Scott Sinclair must take two steps back to reignite his dwindling flame.
By Oliver Wilson
When Scott Sinclair arrived at Manchester City on the 31st of August 2012, you’d forgive him for thinking that he was on the brink of taking his career to the next level.
Joining the reigning Premier League champions off the back of a summer that saw him represent Team GB at the London Olympics was already impressive, but add into the equation that the youngster had managed to garner the reputation of being one of the most exciting English talents in the Premier League - helping to keep the much rejoiced Swansea City in England’s top flight during their inaugural season in the league – and Sinclair could have been forgiven of thinking that he was going to be a big part of the future at the Etihad.
His first start came in September, just two weeks after signing his four-year-deal with the club, against Stoke City but the former Bristol City and Chelsea youth product failed to impress on his debut as City dragged out a 1-1 draw against the Potters. His only other start for Roberto Mancini’s side came against Arsenal just over a week later and lasted just 46 minutes, before the Italian manager decided to replace him with another City flop of the 2012/13 season, Jack Rodwell.
Sinclair’s appearances were few and far between after that as the Bath born winger struggled to embed himself back into City’s starting 11, the likes of James Milner, Samir Nasri and David Silva all preferred over the Englishman by Mancini. By the end of the season, Sinclair had amassed a unimpressive tally of 190 minutes of league football, with two starts and eight substitute appearances to his name.
After starting 35 of Swansea’s League fixture the season before, Sinclair, it was safe to say, had been blinded by the possibilities of Champions League football and trophies, rather than assessing the impact a probable barren spell at Manchester City could cause.
The possibility of England caps dried up in front of his eyes and even with Manuel Pelligrini arriving as the new manager this season, Sinclair is unlikely to force himself back into a squad that has already strengthened itself with new signings including Jesus Navas, Stefan Jovetic and Fernandinho.
This summer, though, a lifeline has been thrown his way in the form of West Bromwich Albion. The Midlands club is rumoured to be interested in saving Sinclair from his Manchester misery as they look to add some pedigree talent to an attack that will surely miss Romelu Lukaku’s services this coming season.
While Sinclair is unlikely to be able to match the impact the Belgian striker had on the Baggies last season, he will be a much needed boost to a side that lacks attackers, having lost Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Jerome Thomas, Zoltán Gera and Lukaku this summer. Sinclair will be able to sit on the flanks alongside Graeme Dorrans and James Morrison and add a touch of pace and flair to proceedings, while the partnership of Shane Long and Nicolas Anelka fight for chances in and around the area.
Steve Clarke, since his arrival at the Hawthorns, has tried to take the work of former boss Roy Hodgson to the next level. The Baggies no have a formidable midfield pairing of Youssuf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob, who can snuff out opposition attacks before neatly pushing the ball forward to the likes of Morrison, Peter Odemwingie (before he took a certain trip to London in January) and Long, who can all break quickly on the counter attack without having to resort to unattractive long ball football. Sinclair has the touch and pace to fit neatly into this mould and, if he can replicate the energy and desire of Shane Long – who is arguably one of the hardest working players on a Premier League pitch – a spell at West Brom could be the ideal way for the 24-year-old to get himself back into first team football and the England frame.
Hindsight in football is a wonderful thing and where ever Sinclair is playing at the end of August – or not playing if he remains in Manchester – questions will be asked about his decision to leave for the North West.
Swansea were, in their first season in the league, a side that captivated all who watched them. Their bold, continental style of football was commented on in the same breath as Barcelona and then manager, Brendan Rodgers was lauded for the incredible job he did, getting a Premier League new boy to avoid relegation while playing such easy on the eye football.
His departure to the Liverpool job gave Michael Laudrup the chance to come to the Premier League, with the Danish legend taking the style and attitude of Rodgers’ methodology and adding his own twist to it. The result was a team that moved and worked with the same mechanics but appeared, on occasion, faster, stronger and more adept than their first year in the top tier of English football. A League Cup final win and a top half finish were more than a deserved reward for a team that is almost universally admired in England (and Wales).
A top half finish was also the Baggies reward for a great season under the leadership of debutant manager Steve Clarke last season. Much of the season’s success, however, was down to Chelsea loanee Lukaku, and with him gone, the Baggies model looks far less sustainable than that of Swansea, who have maintained their current crop of players – including the hotly suited Michu - while adding depth and quality to their formidable squad, including one of the most impressive strikers from European football last year, Wilfred Bony.
Swansea are likely to have a far more profitable season this year than their west Midland counterparts and Sinclair, had he never made the move to Manchester, could have been an integral part of the side Laudrup is cultivating in south Wales.
The Hawthorns is no bad place for Sinclair to ply his trade next season but there is something special about the changes that have taken place at Swansea City since Roberto Martinez planted the seeds of change at the club all those years ago.
No one can deny that a move to the reigning Premier League champions could have been easy to turn down but in retrospect, Sinclair’s decision to leave Wales is a warning to all young players who attract the attention of top six sides. It may seem like a big step forward, but a year or two later, like Sinclair, you can find that you’re being forced to take two steps back to reignite your career.