Chasing glory – the grass ain’t always greener

Read Fulfilling Potential Part 1: Versatility – a poisoned chalice?

In the second part of this series looking at player potential, I intend to view the transfer choices of in demand young players eager to make a step up to the next level.

For rising stars in ‘lesser’ teams, making a move to a bigger club, which may well be able to provide European football, is always a delicate balance and a statement of faith in their own abilities.

If a player moves to a top six club from, say, a Championship side or mid-table Premier League side, it goes without saying he will find game time much harder to come by. On the other hand, if a player chooses to stay loyal to a smaller team he may never fully reach the promise he is capable of without challenging his abilities at the highest level.

So if top talent need to move to bigger clubs to fully nurture their potential, is the key to success all about timing?

Part 2: Chasing glory – the grass ain’t always greener
Example to follow: Vincent Kompany
Example to avoid: Scott Sinclair

Let’s start with the newer of the two Man City men, Scott Sinclair, who is currently at West Brom on a season-long loan.

Sinclair had spent much of the early part of his career already at a large club in Chelsea. However given the resources available to Abramovich, and the owner’s desire for immediate success, his path into the first team was largely blocked. Between 2007-2010 he was loaned out to six clubs in an effort to receive all important first team football.

So far, so good.

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After making 18 league appearances for Wigan in the top tier, Championship side Swansea City signed him in the summer of 2010 in a deal worth a reported £1m. Sinclair made an instant impact and, after scoring 19 league goals, was influential in helping the Welsh outfit secure promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs. Indeed, Sinclair scored a hat-trick in the Playoff Final at Wembley in a 4-2 victory over Reading.

He proved wrong any doubts about his ability to carry this form into the Premier League by helping Swansea to an impressive 11th place finish and playing in every league fixture. A return of eight league goals (and five assists) from a wide forward position offered close to a goal every four games. Quick and creative, Sinclair was lauded by football writers for his attacking and direct style of play.

In the summer of 2012, and with only one year left on his contract, rumours started circling about Sinclair eyeing a move away from the Liberty Stadium. After the opening fixture of the 2012/13 campaign (a game in which he netted for The Swans), Sinclair moved to Manchester City.

You could argue Sinclair had proved his ability sufficiently to have earned such a big move, and it was not known at the time whether Swansea’s impressive debut season in the top flight would be replicated.

On the other side of the coin, it’s fair to say Scott Sinclair had enjoyed only one season in the Premier League in which he was truly influential. Much of the style of play at Swansea during the 2011/12 campaign was dictated through key players like Sinclair, focusing attacks around his best attributes; direct play, pace and goalscoring ability.

He chose to join the reigning Premier League champions, who already possessed a bloated squad; granted a squad brimming with talent. Sinclair obviously sought a path to the next level, to win trophies and to exposure in the Champions League. And who could criticise his confidence and ambition?

It is unclear how exactly he was persuaded to join Man City or which advisors may or may not have been influencing his decision, but to break into a side that already had the quality to win the league was always going to be a tall order.

Eleven league appearances in his debut season at the Etihad surely wasn’t what Sinclair had in mind, and now with a new manager at the helm in Manuel Pellegrini, he has had to look elsewhere for game time, especially given the signings of Jesús Navas and Stevan Jovetić and the form of Samir Nasri, David Silva and James Milner.

Sinclair, now 24, is an obvious talent, however in retrospect he may regret not staying at Swansea for at least an extra season and furthering his development with another full year of starting games under the tutelage of Michael Laudrup. If he believed in his own talent that much, he would know any potential suitors were going nowhere. Instead, he has been forced to move again and play for a tenth club. That tenth club seemed a very promising West Brom side under the management of Steve Clarke, however once again, Sinclair has struggled for form, fitness and favour under new manager Pepe Mel and has played only 107 minutes in the league since September.

As for Manchester City club captain, Vincent Kompany was a player who bided his time to make his big club move after gaining a wealth of first team experience in Europe.

Kompany led the way to somewhat of a Belgian football revival with an array of promising young talent that has now matured into a formidable international team including the likes of Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois Christian Benteke, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin De Bruyne.

He was highly coveted as a teenager, coming through the ranks of the Anderlecht youth system and fast became part of the first team helping them win Belgian league titles in 2003/4 and 2005/6.

A swarm of European giants were all credited with vying for his signature; Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and most significantly Mourinho’s Chelsea side.

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But unlike countless others who were lured by the glamour and riches of Abramovich’s West London outfit, Kompany rejected their overtures.

The reason? Well I’ll let Vincent himself field that one:

“Chelsea came in for me a year-and-a-half ago [before moving to Hamburg], but I refused, although I could have doubled what I had at Anderlecht. But I am not crazy, I saw enough examples of others.

“Chelsea are a factory. I do not doubt my qualities to make it at Chelsea, it is possible to still go there later. But I would rather never go to Chelsea, than go at a bad moment.” (via Sky Sports)

He favoured a move to relatively modest Hamburg in Germany for the specific reason of furthering his development and therefore giving himself the best chance of fulfilling his potential. The factory he speaks of insinuates that he would not have been valued and feared his development would be hindered had he gone to Stamford Bridge. Ultimately, he was worried about simply becoming another ‘collectable’ for the Russian owner.

Hamburg could offer him more consistent first team football and that was the difference. Kompany believed in his own ability, like Sinclair did, however had the maturity and composure to know he could turn Chelsea down and not blow his chance of a move to a big club later on in his career.

Although he spent most of his debut season in Germany on the sidelines, his solid performances in 2007/8 kept him on the radars of Europe’s elite clubs.

By the time Man City came knocking in 2008, he had been nurtured through the Bundesliga, his physique was more developed, and most importantly, he had experience playing in one of the top five leagues in Europe.

He arrived in the Premier League as a rock, and an assured one at that, the peak of his career unquestionably lifting City’s first Premier League title as club captain.

Since moving to Eastlands, he has yet to suffer a recurrence of the Achilles injury suffered at Hamburg and was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year 2010/11 and 2011/12: personal accolades he may never have won, had he opted for sitting on the substitute’s bench behind a formidable Carvalho-Terry defensive partnership.

It’s obviously easier to cite Kompany’s decision to snub Chelsea given hindsight, and this also raises the question of the influences of agents and advisors of players in the modern game. Was Kompany simply more level-headed than Sinclair or did the English forward grab what he believed to be his ‘only shot’ at a top club? Making the right move at the right time is an intuitive gamble – do you stick or twist?

Will Sinclair simply put last season down to ‘an experience’ or will he still be able to impress enough during the final games this season to show Pellegrini he deserves a place in the City starting 11 next year?  That is fairly unlikely. What is clear is that Sinclair is a talent on the pitch. If he can overcome the injury that has hampered playing time this year and find the right club in the summer, he once again has the chance to re-establish his development.  Fulfilling his potential is in his own hands, just as it was in Kompany’s.

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Read Fulfilling Potential Part 1: Versatility – a poisoned chalice?

Comments

  1. Stevowills1 says:

    Enjoyed reading this and agree with most. Its always a balancing act though. Who knows whether Gareth Bale would have made the same impact if he had stayed at southampton. He could have ended up as an average left back. Same goes for someone like Grant Holt. Imagine a massive club had invested heavily in him as a teenager, would he have been a star, or was the lack of interest and/or pressure necessary for him to reach the peak of his limited abilities.

  2. Stevowills1 says:

    Before my phone shit itself i was going to finish by saying this is such a massive subject, worth thinking and talking about and i look forward to reading any further parts

  3. Good points Stevo, I agree. Gareth Bale moved at the right time and it was more of his switch into midfield that made him the player he is today. Interesting about Grant Holt too – good players that never got that big break earlier in their careers and had to work their way up. I just can’t help but feel Sinclair shouldn’t have been surprised with how last season at City went. That he was after a big paycheck is perhaps being cynical, but still…
    Kompany’s comments very refreshing!

  4. Sarath says:

    Very well put. But the one point missing is that Kompany is a defender and for a defender, experience matters very much. If you look at any forward players, they have to move at an early age to make an impact at a big club otherwise the spot is already taken by someone else…

    • I think there is certainly a case for looking at the differing ‘peak ages’ of different positions, however I have to disagree about forward players needing to make big moves earlier. Perhaps with midfielders you have a case, but I believe a lot of top quality strikers get the biggest moves of their career in their peak years after the age of 25. Look at Falcao, Cavani Negredo and David Villa, to name but a few. All had to prove themselves consistently for many seasons before making a big, big move (obviously there is a debate to say that Monaco isn’t a ‘bigger club’ than At. Madrid, but certainly the financial enormity of the deal is significant!). Top clubs, unless players are academy products or excelling as a youngster, won’t take gambles on younger strikers until they have developed and grown into role. Defenders and goalkeepers are positions you’d certainly expect to find older players at their peak. But to get back to your point, maybe the pace and fitness required to play in midfield in the Premier League in particular, does require younger players to make that move earlier, but even then it’s always a risk moving to a club with a bloated squad, so in that I agree with you. Getting back to bloated squads and strikers – Daniel Sturridge is a classic example of an incredible talent that was almost ruined by lack of game time and therefore development. Man City and Chelsea provided him with little opportunity and it was only a loan move to Bolton that convinced Liverpool to spend big on him. What a call that turned out to be, and he is excelling in a smaller squad, but profiting from regular starts and game time.

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