Saturday 17 March 2018

Academies not good enough for life in Premier League, insists Guardiola

Pep Guardiola doesn’t believe that young players are being well-enough prepared for the Premier League. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Pep Guardiola doesn’t believe that young players are being well-enough prepared for the Premier League. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

James Ducker

Pep Guardiola gave a simple response yesterday when asked why he continued to overlook his youngsters in favour of consistently under-performing senior players who seem incapable of halting Manchester City's slide.

In Guardiola's eyes, English football has a "real problem" because the academy set-up fails to adequately prepare aspiring young players for the pressures of the Premier League.

The City manager's solution? Allow the biggest clubs to field B teams in the Football League where youngsters can play physical, competitive games against more experienced players in front of larger crowds.

Those who watched an 18-year-old Tom Davies demolish City's ageing midfield in Everton's 4-0 destruction of Guardiola's flagging team last Sunday will wonder if the Catalan is looking for some excuses.

After all, a 32-year-old right back, Pablo Zabaleta, was preferred in central midfield to Aleix Garcia, his own inexperienced teenage midfielder, while two defenders with deteriorating form, Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov, continue to be picked at the expense of Tosin Adarabioyo, who City are under threat of losing to Everton.


Similarly, Delle Alli (20) will be out to prove again that youngsters can flourish in the white heat of battle if given a sustained chance when Spurs visit the Etihad Stadium this evening in a game City, after four defeats in their past eight league matches, need to win.

In September, the EFL voted against any structural reform to allow Premier League B teams into the pyramid.

But having experienced the success of such a feeder system at Barcelona, who have a second team in Spain's third tier that he used to manage, and Bayern Munich, whose second string play in Germany's fourth tier, Guardiola is urging a rethink and claims pathways will continue to be compromised until change materialises.

"I think the reserve league for the young players is not good enough," Guardiola said. "They compete in these second teams but it is not a good league, the consistency is not physically strong.

"In Spain, the second teams in Barcelona and Madrid play in front of 40,000-45,000 people. Here, they play with no spectators.

"It's not strong enough and that's why it's so difficult for the English players sometimes at big clubs like City.

"I think it's a real problem for English football. So why can we not create Man City or Man United second team and not play in the Championship against Newcastle?

"They'd play for the second team of United, City, Tottenham and they compete with Newcastle playing in front of huge (numbers of) fans. That is the future of English football."

At that point, Guardiola, sat in the media centre at City's training complex, pointed rather wistfully at the 7,000-capacity stadium on the site that he complained was often empty for reserve matches.

Whether he likes it or not, though, this is the hand Guardiola has been dealt and he will still be expected to find a way of blooding kids at a club that has made a huge song and dance about its burgeoning academy, just Mauricio Pochettino, has successfully done at Tottenham.

Behind the scenes there is concern that recent defeats are not quite hurting some more senior players, perhaps as many as five or six, as much as they should.

Which again invites the question as to why the likes of Garcia and Adarabioyo, the 19-year-old centre-half who could depart when his contract expires in the summer, have not been given more opportunities and the exciting young right-back Pablo Maffeo, impressive in the League Cup defeat by United in October, was shipped off on loan to Girona in Spain this month?

After watching Adarabioyo and Maffeo in the 1-1 draw at home to Celtic in the Champions League, Guardiola said: "From what I saw in that moment, maybe they are not ready." He also talked about needing to "protect" them by blooding them "when the team is more stable and showing more consistency".

But the reality is there will seldom be an ideal moment to field young players because the pressure is constant.

Equally, what message does it send to Garcia, Adarabioyo, Maffeo and even striker Kelechi Iheanacho, who started just one of the four matches Sergio Aguero missed through suspension last month, when senior players keep being picked, despite committing the sort of mistakes youngsters would get chastised for?

Iheanacho will find another obstacle in his path now new £27m signing Gabriel Jesus is available.

But City have a particular problem with Adarabioyo, whose representatives are asking for so much money that City are concerned about opening a can of worms if they bow to such demands.

Guardiola's call for B teams is a valid one but, in the meantime, he needs to figure out a way of involving some impatient youngsters. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Manchester City v Tottenham, Live, Sky Sports 1, 5.30

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