Consciously or otherwise, the Manchester City academy seemed to press the reset button three years ago. The former club’s main honcho, Mark Allen, had left for Rangers in the weeks following a Premier League ban on drawing young players and Jason Wilcox.
Wilcox, a title winner at Blackburn Rovers in 1995, wanted to change the culture – especially the wages spent on teenagers, which has since fallen steadily. Despite the launch of the £ 200 million City Football Academy in 2014, it feels like they are staying closer to the start of their journey than the end.
“I’m not jealous of Jason’s work, it’s really tough,” said a source. There are a number of reasons for this and they are sharpened during a week in which City recognized the potential of a two-year removal from the Champions League. The noise outside focuses on a possible exodus from the squadron, reduced revenues, and as such there are glances toward an operation that has not yet reached the number of quality products that some rivals have managed.
Tommy Doyle: Age 18, Central Midfield – Grandson of City legend Mike, captains under 18 years of age
Jayden Braaf: Age 17, left winger – Fast Dutchman is wanted by German side RB Leipzig
With the possibility on the other side of a ceremonial bridge in the Etihad stadium, the path to the first football team symbolizes, the time is approaching for City to ensure that more than just Phil Foden breaks into.
The academy is a long and complicated story. Pep Guardiola has given 13 debutions to academics since his arrival, but some around City – and certainly much more elsewhere – cry tokenism.
In fact, the internal pressure of Guardiola is to build a team to win titles. Without direct orders, few managers in world football would focus primarily on youth progress. City has accelerated to another stratosphere and the academy has not caught up. “You have to be a ready-made £ 50 million player to get to City,” a source said. “How realistic is that?”
Guardiola labeled local boys Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Tommy Doyle as future stars during last year’s ill-fated tour through Asia, both playing for the Catalan this season. Doyle, a civilized midfielder, will be the captain of the Under-18 team that Burnley is organizing in the FA Youth Cup sixth round later this month. It is crucial that both players have family ties with the club.
James McAtee: Age 17, attacking midfield – this season scored 10 goals for City’s Under 18s
Cole Palmer: Age 17, attacking midfield – 13 goals and five assists in 12 Under 18 PL matches
The primary focus must be development, but the financial aspect is something you can’t hide: City earns millions from their academy. Last season alone they recovered somewhere in the neighborhood of £ 50 million in the sale of academy degrees, including Rabbi Matondo to Schalke for £ 10 million. That also took over the transfer from Brahim Diaz to Real Madrid, despite the club’s attempts to keep the attacker.
It was obvious they were desperate for Jadon Sancho to stay, but his need for immediate senior football brought something about it. City does not want the same thing to happen to 17-year-old Dutch winger Jayden Braaf, who is in the mold of Sancho. Braaf is already being watched by a large number of European clubs and football from the first team.
Dozens of players are borrowed worldwide. Questions have also been raised about the wisdom of signing left backs in successive seasons whether development is really the prevailing ambition.
So those at the top have a balancing act – and one that won’t please anyone or anyone all the time. It is believed that Wilcox has an important voice in the selection of teams in a number of age groups, while there has been staff turnover. Under the 23 manager, Paul Harsley, he is expected to leave as soon as his contract ends, while Gareth Taylor with the Under 18s is a highly valued coach.
Sources argue that promoting a stronger bond between the first team and the academy is necessary, suggesting that Guardiola or his eventual successor should know who will be the next under-23 boss.
The exciting academy stars of the city hope to follow in the footsteps of Phil Foden
Guardiola often invites young people to train with the team and personally calls up to 16-year-old Australian midfielder Alexander Robertson – taken over from Manchester United. “That’s their chance to be in charge,” said a source. “It is up to them whether they understand it or not.”
Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Guardiola’s assistant, Rodolfo Borrell, are credited with helping teenagers settle down during sessions. Fernandinho is by far the most welcoming.
Some young people are privately disappointed, they are only used as “cones” to set themselves up in the formation of an opposition, while others thrive. Some believe that there is a preference for Spanish players, others claim that English youths are treated differently. The reality, as with so many, is probably in between.
Anyway, it feels like we’re approaching a crux in the destiny of the academy of City. Among a few others, James McAtee, Jayden Braaf, Cole Palmer, Liam Delap and Lewis Fiorini must be names that city supporters make their own. Their progress over the next two years should be the determining factor for determining whether this actually works. No one really knows for the moment.
Pep Guardiola may have to go to City’s academy soon if there is an exodus in the Etihad