When you’re handed your Premier League debut at the tender age of 17 before going on to make a £12m move to one of the richest clubs in the world, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re destined for a career at the very top.
However, six years on – still just 23 years of age – Patrick Roberts finds himself shipped out on loan for the seventh time with just a singular Premier League appearance for Manchester City to his name.
The England Under-20 international was recently unveiled as Middlesbrough’s fifth signing of the transfer window, and while the Tuesday night trips to Luton may seem a million miles away from his City debut against Real Madrid, this season represents a golden chance to reignite a career that promised so much.
For those who know little of Roberts’ career it would be easy peruse the winger’s Wikipedia page before coming to the conclusion he’d caught Ravel Morrison syndrome – a talented youngster who became too comfortable with the velvet lifestyle of playing for a big club at a young age, before innumerable loan deals which ultimately ended in failure.
However, the contrast between the two couldn’t be starker.
The former Fulham man enjoyed a hugely successful two-year spell in Scotland with Celtic, but niggling injuries severely hampered his final season with the club and he found himself back at the Etihad unable to compete with the City’s stellar crop of wingers including Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané.
Injuries have undoubtedly played a part in Roberts failing to live up to the hype which surrounded his early career, but despite yet more frustrating spells on the sidelines, his move to Middlesbrough last season – in particular once Neil Warnock had arrived – provided glimpses of the player he can be.
With Boro languishing perilously close to the Championship drop zone, it was the arrival of Roberts into the starting XI that sparked life into the Teessiders’ season, with his superb goal at Reading in the club’s penultimate away game of the season all but securing second-tier football for another season.
Under Warnock the winger was afforded licence to roam and it was clearly a sense of freedom he enjoyed, straying infield from the touchline and finding pockets of space where he could affect the game.
Many football fans are quick to scoff at Warnock’s style of play and instantly assume he plays negative, defensive football, but the veteran tactician has been responsible for rejuvenating the careers of a number of widemen including Adel Taarabt and Junior Hoilett. If Roberts can steer clear of injury throughout his spell on Teesside then both he and Boro could be set for a fruitful campaign.To a certain extent Roberts can count himself unfortunate not to have been given a chance at City, having arrived at the club during the reign of Manuel Pellegrini when very few youngsters were afforded an opportunity in the first-team set-up.
Fast forward a few seasons and Pep Guardiola is clearly intent on blooding youth, with the club’s Carabao Cup squads strewn with up and coming talent, while Roberts finds himself cast aside without the opportunity to showcase his talents at the club.
With little over 18 months remaining on his contract at City and the club confirming no further deal would be offered, the winger’s nightmare stay in the north west appears to be coming to an end. However, at Middlesbrough the 23-year-old has the perfect platform to show prospective future employers what he can do, and under a manager like Warnock he’s got every chance of success.