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NXGN Revisited: From £12m Man City wonderkid to French reserve team football - what's happened to Patrick Roberts?

17:52 GMT+4 18/11/2021
Patrick Roberts Celtic Manchester City GFX
The former Celtic loan star is capable of outrageous skills and wonderful goals - but injuries and bad loans have left him facing obscurity

Patrick Roberts' only goal at Etihad Stadium was an absolute beauty - cutting in from the right wing, leaving one defender for dead and dodging between two more, before firing a powerful left-footed shot into the far corner.

The goal, scored in a Champions League group stage game between Manchester City and Celtic in December 2016, is notable for two reasons.

The first is that Roberts, despite being a Man City player, netted against the Citizens while on loan with the then-Scottish champions.

Secondly, it provided a flash of the sort of inspiration that led to GOAL naming Roberts on the NXGN 2016 list of the best teenage footballers in the world.

It is the kind of moment, however, that has been missing from Roberts in the five years since.

Roberts ranked 16th on that NXGN list, one place ahead of current Napoli star Victor Osimhen. Back then, we wrote of the England youth international: "That City splashed £12m on the former Fulham man last summer tells you everything you need to know about how highly the 17-year-old is rated at Etihad Stadium.

"Roberts has already featured in the Premier League for City, and although he has since struggled for game time, as a wonderful winger with a wand for a left foot, he looks exactly the type of player who can flourish under the man expected to take over at Eastlands in the summer, Pep Guardiola."

For Roberts, that hefty price tag and a lack of game time remain what he is known for among City fans, rather than his goals, skills or magical left foot.

The fact he remains a contracted City player is only known by the most ardent supporters of the club - he is currently at a sixth different loan club, Ligue 1 outfit and City Football Group (CFG) stablemates Troyes, where he has played just 13 minutes of senior football so far this season, spending most of his time with the reserves.

His contract expires at the end of the season, and his chances of remaining a City player beyond that look remote at best.

It was not supposed to be this way. City saw off a host of top European clubs to sign Roberts in July 2015 from Fulham, and a few weeks later he made his Premier League debut in a cameo appearance off the bench in a 4-1 defeat against Tottenham.

It would prove, though, his only top-flight game for the club so far - and most likely ever.

With first team chances at a premium, Roberts joined Celtic on an 18-month loan in January 2016, where his talent soon came to the fore.

Terrorising defenders as a winger in Brendan Rodgers' all-conquering side, Roberts became a fan favourite at Parkhead, and in a vote for the greatest wingers in the club's history, he beat Hoops legends such as Davie Provan and Aiden McGeady.

In his first full season in Glasgow, Roberts scored nine goals and provided 14 assists in 32 league appearances, and though he could not help them find success in Europe in 2016-17, he did bag that wondergoal on his Etihad return.

Celtic attempted to make the deal permanent after 18 months, but City saw only a rising investment and instead agreed to a further year on loan, so Roberts could continue getting first-team football, scoring goals, and either be ready for Guardiola's men upon his return, or else be sold on for a very fat profit.

This is where things began to go pear-shaped. Roberts played only 18 games in 2017-18, scoring just once, as a hamstring injury kept him out for four months. It was the first instance of a recurring problem that has hampered his career ever since.

Still, Roberts showed flashes of briliance and won a third straight league title with the Bhoys before returning to Man City and announcing his intention to make his name in the Premier League.

He told Sky Sports: “I've enjoyed my football [with Celtic] and everyone knows that, but you also have to look at the bigger picture and I have certain ambitions in my head and places that I want to be.

“Being an English player and having come through the system in the Premier League [the ambition] is to play for a top club in the Premier League."

City, though, had other ideas, as they wanted to keep Roberts in house, though he would still be on the fringes in Manchester. Eventually he was sent out on loan in the summer 2018 to another CFG-owned side, La Liga minnows Girona.

Here another problem emerged. While Roberts' free-wheeling skills could be indulged in a dominant side like Celtic, for Girona - battling against relegation from the Spanish top-flight - he was an unneccessary indulgence.

He never completed 90 minutes in the league for his new club, and again spent three months on the treatment table with hamstring problems, as his temporary club were relegated.

Still hoping their investment might soon come good, City extended Roberts' contract through to 2022 when he returned, before again sending him on loan, this time to Norwich City in the Premier League.

There were clearly parallels between the Canaries and Girona in terms of standing in their respective leagues, and proved apt, as Roberts played just 34 minutes in the Premier League for Norwich before being sent back in January.

He then spent 18 months on loan in the Championship, first with Middlesbrough then at Derby County.

While not without some bright moments - he scored a crucial goal in the Rams' 3-3 draw with Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the 2020-21 season to keep Wayne Rooney's side in the second tier at the expense of their opponents - they were getting increasingly fewer and farther between.

Injuries have hampered Roberts' fitness and ability to play for extended runs of games, while a succession of managers have been unable to trust a talented but tactically-suspicious loanee as they try and fight off relegation and the threat of the sack.

It makes the decision to send Roberts on loan to newly-promoted Troyes a strange choice by the CFG loan managers, and perhaps an indication that they are finally willing to cut their losses come June.

As that incredible goal back in 2016 showed, Roberts can be brilliant in the right hands and at the right place.

Other than in flashes, though, we have not yet seen the stars align. City fans, most likely, never will

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