This season could well be the final hurrah for much of Manchester City’s squad. Nobody doubts the quality of the reigning Premier League champions, but with an average squad age of 29.5 years, the oldest of any side in the top flight this year, their starting XI desperately requires an injection of youth – and their defunct academy system won’t be providing it any time soon. Indeed, if Manuel Pellegrini is to reconstruct his roster this summer with an influx of young, favourably British talent, it will have to be via the transfer market.
Hardly a ground-breaking theory for the Etihad outfit; in a bid to increase the longevity of their squad and improve their home-grown quota, they’ve lured the likes of Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair to Eastlands before. Following their summer arrivals in 2012 however, the duo made just 28 collective league appearances before departing for different clubs; the latter, Aston Villa on loan, and the former, Sunderland permanently.
That will likely compromise City’s faith in the strategy working a second time around, but right now they don’t have a choice in the matter; the club desperately need a signing that can have an effect immediately – clearly, adding youth to the peripheries of the squad just doesn’t work for a club that view every game as a must-win – but also underpin the starting XI for the best part of the next decade.
The potential options, such as Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Everton’s Ross Barkley or West Brom’s Saido Berahino – the most promising youthful home-grown talents currently in the Premier League – all come with inevitably large price-tags. That’s no issue for one of the richest teams in world football, but prizing them away from their respective clubs this summer is a different ask all together.
One top talent that could feasibly be lured to the Etihad, however, is Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling – still delaying on penning extended terms at Anfield past 2017, which is making a summer departure, before his market value depreciates, a distinct possibility.
Any Premier League fan will be more than aware of the 20 year-old’s qualities by now. He’s a nomadic attacker blessed with pace, creativity and trickery, and has added goals to his game this season whilst filling in at centre-forward for the injured Daniel Sturridge.
He’s not a natural finisher by any means, but neither was he a natural right wing-back nor a natural No.10, positions he slotted into with great success last season, and what impresses me most about the England international is his ability to learn and adapt as quickly as Brendan Rodgers can throw new roles at him – in my opinion, the hallmark of a player with the right blend of attitude and talent to continue improving throughout his career. It also makes him a very desirable choice for City; left, right, centrally or up top, there’s a plethora of capacities Pellegrini could utilise him in until a more permanent role is decided.
Some will argue Sterling is dangerously overhyped for a player so young, and resultantly, will struggle to live up to his billing at club annually competing for domestic and European titles. Yet it’s indisputable that the 20 year-old has emerged as Liverpool’s most important player over the last 18 months, and no youngster in Europe played as crucial a role at a club as big as Liverpool in a challenge as coveted as a Premier League title race than Sterling last season – rightfully earning him the continent’s Golden Boy award for 2014. In other words, by my reckoning, the midfielder-come-striker has already proved he’s capable of playing at City’s level.
Of course, Liverpool will be reluctant to sell to a club they view as a divisional rival, but there are some important facts to remember here. Mainly, that Sterling is Jamaican-born, London-raised and until 2010 was receiving his footballing education at QPR. Although Liverpool presented the Three Lions prodigy with a platform, he’s by no means obliged to the club in the same way as Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher, for example.
Still, we’re talking about a fee around the £35million mark – something City will have to strongly consider if they’re to comply with Financial Fair Play. But with Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaletta, Yaya Toure and David Silva all between 28 and 31, finding a new, youthful focal point of the starting XI, such as Sterling, is vital if he club are to extend their recent successes long-term.
Should his future remain shrouded in doubt come the summer, City must move heaven and earth to bring the England star to Eastlands.