Playing the Waiting Game

by Markus Jensen

The January transfer window brought with it a new record in winter-spending across the Premier League. Top teams Manchester City and Chelsea, both trailing Manchester United and Arsenal, spent big while the window was open, not for the first time in either case. Still, if you asked anyone on Saturday after the derby between City and United, they’d say the best signing made this season was Wayne Rooney’s new contract.

Effortlessly ignoring the fact that the former United talisman has enjoyed a less than fruitful season thus far, his performances being overshadowed by striking partner Dimitar Berbatov, let’s look at the bigger picture. City spent a lot of money when they signed Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz, both proven Premiership strikers. This January, both left the Eastlands for slightly differing destinations as Adebayor miraculously finds himself leading the line for Real Madrid, the luck of that man knows no end I swear, while Santa Cruz is back in his little pond in Blackburn where it all kicked off for him in this country. Replacing them, City bought Edin Dzeko for £27 million, and the Bosnian hitman’s record so far reads one goal in seven appearances against the mighty Notts County in the cup.

Chelsea in turn spent £15 million to sign Nicolas Anelka a couple of seasons ago. His best output ever as a striker was probably while playing up front under Guus Hiddink. Now, they’ve brought in Fernando Torres, playing Anelka in an awkward playmaker role, while they cleared off anyone suited to that role in the summer(Joe Cole, Deco, Ballack). Another result of their transfer exodus has showed throughout the season, a lack of cover in central defence, and so Roman Abramovich decided to spend big on young, rash and unproven David Luiz, which might or might not come good, to add to their defensive ranks while Ricardo Carvalho plies his trade at Real Madrid.

If you looked, you’ll find countless examples of sheer transfer muppetry at both clubs, Shaun Wright-Phillips even ruining a promising career swapping them for each other, but the constant in all this is a lack of patience and faith, both managerial, of course, but more importantly in their playing material. Contrast this to the two clubs currently leading the charge in the league, currently having the two most promising and coherent squads in the league, and with the two most experienced and undoubtedly best suited managers to each of the four clubs in question. While Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini both remain a couple of dodgy defeats from cries of sackings and crisis, Arsene Wenger leads his club in it’s sixth year without a trophy, still the supreme character in North London, still unchallenged, still with his fans and his board backing him. Sir Alex Ferguson is an anomaly in itself, one which obviously isn’t going to disappear other than through his own will.

Some might argue it was impatience which threw Chelsea into the state of instability the club has endured these last few years, when Roman Abramovich decided to get rid of José Mourinho after a season without the league title. Fact remains, this season has seen Chelsea crumble, and even though their squad do contain some youthful promise, what chance do they stand of flourishing under constant changes in management and uncertainty regarding their first team credentials? As for City, they have pretty much given up their former habit of producing their own players for their first team, instead opting for the endless amount of Arab money to bring them the glory they so desperately seek.

Both clubs would do well to take a look at the structures in place at the two clubs not only leading the way this season, but for the last two decades being the most successful clubs in England. Particularlywhen it comes to patience with individuals. In Arsenal’s case, half the squad was probably written off at some point in time, I know I doubted the quality of some of the players. Arsene Wenger’s extreme trust in his own players now seem to finally pay dividends, as they are in the League Cup final, beat what is the best side in the world in the Champions League and are the only side looking like challenging Manchester United for the title. Lukasz Fabianski has had his doubters ever since his introduction to the first team, but this season he wrestled the number one spot from Manuel Almunia and looked a good keeper until his injury. Alexander Song looked terrible in his early outings for the Gunners at centre back, but he has shone in the central role he is given by his manager. Jack Wilshere is taking new strides every day, carefully brought through to the big time. Samir Nasri has finally lived up to his potential and looks a real class act.

What chance would those players have if they tried to break through at Chelsea and City? Would Nasri be allowed his off days and his chance to flourish without being sat on the bench instead? Would Wilshere be blooded in the first team? Would Alexander Song even get a look in? Yet, those are some of the key players who have helped Arsenal overtake Chelsea and keep City at bay, even allowing for their ridiculous spending. At Old Trafford, patience and faith in developing his players have been one of the cornerstones of Sir Alex Ferguson’s regime.

The best example would be Darren Fletcher, one of the most consistent performers in the United-side of the last years. He was targeted even by his own fans during his first years in the first team fray, but patience allowed him to develop into that fine midfielder he is today. Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic both struggled in their first months since joining the club, much like Torres, Dzeko and Luiz seems to do, but given time they grew into top class defenders. Dimitar Berbatov, the top scorer in the league with 19 goals so far this season, even went two seasons without fully producing the goods. If City had signed him on that deadline day, which it looked like they would, then Berbatov probably would’ve been flogged after his first season, replaced by another big name signing.

If Chelsea are to recover from this season, they’ll need to put their emphasis on patience, trust their own players, and start giving their own youngsters some playing time. Josh McEachran is a fine young talent, Jeffrey Bruma and Patrick van Aanholt too, while Gäel Kakuta might turn into a real gem. If Fernando Torres doesn’t fire from the get off, he should be given time to grow into the Chelsea-way of doing things, and David Luiz needs to learn the English way of defending and organizing. At City, they should stick with some of the very talented players they’ve got instead of replacing them each summer if they’re not producing. Perhaps bothclubs could take notes from Ferguson, who brought in talents like Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandez, sticking with frustrating players like Ronaldo and Nani, moulding them into the players he want free from the expectations of a hefty price tag? Perhaps Arsene Wenger’sphilosophy of developing players through his Arsenal system from a young age is the right way to go? With financial fair play looming in the horizon, one could ask if Chelsea and City have to start off at square one in a couple of years, so why not start now and get the building blocks in place?

Whatever you think, there IS more to football than money and quick fixes, and sustained success has to be built, understood, experienced, not bought.

9 Responses

  1. Neil Sherwin Neil Sherwin says:

    “As for City, they have pretty much given up their former habit of producing their own players for their first team”

    Sorry Markus but that’s just wrong. Only the other week we saw Abdul Razak become the latest youngster to get a chance in the first team. Alex Tchuimeni-Nimely and Chris Chantler also played away to Juventus in the Europa League while Dedryck Boyata has enjoyed a good run in the side.

    In fact, since Mancini took over 14 months ago, 9 academy graduates have played first team football. To put that into perspective, if you go back 9 players before that you go all the way to March 2006 so if anything MORE are getting a chance now than ever before.

    “What chance would those players have if they tried to break through at Chelsea and City?”

    If at City they’d be given a very good chance, as the current first team squad shows.

  2. Charlie says:

    Fine article, agree entirely.

  3. Kevin says:

    A Norweigan using the word “muppetry”? I’m impressed!

    More seriously, I’m not sure how the sentiments in this article can be reconciled with the very recent article by the same author “Arsenal -forever young or finally ready”? There, he recommended Arsenal fix the holes in their squad (i.e. where youth is inadequate) with transfer spending. http://backpagefootball.com/premier-league/arsenal-forever-young-or-finally-ready/

  4. It's Grim Oop North says:

    This article assumes City and Chelsea don’t give players the chance to settle into the team, before discarding them needlessly.
    Whilst it may be true that some players have not been given a fair crack of the whip at these clubs, it is also true that United and Arsenal have discarded fine players in hindsight.
    I am thinking of Diego Forlan, David Bentley, Jay Bothroyd, Ryan Shawcross, the list is massive.
    I cannot speak for Chelsea, but City have given players like Jo loads of time and opportunity to come good in recent times, in fact the fans are mystified why some players have lasted as long as they have.
    United have serially broken transfer records and wage structures to attract and retain the best players around for decades, and Arsenal have behaved in a similar fashion until the move to the Emirates depleted their resources.
    To pretend these two clubs, with their established worldwide scouting networks, are not buying their way to success is naive at best.
    The Champions League rewards mean the gap between the top four and everyone else gets wider every season, only massive investment and risk-taking can break the monopoly enjoyed by those teams fortunate to be in the qualifying places at the inception of the CL.
    Some risks don’t pay off, some do.
    City and Chelsea are playing catchup, also establishing their academies and scouting networks, alongside top wages and transfer fees to compete.
    Both clubs have looked at several models to build success, and City seem intent on emulating the Barca model, with vast investment in the youth.
    Please do feel free to do some research into the fine work going on at the moment at Eastlands, Carrington and Platt Lane training complexes, then you will see City are on course to be the envy of world football when the plans come to fruition.

  5. Markus Jensen says:

    Neil: You don’t seriously expect any of your youth prospects to break through any time soon? I certainly don’t, even if they’re given a chance here and there. As for Mancini, who knows where he’ll be in 3 years. Main point about lack of patience stands, the youth issue in City’s case was besides the main point.

    Kevin: I’m not saying United haven’t spent big, I’m saying United and Arsenal stand by their big signings(and youngsters) and give them the chance to prove their worth before spending equally or more on other targets. Eternal evolving transfer doors aren’t the solution to achieve success, I believe.

    I’m aware clubs have to spend to compete with established top clubs, but I don’t think Chelsea nor City are going about it the best way. I know both clubs have invested in youth facilities and brought young talents in from abroad, but I don’t think they can afford to blood them/want to do that in the current ownership climate where instant success is demanded. Perhaps this came poorly across in the article, directing the blame towards the managers(which in my opinion have done reasonably well.)

    And I do feel Arsenal could do well with trying to fix some gaps in their squad, even if they do stay patient with what they’ve got. If they bought Smalling, which Wenger intended for, they would have a top prospect at the back and could give him the chance.

    1. Neil Sherwin Neil Sherwin says:

      Define ‘break through’. Remember this is the club that has given a 23 year old the nod in goal ahead of a seasoned international and two time Premier League Goalkeeper of the Year.

      Micah Richards is a firm member of the first team squad, Michael Johnson would be were it not for injury, and I’ve already listed players who have been heavily involved in the first team squad.

      It’s a cliche at this stage, but if you’re good enough you’re old enough, and City have certainly done more than most clubs in the country with regard to youth. All you to do is take a look at the training facilities and underage setup. It’s second to none.

      There are plenty of reasons to have a pop at City but youth policy and giving kids a chance is certainly not one of them.

      1. Markus Jensen says:

        I’m not having a pop at City when it comes to giving youth a chance the last 5 years. Hart, Richards and Johnson were all blooded before the arab owners came in, and I don’t think they’ll choose that line of thinking judging by the signs so far in their reign. You don’t spend 27 million on a striker to give your fairly talented youth striker a chance, nor buy a midfield for a cost of about 50 million and play a youth player. With signings coming so rapidly I don’t see chances for youngsters to break through, that’s all, and I don’t think the machine gun policy in signing players is the right way to go.

  6. Nick says:

    sorry but this article is just plain wrong. As well as attacking Man-City unfairly, you also claimed that Luiz has made a bad start to his Chelsea career. He’s played one match and besides giving away a penalty, he was comfortably the man of the match. Wenger and Ferguson do develop players but how many times have United made signings and let them go after a year or two? Veron for a start. Also Nani, came in for a large price tag of about £18 million. The basic point of the article is correct, but please do a little more research.

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