Following the departures of James Milner, Micah Richards and Frank Lampard, Joe Hart is now a solitary England international in the Citizens’ first team squad, with only the ever-elusive Richard Wright – a 37 year-old yet to register a competitive appearance for City – Frenchman Gael Clichy and a selection of academy products boosting their home-grown quota.
So Greg Dyke’s intentions to increase the home-grown quota from eight to twelve over the course of the next few seasons, whilst also changing the parameters to three years of training in England before the age of 18 rather than 21, could soon land the Etihad outfit in particularly volcanic water.
That need has already seen the Citizens linked with a £30million bid for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere this summer, but Arsene Wenger’s expected hands-off rebuttal is now forcing them to consider a cut-price alternative in Aston Villa midfielder Fabian Delph.
No doubt, Delph is a decent footballer, whose form over the last two seasons has earned him a recurring role in Roy Hodgson’s England plans; as Wilshere’s left-sided guard dog in the engine room.
He’s a well-rounded midfielder, with great tenacity, drive on the ball and occasional moments of technical brilliance – his under-footed volley against Chelsea during the 2013/14 campaign springs to mind. Without sounding too disrespectful to Villa, the Bradford-born box-to-boxer could – and probably should – be plying his trade at a higher level.
Furthermore, Delph’s Villains contract includes a £8million release clause, which certainly offers good value for money. That, in combination with his home-grown status, his proven Premier League pedigree, the 25 year-old’s relative youth and his preferred left foot, leaves the former Leeds youngster in a rather niche sector of the transfer market.
Yet, if there’s one lingering concern, it’s what kind of role Delph could expect should he make the move to Eastlands this summer. He’s no long-term successor to Yaya Toure, that much is already certain, but he’s also worryingly similar in style to Fernandinho, another box-to-box playbreaker, and lacks the Champions League experience of anchorman Fernando.
In my mind, he’s not done enough yet to prove himself worthy of a top European club, in the same manner as Arsenal and Manchester United target Morgan Schneiderlin has. So if Manuel Pellegrini persists with his four-man midfield for another season, Delph could struggle to break into the engine room on a regular basis.
In the short-term, Delph’s sheer arrival would complete City’s primary objective; improving their home-grown quota without spending an absolute fortune. Yet, he’s another home-grown addition to the squad rather than the starting XI, continuing a dysfunctional cycle the Sheik-owned club must start veering away from.
Although the likes of Lampard, Wright and Scott Sinclair all served a purpose, the short-term nature of their Etihad tenures leaves City facing the same issue every summer – how best to improve their home-grown contingent in the space of a single window, amid the seeming absence of readily available top drawer talent. In a nutshell, they’re stop-gap solutions, and Delph is of the same cloth. That approach hasn’t particularly hindered them so far, but it is, in essence, unsustainable.
With City also boasting an ageing squad – the oldest in the Premier League last season – and the psychological impact of failing to retain a second Premier League title, this should be the summer they begin to rebuild, finding new, British focal points for their starting XI, capable of underpinning the team for the best part of the next five or six years. Whilst compatriot and fellow target Raheem Sterling has the potential to fit that category, Delph unfortunately does not.
Rather than revamping, City are falling into the same old traps.