It’s a Catch-22 cliche that young footballers are not ready to play in the Premier League until they’ve played in the Premier League.
The experience of playing at the top level is what exposes those so-far-accomplished young bucks to a whole new level of aspiration. It pushes their dreams into the realms of attainability, and sometimes – just sometimes – the talent and desire follow suit. (Exhibit A – Todd Cantwell, M’lud.)
The benefits of introducing youth early are rarely immediate, but the medium to long-term is where the sparkles lay.
The alternative is to keep the proto-talent bubbling along warmly and cosily in the Academy and Under-23s without ever tasting the ‘style & bile’ and ‘grit & sh*t’ at the top.
Although a valuable and necessary learning stage, if progression doesn’t happen then they don’t get better, they just get older. Ultimately, unless they start making significant contributions to the first team by their early-20s, it’s time to move on. Sometimes to rediscover and reinvent themselves (and hopefully to succeed) but often not.
My argument is that the Premier League for City this year is lost. Next season’s Championship, as yet, is not. But we need to build some momentum and confidence.
Normally as a relegation season peters out there are pressures on the incumbent manager to please the fans and to keep home attendances healthy by playing his best team.
But in the empty-stadium COVID situation we find ourselves in, that last point is null and void. There are no home fans to keep happy – so this is the perfect time to experiment with the team.
There are enough games left to play a meaningful array of line-ups and formations against world-class players in world-class venues which will inform and educate. The learning experience for those potential Academy or Under-23 stars would be invaluable. There has never been a better time to do it.
It would be a brave choice. Very brave. But think of the possible upside. The first team is likely to lose two or three players to other clubs between now and the start of next season.
Would you prefer to start 2020/21 with your fingers crossed behind your back, throwing a handful of untried youngsters into the first team – or with a clutch of galvanised tyros who have sipped at the top table and gained huge confidence from doing so?
It’s a toughie.
It’s also a positive option.
The fan’s joy levels next season could depend on a decision like this.