I never had the privilege of tasting Champions League football as a player, in truth I never got close, but that doesn’t mean I can’t tell when a team playing at that level is over the hill.
Before they’ve even scaled the lower face of the mountain, Manchester City’s double title winners may as well climb down. This group isn’t going to reach the European summit they’ve had their eyes on all these years.
It’s not that Manuel Pellegrini’s side isn’t talented enough; less gifted outfits such as Borussia Dortmund and Atletico Madrid have gone as far as the final in recent years. It’s more that the balance isn’t right with the reigning Premier League champions, and I’m not talking about left and right footers.
Tell me which of City’s starting XI at the Nou Camp can be regarded as a player on the up?
Who of those multi-millionaire Premier League stars still has their best years ahead of them?
I’d suggest only two - Joe Hart and Sergio Aguero, who just happened to be their best performers on a chastening evening in Catalunia. The rest have all peaked. While their experience and knowledge are assets, the majority of them are on the way down.
It happens to all of us eventually, there’s no shame in it, but for the life of me I can’t fathom why Pellegrini and the Manchester City board haven’t seen this imbalance for themselves.
Recent acquisitions suggest they’ve had an eye on the issue with Wilfried Bony (26), Eliaquim Mangala (24) and Stevan Jovetic (25) all brought into the Etihad fold, but right now not one of those guys can get into manager’s best XI. He prefers the tried and trusted.
Manchester City’s squad is worryingly devoid of youth. There are no teenage talents banging Pellegrini’s door down, and to be honest there aren’t that many early twenty-something’s around the place either. This in my view is a poor oversight on the club’s part.
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Every dressing room needs an injection of youth. Young talents are cocky, exuberant and full of the joys of spring – and while this can be mildly annoying for older, established players at times, it also keeps them firmly on their toes. And that’s no bad thing.
As it stands most of the City squad is in what I’d call a middle-aged footballer comfort zone. They’re rich, they’ve won titles, and no one from underneath is pushing them to steal their place. It’s too snug a place to be.
At Stevenage in my mid-to-late twenties I remember the sudden transition from feeling quite young to being old, when a 17-year-old talent by the name of George Boyd began to catch the manager’s eye. We played in the same left wing position and not only was he younger than me, he was fitter and much more fearless too.
At the time my end product may have been more reliable than his was, but if he played instead of me I couldn’t argue that the side didn’t have more energy and verve - so I tried desperately to bring that element back to my game. This is the effect young players have, and it’s what Manchester City are badly missing right now.
Hunger is so important. When a young footballer is making his way in the professional game he has an insatiable appetite to succeed and to be noticed. I had it, everyone does. Then as the realities of family life take hold, your priorities begin to change. The best teams almost always have a blend of these two stages in a footballer’s career. When Manchester United won the treble in 1999 for example, they had a great mix of young pros and old heads.
With Lionel Messi in such sublime form, City’s exit was no disgrace. The Catalans would have beaten anyone last night.
But for Manchester City to stand any chance of reaching Barca’s high standards they must redress the ballast that’s missing from the make-up of their leggy, lopsided and over-comfortable team.
If they don’t freshen up their XI with youthful quality, standing at the summit of that Champions League mountain will remain a distant dream.
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