As the ref blew the final whistle in what was admittedly a rather mundane affair at Eastlands last night, it was suggested to me that despite the pedestrian nature of the match we had watched, we had witnessed what could be a pivotal moment in the next generation of English footballers. The match itself was uninspiring, and could be described most accurately as a tale of 3 debutants - the good, the bad and the distinctly promising - or Adam Johnson, Patrick Vieira and Jack Wilshere. Although Manchester City were on the whole relatively uninspiring, Johnson looked electric when he advanced down the right wing. For Bolton, Wilshere appeared as an advanced playmaker well beyond his tender years.
Johnson’s debut showed all the promise that £10m demands. It looked like the boy we remember from the Premier League strugglers last season has benefited exponentially from his half-season in the Championship. Those with longer memories will remember his exciting performances on loan at Watford, and it seems that the second time around experience in the competitive lower league has truly ripened the young winger for future glory. His runs with the ball had a continental tinge, reminiscent of the sort of wide-man our national team has been missing for so long. His deliveries were consistently probing and on the half hour his foray into the box baffled the experienced and generally competent Paul Robinson. All in all, Johnson showed that Macini’s faith might be justified, and looks likely to be a star of the future, not only for Manchester City but with some luck, for the Three Lions.
Vieira’s debut was an altogether more unconvincing affair. He provided the assist for Emmanuel Adebayor’s emphatic finish on the seventy-third minute, but apart from that he flattered to decieve. He was inches away from the perfect start when he narrowly missed connecting with Wayne Bridge’s tempting delivery but after that his performance was littered with stray passes and tackles as limp as a wet lettuce. Mancini will be looking for a significantly greater return from the Frenchman, reportedly on a wage well clear of £100,000 a week. The signing represented a risk from the offset, the Italian putting his faith in the 33 year old who proved a faithful stalwart at Inter, but it betrays Mancini’s naivety of the pace and aggression of the Premier League. The ex-Inter boss is smart enough to learn lessons if Vieira does prove to be below the required level, and of course there is still room for the former Gunner to prove me wrong, but if Mancini was hoping that this signing would aid the push for the coveted Champions League spot he may be disappointed.
Finally, the on-loan Jack Wilshere, who has already shown his potential at Arsenal. The 18 year old midfielder looked calm in possession and orchestrated every attacking move that the Trotters could produce, and until City doubled their lead through Adebayor, the young Englishman looked increasingly likely to provide the spark that could have pegged back the Citizens. Generally considered to be one step behind in his development compared to other members of Wenger’s school of football such as Aaron Ramsey or Kieron Gibbs, he stepped into the Bolton side and looked considerably more comfortable on the ball than Arsene’s former prodigy Vieira. This game, although something of a damp squib for competition and excitement, was a wonderful chance to witness a significant early step in the blossoming career of two Englishmen, and perhaps the first indications of the beginning of the end for a Premier League legend.