforded only three starts in the senior team and his role in the run to the final of the 2014 FA Youth Cup, in which they were beaten by Chelsea 7-6 on aggregate, probably stands as his high point with the club.

He is the “extraordinary talent” Felix Magath handed a 35-minute Premier League debut to, incidentally in a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of City in March 2014, before Roberts saw the instability brought about by Magath’s sacking and Kit Symons’s instalment limit his game time in the Championship.

Just 17 months after signing his first professional deal at Fulham he is gone, sadly being forced into handing in a transfer request, as the inequities of football’s hierarchy turns its cogs once again.

“I’m over the moon and I can’t wait to get started” Roberts tweeted of his move, taking time to indulge in the euphoria of joining one of Europe’s richest clubs before the size of his move and the weight of the task that awaits him truly hits home.

The jump from competing for places with Hugo Rodellega, Cauley Woodrow and George Williams in a squad that limped to 17th place in the second tier, to training alongside Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure in a team that will be expected to challenge at the top of the Premier League will be mammoth.

To make that transition Roberts will be afforded time and at the age of 18 that is a commodity he has on his side. An international for England in every age group from under-16 to the under-19s, he won the 2014 European Championship with the under-17s and was included in the team of the tournament by scoring 3 goals and grabbing 4 assists, he has the potential to successfully make that vast step up.

His form in that under-17 tournament earned him a call to the England under-19s in August of last year and the winger has gone onto play a significant part in the 2015 European Championship qualifying round, recording 4 goals and 4 assists.

City are keen to bring more English players into their academy’s development program and Roberts, being one of the most talented in his age group, definitely fits the calibre of player they will be building for the future.

A right-winger blessed with quick feet and excellent dribbling skills, Roberts is likely to go straight into the Elite Development Squad that is currently coached by Patrick Vieira as City prepare him for a gradual immersion into the first team.

Though forewarned by the stasis suffered by the likes of Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell after moving to Eastlands, and even Micah Richards after the gargantuan sums of money started to wield influence around the club, Roberts will have to work extremely hard to avoid becoming a similar forgotten man who finds his route to first-team opportunities blocked by City’s power in the transfer market.

He will have to defy the cynics who will say the move is mainly motivated, coming after Raheem Sterling and Fabien Delph arrived in the same week, to re-boost the home-grown quota that had been decimated by the exits of James Milner, Dredryck Boyata, Frank Lampard and the moves of Sinclair and Richards to Aston Villa. Sterling, Delph and Roberts will add to the crop of Joe Hart, Gael Clichy and Richard Wright who are already in place to bring City closer to the number of 8 required in the 25 man squad.

Tough Roberts does arrive with bags of potential for City to tap into. He has a self-confessed fondness for Lionel Messi and of a similar build to the Argentine, standing at 5ft 5 ½ inches, he relies on impressive balance to glide past defenders as he runs with the ball. As he has proven with Fulham and England, his size isn’t a problem at youth level but City will have to work at preparing him for senior football where he will meet bigger and tougher defenders.

City’s EDS will gain a player with gifted vision who is adept at playing in any position across the midfield but one that likes to get forward with the ball whenever he can to power away shots at goal.

Roberts also possesses impressive technique and a dazzling box of tricks that defenders find hard to deal with, though it comes complete with end product as he has proven himself a capable crosser and passer of the ball at youth level.

The task for City’s coaches as they build for the brighter future that was billed when they unveiled their £200 million Etihad campus training facility last year, is to mould Roberts into a player good enough to make the grade.

Since Sheikh Mansour’s lucrative takeover in 2008 no academy player has broken through into the first team despite the grand and detailed plans that overhauled their reserve team. City’s signings of Roberts, together with Turkish striker Enes Unal from Bursaspor, have been made with the coming years in mind, just as Mansour stated back in 2008.

It is up to the new players and City to work at it though, the solution of unleashing the sort of ominous financial power that allows clubs to cherry pick the latest flavour of the month from Spain or Italy is often too convenient and too simple.

Roberts must get it right at his new club and if he does then there will no longer be a dearth of things to write about the promising winger.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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