Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Abdul Razak

It's great to see players from your club play their part in their national sides, and these days City have more than they used to. But however good it is to see Balotelli ripping apart a German defence or Silva picking up another winner's medal I would assume we're all thinking something along a similar lines while they're on international duty; "Please don't get injured".

Unfortunately that's just what happened to Barry and Richards, and although Balotelli and Silva are unscathed, they're highly likely to miss the season opener against Chelsea in the Community Shield and maybe even the first game against Southampton.

As City have had so many returning late to pre-season it has forced the club to basically have 2 training camps, those that didn't go to the Euros and those that did.

But what could have been seen as a negative by some, is undoubtedly a huge positive for others. Because there have been 2 camps, it has given a large number of young players to train and play alongside the players they one day hope to oust from the 1st team.

As you would expect, some players featured more than others. Denis Suarez (17), George Evans (17), and Marco Lopes (16) were amongst the most used but none more so than Abdul Razak (19) who was a key feature in the majority of games.

Razak has featured for City 5 times in the past with 2 Premier League appearances as a substitute and 3 in the League Cup (2 starts). The 19 year old Ivorian came to City as a technically gifted and strong attacking midfielder. However, since gaining his City debut against West Brom early in 2011 when he came on as a late substitute he has been used deeper in midfield.

Of all the positions at City, the average age of players in the heart of midfield (29 y/o) is significantly more than those in other positions (GK 25 - RB 25.5 - LB 26.5 - CB 26 - AM 25.5 - FW 24.75) and with Gareth Barry being only the 2nd player in the squad who is actually over 30 years old (Kolo Toure being the other), it is obviously him, or more correctly his position, that will need to be filled first should all players remain at the club due to the physical exertion needed to play in this position.

We've seen that Mancini isn't shy on playing players in new positions if he feels that they have the right attributes to do so, the prime example being Yaya Toure who came as a defensive midfielder but is now really known as a driving force in attack as well as a linchpin in the centre of the park.

In many ways, barring the physical stature, Razak is very much like a young Toure (who was an attacking midfielder/striker in his youth) and he has often been described as 'the new Yaya' because of this and his nationality. Although he has got a long way to go, it isn't outside the realm of possibility as Toure was described as being "completely average" during his trial with Arsene Wenger at the same age Razak is now. 

That's not to say Razak is 'completely average' of course, but as with every young player there are areas of his game that need improvement. His overall fitness needed to improve from last season, if you recall his starts for City he had cramp in both games while playing in a holding midfield role. It's difficult to judge whether he's managed this because the games during pre-season aren't any where near as physically demanding as they are during competitive tournaments.

The other area was his close range passing, which was often just a little lackadaisical, leaving the receiving player more work to do than they should have to get the ball as an opposing player threatened to pounce on a poorly-hit ball. This has quite noticeably improved as pre-season has progressed no doubt due to the strict and high standards Mancini sets his players during training. Work still needs to be done though.

Due to Barry's recent operation it is likely we will see Razak during the early weeks of the season. Although he will still have De Jong in front of him in the pecking order, he is unlikely to get a better opportunity to prove his worth as a member of the squad and he needs to grab it with both hands.

I would usually suggest he goes out on loan to gain that first team experience, but not this season. The 'Barclays U21 Premier League' starts this season which (fingers crossed) will provide a higher level of competition than the old reserve league and will give Razak and others the chance to impress amongst players of the same or similar age at Clubs with the best academies in the country.

The Premier U21 League also gives a player the opportunity to be included in the 1st team match-day squad and the U21 squad, fitness permitted, in the same weekend. I would like to see much more of that kind of thing this coming season even if it's just one young player on the bench at a time and with Lombardo's close relationship with Mancini I have my fingers crossed that there will be an increase collaboration between the EDS and 1st team.

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