There’s an increasing need for English to clubs to produce home-grown players. Premier League rules stipulate that each squad must include at least eight in their squad, and with Manchester City set to lose one or two of theirs this summer, the door could be opened for some of their academy stars to step up and become first-team stars.
One player who would be high up the list to supplement the senior squad is Marcos Lopes, the 19-year-old playmaker currently on loan at Lille in France’s Ligue 1 in an attempt to ready him for regular Premier League action.
His current deal with City runs out in the summer of 2016 but after impressing in his season at Lille, it’s likely they will be trying to get him to extend his deal sooner rather than later.
Lopes, who made a handful of domestic cup appearances for City before his current loan arrangement, has managed three goals and three assists in 13 league starts for Lille. It’s been an injury-affected campaign, but he’s done more than enough to impress.
It’s a move which came at just the right time. Lopes had done well at City and looked like one of the finest academy prospects on their books. The Blues took Lopes from Benfica’s academy in 2011, and soon after he was considered one of the most accomplished players in Patrick Vieira’s EDS team. Indeed, Vieira made him captain, and Lopes paid him back with a string of impressive displays, winning the 2012-13 Academy Player of the Year award.
He became City’s all-time youngest goalscorer when, aged 17 years and nine days, he scored moments after coming on against Watford in an FA Cup tie, and last season he was given more first-team action when he played in three more cup games.
His man-of-the-match display away at West Ham in the League Cup semi-final made everyone sit up and take note. He produced two assists and played superbly well. The tie was already won given City’s first-leg dominance, but for a young player with limited experience to show such technical brilliance in a top-level game was deserving of praise.
But he needed to play more regularly if his development was to continue. City started this season blessed with potential No. 10s. David Silva is one of the best in the world, and Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure and Stevan Jovetic can also all play in the role just behind the striker. The club knew Lopes’ opportunities were going to be limited.
It’s worked out well. Lopes has been a central part of the side, showing moments of real quality, with Lille’s best form coming when he has been fit and raring to go. It’s hard to believe it is his first proper season as a professional.
Earlier in the season, his manager at Lille, Rene Girard, told RMC Sport (via David Lynch at the Manchester Evening News): "He has a great left-foot and is a good passer. If I was to compare him in style to anyone, I would say that James Rodriguez and him share plenty of similarities.
"What he brings us is bundles of technique. He is young and ambitious.”
With City set to allow Micah Richards to leave when his contract expires in the summer, and with James Milner looking increasingly likely to move when his deal runs out, too, they could do with some home-grown players to supplement Manuel Pellegrini’s senior squad.
The jump from academy to first team is huge, which is the main reason City have so far been reluctant to give some of their young players opportunities, but Lopes’ season in Lille will have helped his case.
The scale of the shakeup at City this summer will be key. If they offload a number of their older players and look to change things drastically, there could be a squad place for Lopes next season.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter: @RobPollard.