Suárez: sad indictment of City’s academic failings
A microcosm of Manchester City’s necessity for a ‘holistic’ approach.
Denis Suárez arrived at Manchester City from hometown club Celta Vigo in May 2011 for an initial outlay of £850,000. At the time, the capture of the much coveted midfielder was seen as a coup for a club who had just won the FA Cup at Wembley, but were still struggling to turn boundless resources and rapid progress on the pitch into clout and reputation in the transfer market. Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona were all reportedly interested in the Spain U-17 star after a string of impressive and composed performances for the Celta B team. Great things were expected of the diminutive Suárez, and the club quickly set about building their academy side around their mercurially talented number 10.
When he arrived in England Suárez was a precocious talent but also far from the finished article. His dribbling and balance was reminiscent of a fledgling Andrés Iniesta, twisting, jinking and showing the moments of fabulous vision we have come to expect from this lauded generation of Spanish midfielders. As with many teenagers, particularly those as slight of frame as 5’11” Suárez, he was often bundled off the ball and stifled against teams employing a high line and a crowded midfield. In a comparable story to that of City teammate David Silva and his development at Valencia, Suárez learned his trade playing wide on the left for the club’s Elite Development Squad (EDS). His performances during the latter months of the 2011/12 season earned much praise, and he finished the season by collecting Manchester City’s Young Player of the Year award.
After being included in City’s pre-season tour and appearing in a number of friendlies, 2012/13 was expected to be the season Denis Suárez made his breakthrough into the first team squad. Former Barcelona Director of Football Txiki Begiristain was recruited in a similar role at Manchester City and, acutely aware of the talents of Suárez, he followed the youngster’s progress closely. Starting the season back in the EDS, Denis was shifted inside and immediately displayed a new-fangled robustness to compliment his polished and careful use of possession in the center of midfield.
The young Spaniard looked a class above his peers on numerous occasions and with the City senior side underperforming in their Premier League campaign, Suárez must have thought his chance was on the horizon. However, as months went by he was continually overlooked by Mancini, much to the quiet frustration of Begiristain and the club’s board. It became clear that the void in communication and tactical co-operation between the EDS and the first team staff was plugging the flow of gifted youngsters to the top level. Suárez was restricted to just one substitute appearance in the League Cup in the whole 2012/13 season.
When Manchester City announced the replacement of Roberto Mancini with Manuel Pellegrini in May 2013 one of the reasons given was ‘an identified need to develop a holistic approach to all aspects of football at the Club’ – a reference to the lack of talent mobility from the EDS to the first team. In addition, Pellegrini has openly stated on more than one occasion since taking over as manager his desire to work with the academy and EDS to bring more players through into the first team – a mantra clearly imparted from those in the board room. “We have to have a different style here in the club” Pellegrini said during his first press conference. “We need a mix with young players, who work exactly the same as the first team, and as the Under 21s.”
While Mancini’s lack of interest in blooding Suárez and his generation was not the only reason for his sacking, it is perhaps indicative of his lack of capacity to develop and advance professional football’s brightest talents – a criticism also leveled at him during his time in charge of Internazionale
At the time of writing it appears that Denis Suárez is open to a move back to his homeland to continue his footballing development. After an impressive U-20 World Cup with Spain Barcelona are circling, and a €4,000,000 switch to their ‘B’ team seems likely. If he is to move, it will be a sad illustration of the extent to which Manchester City’s once enviable youth development system has been misused and neglected during the club’s recent period of rapid growth. The hiring of Pellegrini is just one element of a restructuring process designed to ensure this is not a story that is repeated under the stewardship of Txiki Begiristain and CEO Ferran Soriano.
Those who have enjoyed watching Denis mature during his two years in Manchester will be sad to see him go, but at 19 his potential is still huge and the experience he has gained in English football will stand him in good stead to fulfill that promise. Supporters of Manchester City will hope that this quotably ‘holistic’ restructure, coupled with the 2014 opening of the Etihad Campus, will reinvigorate youth development and that the lessons are learned from ‘one that got away’ Denis Suárez.
Image: Art – travel pics
Will Forsyth is a freelance writer, sub-editor and Pablo Aimar aficionado based in London. Follow his musings about football and culture at @willforsyth10.