In the wake of his performance against Preston North End, some of the more fanciful tweets from Bristol City fans have compared Alex Scott to England’s third-most capped international and the country’s first £100 million player.
But while those apparent associations with David Beckham and Jack Grealish can be taken with a large pinch of salt and diagnosed as a case of mild football delirium it does, at base level, reveal one undoubted truth: he’s playing at a level rarely seen before from an individual in red and white.
Call it perfect timing but his last two displays, which have book-ended a transfer deadline day in which the club’s firm stance had ensured there were no late bids for the midfielder, have raised the bar of expectation for the teenager even further.
Against Preston, at times, he was operating on a different plane to his peers, most profoundly those clad in white and navy blue; Ryan Ledson has more than 100 Championship appearances, and his partner Alistair McCann just over 50, couldn’t get near City’s No7, whether it was when he was gliding into space, turning away from traffic or simply caressing the ball with the bottom of his boot before delivering precisely the right pass at the right time.
But for all this framing of the grizzled pros versus the young pup, the game at Deepdale was Scott’s 76th in a City shirt. He is very much a Championship footballer having accumulated significant experience to reach a certain level of mentality within the professional environment that makes him an equal of those older in body, but his outrageous talent and football IQ elevates him far beyond that.
How much longer he’ll be a Championship footballer is, of course, a matter for debate - well, beyond the next three months, anyway - and it perhaps speaks to how well he’s playing that there is a growing acceptance within the fanbase that he will more than likely be sold this summer.
Even articles such as this, openly discussing the prospect of such, have in the past been met with a degree of understandable anger. But there is something different with Scott. It’s a recognition of the inevitable perhaps, but once again a measure of his quality.
Few before him at Ashton Gate have been afforded such a luxury; Josh Brownhill, maybe, and Joe Bryan and Adam Webster to an extent - where they were just increasingly becoming too good for their environment, but in the case of those example they were playing in promotion-challenging squads, so their departures were undercut with a feeling of frustration about the impact on the bigger picture that season.
Scott has a solid family unit behind him, but it feels like there are 20,000 proud surrogate parents each time he steps onto the field at Ashton Gate.
While City very much remain “a collective” under Nigel Pearson, and the manager wouldn’t have it any other way, Scott’s increasingly running the show, improving not just the team itself as a whole but the individuals around him; arguably the true mark of a great player.
His work in the build-up to City’s second goal at Deepdale has now been widely shared and circulated far and wide as the 19-year-old controls George Tanner’s header, sucks in his marker while leaving another three opposition players transfixed almost through his sheer presence and tractor-beam like magnitude, before rolling onto his right and threading a pass through for Nahki Wells to scamper clear and then set up Sam Bell at the far post.
The touch, technique and vision are all special but what stands out the most is how conscious Preston are of what he can do and the impact that has on an opposition team’s structure and organisation. Yes, the Lilywhites have been brittle at home and have lost a huge degree of their defensive solidity that marked their start to the 2022/23 campaign but whether through instruction or instinct, Scott now has his opposite numbers worried about what’s possible (and probable) when the ball is at his feet.
The same was true of West Brom last weekend and if David Wagner studies the Robins this week as he has said he will, Norwich City will also. Clearly, though, Scott is more than happy with such attention. As should his teammates, given the areas of the pitch it can then open up for them.
Taking centre stage
Tickets for the FA Cup date with Manchester City went on sale for season ticket holders on Monday, and it doesn’t look out of step or unreasonable that Scott’s profile leads the club’s marketing campaign.
On a promotional image, including teammates Nahki Wells, Andi Weimann, Zak Vyner, Mark Sykes and Sam Bell, manager Pearson, plus Pep Guardiola, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Erling Haaland, the collage is framed by Scott’s face. That is some affirmation of his standing at the club.
Amid the discourse about just how good Scott is, whether that be in referencing predecessors in the Robins academy, City midfield or the English game itself, is that it’s already a situation whereby he’s becoming a must-see attraction. With 18 Championship games left, at least one FA Cup tie (maybe more), there could be only so many more opportunities to watch his balletic brilliance run the midfield.
If we are working on the hypothesis that his departure is no longer a matter of if or when but more how much and to where, City are in a perfect position.
The security around his contract means the Robins have one more window left to be able to properly call the shots, rather than working to a decreasing timeline as was the case with Antoine Semenyo.
As he operates at an increasingly high level, the interest that has steadily been rumbling for the last 12 months grows in volume, and we’ll approach a summer transfer window when clubs should - and we’ll emphasise that word - be fighting over him.
Wolverhampton Wanderers appeared the closest and most motivated over January, only to be spooked by the £25m valuation which, in a winter window for a club battling to stay in the division, is an understandable risk. But should these performance levels remain, even allowing for a slight dip in consistency, firstly, that figure looks wholly reasonable and, secondly, Wolves could well have missed their chance.
From City’s perspective, and with respect to the legacies of Stan Cullis, Billy Wright and Steve Bull, the club’s preference has to be to sell Scott to the most prestigious and high-ranking club possible, for three very clear reasons.
Firstly, previous sales of Brownhill, Bryan, Semenyo, Lloyd Kelly, Bobby Reid and Webster have been to clubs that in the recent past have been rivals or even below the Robins in the pyramid. For all the pride of seeing Semenyo strutting himself in the top-flight for Bournemouth, there is a ping of regret that he’s been taken by a club who have represented a good away day rather than an apex predator in the transfer market.
Not that it’s any kind of slight on the academy but they’re yet to have that one true marquee case study. Scott can be that elite story, and the aspirational qualities he delivers on the pitch to the younger elements of the club can resonate even more strongly even after his departure.
Secondly, in very raw business terms it’s pretty obvious that the bigger the club, the more likely the transfer fee is going to be higher. With Wolves scared off and Bournemouth not willing to take such a risk given their priorities of staying up this season, in the summer clubs can plan with greater time and the concept of spending such a volume of money on a teenager isn’t so alien.
But that window also potentially draws in the big fish in the sea and, albeit with Manchester City’s problems now complicating any future involvement from them, as Manchester United, Liverpool and, to a lesser extent, Tottenham Hotspur look to regenerate and reinvigorate their midfields, Scott will be on their radar. And should one of those clubs make the step, that will trigger the glowing blue Boehlyphone in west London and invariably Chelsea's interest is suddenly piqued.
We’re hypothesising but Scott is now in that sort of conversation, and that is a discussion far more lucrative and prestigious to City than Wolves or Bournemouth.
Finally, and a little more loosely, is the absolute best-case scenario for the Robins; that somebody elects to spend serious money on Scott but without immediate opportunities for him in the first-team feels his development will be best served back at Ashton Gate for another season.
It’s increasingly rare as clubs’ loan departments have very structured plans for their talent, not just in sporting terms but also financial ones - they are required to turn over a profit. So while City may want him back, a Championship club in receipt of parachute payments could provide the necessary loan fee that the Robins couldn’t.
But that situation still remains far more likely at a top six/eight Premier League club than it is among the mid-range of Wolves, Leicester City or Brighton & Hove Albion; those who have been previously linked with Scott with varying levels of desire to actually try and sign him.
You sense that the narrative is altering and that the grandest names in English football are entering into a rapidly-developing and redrafted script, something that can only be maintained and enhanced with Scott’s increased performances for City, putting the Robins in the perfect situation.
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