Philip Walter Foden has blown away the myth that youth doesn’t get its opportunity at Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
The England midfielder, who turned 21 this summer, has already racked up 69 appearances for the Catalan manager’s winning machine and, barring unforeseen disaster, is likely to be a mainstay of the side for the next decade.
Foden was nurtured slowly by Guardiola and his staff. Calls from the sidelines for the embryonic Stockport-born player to be rushed into action were met by deaf ears and a plan was executed to perfection as Foden blossomed into one of the world’s most talked about young footballers
Now the midfielder will be an interested participant in training as a handful of aspiring young talents bid to navigate the same trail into the manager’s plans and the supporters’ affections.
At City’s Football Academy in Manchester they have purposely built the first team and youth team buildings opposite one another, separated by an indoor pitch laid to the exact dimensions of the Etihad Stadium surface.
The idea is that the youngsters will look longingly to the other side of the green rubicon and the thought of being invited into the senior environment will give them the additional incentive to separate themselves from their contemporaries.
Of course not everyone has the drive and the skills of a Foden, but this summer Guardiola will run the rule over a handful of tyros who will bring extra energy and desire to pre-season training.
With many of the senior stars still with their feet up after summer tournaments, the new kids on the block will never have a better chance to catch the manager’s eye.
They are likely to get their chance in the pre-season outing against Preston North End on July 27 and there will be spots available, too, in the match day squad for the Community Shield at Wembley against Leicester City.
The latest crop of graduates will not have the incentive of a newly blazed trail to follow but also have the comforting sight of their former youth team coach Carlos Vincens on the training ground with them. He has been promoted by Guardiola into the senior set up.
So who are the likely lads who will lead the charge of the youth brigade?
Premier League 2 Player of the season Liam Delap is one of the names high on the list. The bustling teenage striker has already played in, and scored for, Guardiola’s first team.
Delap, once of Derby County, netted 24 goals, including three hat-tricks, in just 20 PL2 games. He was handed his senior debut against Bournemouth in the League Cup third round in September 2020 and marked the occasion with a stunning goal in a 2-1 win.
“He’s a different striker to what we have in terms of physicality,” noted Guardiola.
"Liam has done incredibly well. We see in training how good a finisher he is. Now he has to be calm and keep working to improve. This season he will be with us, training with us every day."
That last sentence from the City chief will be a punch to the solar plexus of a host of Championship managers who would be falling over one another to sign Delap on loan if they were given even a scintilla of encouragement.
Alongside Delap will be a long-time on-the-pitch partner, Cole Palmer. The 19-year-old Manchester-born attacking midfielder scored 13 times and added six assists as City won their first Premier League 2 title.
Left-footed Palmer, who has been at the club a decade, was handed his senior debut in the 3-0 League Cup fourth round victory at Burnley in September 2020.
That was followed by a maiden Champions League appearance when coming off the bench in the 3-0 group stage win at Marseille in October.
Although primarily a wide midfielder, Palmer could easily be seen as a central attacking option for Guardiola and his impressive development was rewarded this summer when he signed a two-year extension to his contract.
Guardiola has already likened Palmer to Foden. "He started a bit shy. That's normal but he's an incredible young lad,” said the manager. “He has shown us a lot of things. He has a good perspective and a good future in this club.
“He is a humble guy and on the counter-attack he is so intuitive. He is a guy who finishes incredibly, like Phil.”
Another three teenagers are likely to get a chance to earn a first-team squad number. Defensive midfielder Romeo Lavia, central defender Luke Mbete, and attacking midfielder James McAtee.
Lavia, 18, joined City only a year ago from Anderlecht in Belgium but made a huge impression playing at under 23 level.
He made his debut in that side against Chelsea’s where he was in direct opposition to Chelsea’s Scotland Euro 2020 star Billy Gilmour in a 2-2 draw. Lavia emerged as a double title winner with City, as he also starred for the Under-18s.
Another 18-year-old, James McAtee, born in Salford, has been with City since 2013 and despite the welter of midfield talent seemingly blocking his way, he’s already caught the manager’s eye.
“James has incredible quality in the pockets,” Guardiola noted.
McAtee has another big fan in Vincens.
“He’s a winner. A humble guy who wants to do very well and wants everyone around him to do well too,” he reported. “You can see the difference when the ball arrives into him he is able to create danger and adept at doing so.”
At 17, Londoner Mbete is the youngest of the hopefuls. He too was fast tracked into the under 23 squad and also starred in City’s thrilling 3-2 win over Chelsea in the 2020 FA Youth Cup final.
He has twice been on the bench for the first team, so has already had a taste for the environment and is now ready to continue his progress after injury ruled him out of the second half of last season.
Shea Charles, a 17-year-old from Northern Ireland, is another central defender who has impressed in the youth ranks, and with Taylor Harwood-Bellis loaned out to Anderlecht for the season risen up the pecking order.
Forward Ben Knight, 19, will be training with Gaurdiola for a while, too, along with fellow 19-year-olds Yan Couto, a right-back from Brazil, and Spanish forward Pablo Moreno, who has returned from a loan spell at Girona.
Completing the roster of likely lads under the gaze of the manager will be Diego Rosa, an 18-year-old Brazilian most recently on loan at Belgian side Lommel.
Watch this space!