When Manchester City signed Patrick Roberts from Fulham on 19 July 2015, many fans of the English Championship side expected him to spend some time bedding in at his new club. However, nobody could really be sure if he’d get the opportunity to fulfil his potential at a club where playing time would be limited, given the star names in the first team squad. City paid the Cottagers a fee of approximately £12 million for Roberts, who was just 18 at the time, and a fee like that for a prospective talent usually indicates the high regards in which the buying club holds the player. However, as could be expected, playing time was restricted, despite Roberts impressing during pre-season and back –to-back loans at Celtic would follow.
Scottish Learning Curve For An English Talent
The first loan move to Celtic appeared to be a win-win for all involved. Celtic were gaining the services of a promising young talent. Manchester City would be able to monitor the development of one of their assets in a risk free environment, as the player wouldn’t be at a domestic rival, and would be playing at senior level, with his wages being subsidised. For the player, he was given the opportunity to play regularly at first-team senior level, not just in a domestic league, but also during Celtic’s European jaunts, for a big club in front of bigger crowds than he would in the English youth competition.
The vast majority of Manchester City fans saw the benefits of the first loan move too, and felt it was ideal for the player. He appeared to develop a good relationship with the Parkhead faithful and his 47 appearances and 11 goals in all competitions during that initial 18-month loan deal were considered a huge success. His two appearances against parent club, Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League saw him being lauded by City fans and manager Pep Guardiola, who appeared particularly excited at the prospect of seeing Roberts contribute to City’s first team. As with many City fans, I went out of my way to pay particular attention to Robert’s performance at the Etihad Stadium, as I was keen to see how one of our young talents, who we’d seen so little of ourselves in the flesh, performed. He didn’t disappoint. His reading of the game, his technical dribbling and movement were exceptional. Many pundits were calling it a man of the match performance, which to an extent is agreeable, but you have to remember this was a virtual dead-rubber as games go, and City were resting a number of their star players. But take nothing away from him, Roberts was impressive and has clearly made great strides since leaving Fulham, though it must be said, his decision making and reading of the game still requires a great deal of improvement if he’s to fulfil his potential.
Second Spell As A Bhoy
When Roberts returned to City in the summer of 2017, he was given the opportunity to make an impression during pre-season, in the hope that he could continue to make headway in fulfilling his potential. However, despite being included in the Manchester City squad for the 2017/18 pre-season tour, Roberts would end up spending the season on loan once more. The return to Celtic raised a number of eyebrows with Manchester City fans, as many had hoped to see the rising star be given an opportunity to show his talents and push for a first team place at the Etihad. Equally, there was notable interest expressed by a number of English Premier League clubs in taking the player on loan for the upcoming campaign, including Southampton. Many City fans felt that a loan to a fellow Premier League, or failing that a Championship side, was the next best thing in Roberts’ development, and the general consensus was that the player would risk plateau-ing if he were to return to the Scottish Premier League. City’s hierarchy were also keen to see the player challenge himself in a league which calls for a greater level of consistency in terms of performances. However, it’s understood that the prospect of moving to an unfamiliar environment and having to start a fresh at a different club, didn’t appeal to Roberts, as he wanted some consistency of his own. Roberts pushed for a return to Celtic and with time running out in the transfer window, the City hierarchy eventually conceded it would be better to allow the player to return to a club where he’d enjoyed a successful loan spell, rather than run out of options and him having to spend at least six months playing the majority of his football in the youth team.
When the news of a second loan spell to Celtic was confirmed, there was a feeling among City fans that Roberts had sold himself short, had taken the easy option and his mental strength was questioned. There were a number of threads of fan forums at the time suggesting the player had ‘bottled it’ when it came to pushing himself to the next level, such is the impression among large numbers of fans outside Scotland, that the SPFL doesn’t provide a strong enough challenge for the players that really want to make it in the game. That’s not to say this opinion is correct, this is just a narrative of the perception many south of the border have of the Scottish game.
In contrast to the somewhat disappointment widely felt among Manchester City fans, north of the border the Celtic faithful, and of course the Celtic manager, were noted to be extremely pleased to see the young talent return to Parkhead. Unfortunately for Roberts, his second loan spell was a far cry from the overwhelmingly gleeful first spell he’d had playing for the Bhoys, as a severe hamstring injury sidelined him for the majority of the season. Such was the extent of the injury that Manchester City requested Roberts return to them for treatment and rehabilitation, with several newspapers reporting that the City hierarchy held a significant distrust of the Celtic medical set up. However, these reports were speculative and inaccurate, as it was more just a case of the parent club recognising that they have better facilities and them wanting to ensure that their asset received the best possible care. Talk of distrust or belittlement from City’s hierarchy towards Celtic, was completely false, spun to sell papers.
What Next For Roberts?
As things stand, Roberts is at another junction in his career. In January 2018, Manchester City had made a bid to sign Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City. After two cash proposals were suggested and dismissed, The Foxes made it known to City that they were interested in signing Roberts as part of any deal. However, Roberts advised City that he wanted to recuperate and complete, what he felt to be, unfinished business with Celtic for the remainder of the campaign, before making a decision on his future. As City and Leicester couldn’t agree the a fee for Mahrez the deal fell through, only to start up again this summer. The deal for the Algerian to move to the Etihad has now gone ahead, but reports of Roberts moving in the other direction for £10 million have not yet come to anything. Whether the deal works out or not remains to be seen, but after becoming a double-treble winner in Scotland, a move to a club like Leicester could offer the platform for Roberts to show what he’s learned to a wider football audience. Whatever happens, it’s fair to say that the time spent at Celtic has been a huge learning curve for the player and it’s certainly helped to further his game.