Julian Alvarez transfer clause gives Liam Delap what he wants at Man City


Football has a way of shaping a player’s whole career with simple twists of fate.

Manchester City’s latest signing Julian Alvarez – still awaiting the finishing touches to a reported £17.9million deal – made his big breakthrough when three senior River Plate strikers were all injured at the same time.

He stepped in, as an 18-year-old, started scoring, and has not looked back since. He earned another cap for Argentina last night, and the intimidatory treatment dished out by Chile players as he simply trotted onto the field spoke volumes about how much of a threat he is.

The game is littered with players who got their break via others’ misfortunes.

Liam Delap might have been forgiven for thinking that his big opportunity was opening up last summer until the cold fickleness of the football fates slapped him in the face.

The 18-year-old — he turns 19 next week — ended last season with a new Premier League 2 goalscoring record in his pocket, his senior debut under his belt, and with his Premier League debut and first senior goal, a spectacular strike against Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup, also filed away in the memory banks.

His exploits as a big, strong, bustling striker with a dreamy touch, turn of pace and an uncanny eye for goal, backed up by self-belief that he will always score, had also persuaded Pep Guardiola that the time was ripe to move him up into the first-team squad.

With Sergio Aguero bidding a tearful farewell to the Etihad Stadium, and City finding it increasingly difficult to find a replacement – with Erling Haaland not on the table and Spurs digging in their heels over Harry Kane, it felt like Delap would get a chance.

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Gabriel Jesus’ migration from being the long-term replacement for Aguero — he was even handed the number nine shirt to bolster his confidence in that aim — to being another right-wing option, was virtually complete.

Ferran Torres had sporadically shown talent as a central striker, notably with a spectacular hat-trick at Newcastle, but the young Spaniard is talented enough to make a fist of whatever role he is asked to play. He still remained more of a right-sided option.

With most of the senior players late back to pre-season training after summer international tournaments, and three friends against Football League opposition hastily arranged to sharpen the fitness, everyone was keen to see how Delap would shape up.

If he did well, he would be a live option for Pep Guardiola in the months ahead, and if he had managed to translate his goalscoring exploits at junior level onto the big stage, who knows where it might have led?

It never happened, as he succumbed to a string of injuries that mean he has not been in a first-team squad this season.

He returned to training last week, raising hopes that he may have his troubles behind him and can start to be involved in the coming weeks.

Just as he nears a return, the news has broken that City have seized the chance to sign the South American Footballer of the Year, 21-year-old Julian Alvarez, for what looks like a bargain.

The River Plate hero will remain with them on loan until the summer — or even as late as next January if reports are true of a clause in the deal that means he will stay as long as they remain in the Copa Libertadores.

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River Plate's Julian Alvarez celebrates winning the Argentina Primera Division at Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti on November 25, 2021 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  (Photo by Matías Baglietto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
City are expected to announce the signing of Julian Alvarez over the coming days

With City still expected to make a big-money move for a top striker in the summer, when Haaland becomes a possibility as well as Kane, Delap still has a clear field in which to exhibit his talents.

Once fit, he will be the only recognized striker in the City first-team squad, if you accept the notion that Jesus’ switch is irreversible, at least until the club either lands the striker they want, or Alvarez arrives.

Delap’s junior career has been meteoric since he arrived from Derby County. He, Cole Palmer and James McAtee were the stand-out performers in a very young side that tore up the under-23 Premier League 2 last season.

His injury-hit season is his first real setback, but maybe that is where being the son of a former top-flight professional, in ex-Stoke star Rory Delap, will come in to play.

His dad suffered a terrible double-leg fracture in only his second game for Stoke after joining them on loan from Sunderland, and was out for nearly a year.

That kind of setback, at a pivotal moment in your career, can badly affect a player, especially one as young as Delap. But he has his father’s experiences and advice to draw upon, plus the knowledge that his father bounced back to play over 200 games for Stoke, most of them in the Premier League.

And when, as you lie on the treatment slab and ponder the fact that City are actively pursuing TWO other strikers, the frustration must be twice as bad.

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But Delap has known since he came to City that it would be tough — at elite clubs, you have to live, and thrive, with pressure from your peers, from those above you in the pecking order, those coming through beneath you, and the ever-present possibility that new players could be signed for your position.

He knows that, and backed himself by signing for City in the first place. His chance of a breakthrough season has simply been delayed, not derailed.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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