Touted by many as a ‘mini Messi’ but after a breakthrough into the first-team in the latter stages of last season and the early stages of the current campaign, Patrick Roberts has struggled to maintain or build upon that positive start.
During the past few years, word has quickly spread - not just in England - but across the whole of Europe of this exciting young talent at Fulham. Superb youth team performances for both the Cottagers and England have left Roberts a wanted man on many a big club's transfer list.
Although following relegation from the Premier League last term, many claimed that the west London club's plight would help the young Englishman break into the first-team sooner.
Substitute appearances in the club's first few Championship games gave hope that, that would be the case. However, since then he has struggled for any first-team action as the winger has begun to fall back into Fulham's youth set-up once more.
In all honesty the Championship may not be the best division for him to develop further as in the short cameos he has been handed. Being brushed off the ball by some of the division's large defenders with ease.
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He’s a small, skilful, technically gifted player. So the English football league may not be right for him. I have no doubts that his physicality, or lack of it, is the reason why he hasn’t been handed more game time this season. Therefore a loan move to a fellow Championship or League One club may not be the answer either.
Perhaps a short-term move to a foreign country would be more beneficial for his development, but if he is to stay at Fulham then he will have to get used to the English style of play, rather than hiding away from it elsewhere.
To be honest, staying put might be the best answer, as at the age of 17, he undoubtedly has time on his side. Fulham have become well known as having one of the best academies in the country, so Roberts could do a lot worse than staying and continuing to improve.
Also you never know, he could begin to mature physically and with the team continuing to struggle, he could find himself in the first-team picture once more. At least for now, there is no reason to panic but if he continues to receive interest from Europe’s elite, it may not be hard to turn his head if he isn’t playing regular first-team football.
Why stay in the Fulham youth set-up when you could join one of the world’s best clubs and play at the same level?
On the other hand, perhaps Fulham should cash in on the youngster? As things stand, they will be competing in the Championship for a few seasons to come and if Roberts can’t fully adjust to the division, then surely he would struggle to turn into the player we all expect him to become.
His price tag certainly won’t increase if he remains in the youth team. So why not take the money and run whilst interest is at a high especially from clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United? It would be a controversial decision indeed.
Although, I believe that the club should do everything they can to hold onto young Roberts. Given the opportunity and the right support, he could become a world beater. Of course if he does live up to his large potential, then realistically Fulham will one day have to sell him on to a bigger club.
In the modern market the Cottagers could well herald an astronomical fee for the winger when that time comes. Not only could he help the club massively on the pitch but he could also bring in enough cash to possibly build a new team following his departure.
What’s more as a home-grown player he could act as shining example of Fulham’s impressive academy and this could help build a positive reputation, influencing other young talents’ decisions when choosing which club to join.
In the short term and long term he could provide a lot of relief to Craven Cottage. As I said previously, time is on his side and therefore no rash decisions need to be taken.
Patrick Roberts is an outstanding young player and his talent needs to be nurtured. For now Fulham is where he should stay and if in 12 months he still hasn’t improved on his current squad status, then perhaps action should be taken. My message to inquisitive fans is just for the time being, let it be!