Sidelined Sinclair could face fate of Adam Johnson at Manchester City

The former Swansea City winger has made only one start in the Premier League since joining the defending champions ahead of the visit of his previous club to the Etihad Stadium
By Oliver Platt

Scott Sinclair joined Chelsea in the summer of 2005. Two years earlier, Roman Abramovich had injected the first of many millions of pounds into the Blues and two months prior to his move, Jose Mourinho had began vindicating the Russian's spending by delivering the Premier League title. All was rosy at Stamford Bridge and, with an eye for the long term, Abramovich had tasked Frank Arnesen with hoovering up the best of the young talent in England and Europe.

Sinclair had made only two league appearances for Bristol Rovers before he completed a move worth up to £750,000. He would make only five more over the next five years for Chelsea and join six different Football League clubs on loan.



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Evidently, one mixed experience at a club restructuring amid new-found riches and contention for trophies did not put him off joining another one in August. Sinclair is now a Manchester City player and, on Saturday, could face his former side Swansea City at the Etihad Stadium.

It is, of course, early days but so far, life among the big boys has again proved frustrating. Sinclair started his first match for his new team against Stoke City in mid-September and was included in Roberto Mancini's XI the following weekend against Arsenal, but he has not played a minute in the Premier League since being substituted at half-time in that game.

"Playing alongside some of the best players in the world is exciting for me and when you see two Champions League fixtures against Real Madrid on the horizon, it brings it all home," Sinclair said upon signing for City. He was not included in the 18-man squad at the Santiago Bernabeu and would surely be delighted just to be named among the substitutes when the Spanish champions visit Manchester.

Sinclair is yet to be capped by England but played for Great Britain at the Olympic Games in the summer and comparisons are easily drawn between the 23-year-old and another of the country's budding wingers. Mancini was complimentary of Adam Johnson when City faced Sunderland earlier this month but Johnson has never been afraid to give a frank account of his two-and-a-half years in blue.

"Now, if I was a young lad, I wouldn't go to City," he insisted. "It is excellent when a club like City come for you. Hard to turn down. But you don't actually play for the champions - you're a squad member, which is totally different. It's not that you're not good enough, it's just that the likes of Yaya Toure are going to play ahead of you, no matter what you do."


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It is unsurprising to see top clubs casting their nets wide in their search for English players. Since the 2010-11 season, Premier League clubs have been limited to 17 non-home-grown players over the age of 21. Gareth Barry, at age 28, cost City £12m; Joleon Lescott, at 27, set them back around £22m. Better to spot them earlier; Sinclair arrived in a deal worth around £8m and could serve the defending champions for a much longer period.

The clamour for English talent preceded the Premier League regulations, however. Uefa have operated an increasingly demanding home-grown policy in continental competition since the 2006-07 campaign. The issue is that these players are difficult to come by, and so clubs feel inclined to take a gamble when the opportunity arises.

Mancini never appeared to trust Johnson on the biggest of stages - he started once in the Champions League and never against a team that finished in the top six as City secured the title - but the possibility that a dynamic attacking player might emerge to rival the likes of David Silva and Samir Nasri made the risk worthwhile for the club. When it doesn't work out, the player is left to try and rebuild his career.

Johnson will attempt that under Martin O'Neill at Sunderland. It will be particularly interesting to monitor his England involvement while he remains on Wearside. Something as seemingly irrelevant as geography can impact a player's international chances; Fabio Capello watched Darren Bent once during his time with the Black Cats before singing his praises, to the annoyance of Steve Bruce, after he had joined Aston Villa.
6/1 Man City are 6/1 with Paddy Power to beat Swansea 2-0

That is something Sinclair will have been wary of having tasted football for his country at the Olympics. Many have backed the claims of Nathan Dyer for a place in Roy Hodgson's plans but the coach has remained unmoved. Sinclair has taken matters into his own hands, having told Swansea that he would not sign a new contract before joining City, but how that will serve his development over the longer term remains to be seen.

While the manager of Crystal Palace, Dougie Freedman explained that he would let sought-after 19-year-old Wilfried Zaha "and his family know when I can't develop him any longer - and I will also let them know which club for him to go to." Freedman was concerned about the progression of a player he has known since he was 14 if he took too big a jump, too soon. Such guidance might have stood Sinclair in similarly good stead.

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