The Manchester City boss has faced criticism for failing to give Academy players a chance, but few of his Barcelona debutants made the grade
Pep Guardiola doesn’t have a straight choice between giving youth a chance and winning trophies, but it’s not far off.
When you collect 98 points and still only win the Premier League title by a single point, it doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error.
And, when you don’t have that room to make mistakes, it makes it very difficult to take a chance on young players.
“We have to compete every single day to fight with the best teams in England and Europe, and for that we need David Silvas and Kevin De Bruynes and Sergio Agueros and Fernandinhos and all these type of players,” the Manchester City manager said in October.
“With the young, young, young players you cannot do it. The young players can be a help for the other ones but, if the basis has been young, it has been not possible.”
That helps to partly explain why Guardiola has seen to be more reticent to give homegrown players more game time as his managerial career has progressed.
At Barcelona, he gave 22 graduates from La Masia their debut during his four years in charge. That dropped to just six youngsters during his three seasons at Bayern Munich.
So far at City, 12 Academy players have made their debuts for the club, but much of that has been made up of late substitute appearances in the Carabao Cup.
Only four have appeared in the Premier League, of which only Phil Foden and Eric Garcia would appear to have a chance of a long-term future at the club.
Brahim Diaz has already left, for an equally tough struggle for game time at Real Madrid, after 49 minutes in five appearances in the Premier League.
Spanish midfielder Aleix Garcia played 76 minutes over four appearances but has been now on loan at Belgian club Royal Excel Mouscron.
It’s not quite the homegrown conveyor belt that was expected when Guardiola took over the club in 2016.
“That’s one of the reasons why Pep was so highly considered,” City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak said after his appointment in 2016.
“He has done that with Barcelona, he has done that with Bayern Munich.
“Even with the abundance of talent he had with both first teams, Pep always has a knack for talent and he loves to find young players that have incredible talent.”
Al-Mubarak added: “We would like to have the maximum amount of players in the first team coming out of our academy.”
Guardiola’s reputation was built on his brilliant Barca side that won two Champions Leagues and three titles in La Liga, and was littered with homegrown talent.
But many were already well-established in the first team.
Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi were regulars but were improved by Guardiola’s brilliant coaching and his belief that he could build a team around them.
Other Catalan youngsters – Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas – were returning to their home after time in the Premier League.
Guardiola’s biggest three players to make the breakthrough under him at Camp Nou were the winger Pedro and midfielders Sergio Busquets and Thiago.
Pedro had already made his debut under previous boss Frank Rijkaard but established himself under Guardiola and was able to fight the off challenges of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez for game time during those years.
Busquets was an even bigger success, establishing himself as the holding midfielder ahead of Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita in Barca’s glory years and doing the same job for Spain.
Many of Guardiola’s other debutants were good, just simply not good enough. He gave them a chance and made a judgement which has since been proven to be correct.
Players such as Gerard Deulofeu, Rafinha, Oriol Romeu and Jonathan Dos Santos have had decent football careers at the top level, but were not at the standard required to be the basis for Spanish title and Champions League challenges.
The same pressure exists at City where European success remains out of reach.
Jadon Sancho’s impact at Borussia Dortmund has opened up Guardiola to criticism that he isn’t prepared to give young players the same opportunities that they would find elsewhere.
And, with a such a huge amount of money spent on upgrading their first team, it would seem that Academy players are going to find it hard to get their chance to shine.
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But Guardiola has only ever given real opportunities to young players that he believes have the potential to make a difference.
It has been to their credit that Foden and Garcia have already made that impact in the Catalan’s thoughts.
If they go on to reach Guardiola’s high expectations, they will be part of an exclusive and extremely talented club.