In one of the more interesting moves of the transfer window, Patrick Roberts confirmed an eighteen month loan deal to Celtic today. It came as something as a surprise. The loan itself was always on the cards, but the length of the deal? A year and a half? Few saw that coming. I doubt even City did initially, with most presuming it’d be a temporary measure that would take us up until the summer. He had only signed for big money back in July after all, and he came with an exciting reputation too. Here was this exceptionally promising young English winger, with bagfuls of talent with the world seemingly at his feet. He’d just arrived at one of the sport’s biggest clubs, with facilities to die for and a huge array of vastly experienced technical players to learn from. It seemed immeasurably exciting, and understandably it piqued a great amount of curiosity. There was a clamour for information and a genuine intrigue to see this young talent given a chance, yet to the disappointment of many it didn’t come. It wasn’t really a surprise then that some greeted the news of this loan with dismay. It seemed a backwards step, an admission of failure, but on closer inspection its perhaps wasn’t quite as simple as that.
Maybe the initial expectations were a little far-fetched in the cold light of day. Despite his clear promise, and his reputation was deserved given his devastating performances at youth level for Fulham and England, he was, and still is, relatively untested in the world of professional football. He’d had appearances for Fulham, yes, but most of those came as a sub as a raw teenager, one still very much feeling his way into the team. He was far from a regular when this move happened. Maybe it came too early? Or maybe it was City’s plan all along to grab a prospect this talented when they could and simply play the long game with him – and you’d have to presume it was just that, as it’s the only clear explanation as to why his involvement so far has been borderline negligible. A couple of token substitute appearances are all he’s had to show for his first few months as a City player. A bigger surprise was that he was rarely involved in the youth games either. He made a few appearances for the UEFA Youth League team, but he sat out the EDS games, despite a lack of regular football at any level. The club made a point of training him with the first team, and that was his lot, with little compromise.
It’s fair to presume this was intentional. This loan was most likely always on the cards, and perhaps it was always going to come around about now, during the January window. The club probably never expected such a raw and untested player to break into the first team this season. What was important, however, was to take a closer look at him. He needed that exposure to those elite players around him. That experience. That insight and that opportunity. How could he not learn from the likes of Silva, Yaya, De Bruyne and Aguero? The coaches needed to see him up close, assess his weaknesses and strengths and get a feel for him as a player. These first few months were vital, and all signs now seem to point towards this being the plan in the first place. City wanted him at the club and in and around the first team while they decided what the next stage of his development would be. And that decision has seemingly come now. The loan to Celtic was agreed.
The eighteen months is easy to understand from Celtic’s point of view. They wanted that security, something to rely on. They didn’t want a short-term solution, and I don’t blame them. Eighteen months doesn’t paper over any cracks, and its substantial enough for them to use Roberts as part of their long-term aims. It gives them a solid reason to use him – he won’t be going anywhere any time soon and its beneficial for both parties to commit to the move. Celtic won’t see him as disposable and Roberts will want to settle down and impress. He’ll be treated like a long term squad member. This is clearly a plus point and it suits City and the player. There’s a trust between the clubs too, and rightly so after the Denayer success story. Delia’s commitment to attractive football will let him see plenty of the ball which he needs. Add that to the relative locality, potential Champions League football, the lack of any language barriers, and the fact that in many ways Celtic’s standing in their own league mirrors that of City’s, and its an attractive proposition. He’ll play in a team that plays like City, and one that has similar expectations, albeit on a different scale. It’s perfect, and it should be a true indicator of his ability over a decent period of time.
There’s some concerns about the quality of the SPL, the perceived lack of quality and so on, and its true to an extent, but no one can deny the intensity. This is a man’s league, full of ferocity, unforgiving crowds and a real brutality. Celtic are the big guns to be aimed at, and he’ll feel that expectation. He needs it too. He’ll have to develop a physicality, or at least a tolerance to that side of the game, to reach the level that City require. Thankfully the SPL is perfect in that aspect. He can do it, definitely, but it’ll be a challenge. His technical ability will only get him so far, and while at first its possible he may seem a level above most, the league will wise up to him quickly and he’ll learn that. If it clicks he could come back as Celtic’s star, full of confidence having grown into a man. It could be the making of him quite easily, and that’s very exciting. And if it doesn’t click? Well, City would take swift action and curtail the move, like they did with Unal at Genk. It may even be the possible that City could cut the loan short for positive reasons too. All it’d take is perhaps a small fee to Celtic as compensation. There are numerous amounts of possibilities, all reasonable and logical, and they all make sense on paper. It should prove a fascinating move. City trust Ronny Delia, and rightly so. He’ll afford Roberts the chances and patience he needs to better himself and as far as I’m concerned that can only be a good thing.