Manchester City reaping the rewards of long-term investment in academy's young stars

Phil Foden is leading the way, but many more are now making their marks at Etihad and beyond

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with star academy player Phil Foden. AFP
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Manchester’s City’s football factory is working at full capacity.

The production line of top talent envisaged when the Premier League champions revolutionised their youth academy back in 2013/14 is whirring away to the benefit of manager Pep Guardiola.

It has taken eight years of diligence, hard work, trial and error, and investment but the dividends are now there for all to see with almost £50 million ($60m) already added to the balance sheet this summer with the promise of more to come.

When City were purchased in 2008 by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed through the Abu Dhabi United Group, he set out his vision for the future pledging to bring success on the field and to nurture young talent.

The plan was based on youth development and sustainability, to educate talented young footballers on and off the pitch and to do so in a facility supported by the best coaches and coaching programmes.

When, after some years of research, the board - led by chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak - decided to spend upwards of £160m on a new infrastructure in the heart of East Manchester, it was with off-seasons like 2022 in mind.

They dreamt of summers in which some young players would be promoted to the first team setup and others sold on to pay for international star names.

Putting the men’s and women’s senior teams on the same campus as the juniors was part of a long-term vision to make City not just successful but also financially sustainable.

The facility, across the road from the Etihad Stadium and built on reclaimed land, was named the City Football Academy (CFA). It houses all the club’s playing and coaching staff, the vast majority of the office workers, and is home to the City Football Group’s (CFG) global headquarters.

Two-thirds of the 17 pitches available on the site are primarily used for youth football, so there will be major satisfaction in the corridors of power in Manchester and Abu Dhabi when the returns for this transfer window are finally totted up.

Cole Palmer celebrates scoring for Manchester City. Action Images

Phil Foden, with four Premier League titles before his 22nd birthday and a World Cup stage with England in Qatar beckoning, has long been the poster boy for the CFA. Cole Palmer, another local product, is set to join him in regular action this season.

Central defender Luke Mbete, striker Liam Delap - fresh back from winning the U19 Euros with England - and James McAtee may also get the chance to show what they can do at first team level, although loan deals are not out of the question.

The impact of the academy, led by Premier League winner Jason Wilcox, will certainly be felt on the pitch but is also now writ large on the accounts.

Big-money incoming deals totalling more than £100m for Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez, and Kalvin Phillips have been paid for in no small part by sales of young players who were on the fringes of breaking through under Guardiola but haven’t quite made the big leap.

Manchester City's Liam Delap in action. Action Images

City have so far sold Darko Gyabi (Leeds), Pedro Porro (Sporting Lisbon), Gavin Bazunu and Romeo Lavia (both Southampton), Ko Itakura (Borussia Monchengladbach), and CJ Egan-Riley (Burnley).

In excess of £45m has been raised by those sales and there is the prospect of more to come, with Samuel Edozie expected to move to Germany for up to £10m while interest is high in Aro Muric and Iker Pozo.

Others such as Tommy Doyle (Sheffield United) and Taylor Harwood-Bellis (Burnley) are out on loan as they bid to further their experience.

City have cleverly inserted buy-back clauses in the majority of sales should any of their starlets go one to make a mark at the top level and at the same time the club have cleared a pathway for the next crop of talented youngsters who have swept all before them in the terms of age group Premier League titles for the last two seasons.

Manchester City's James McAtee in action against Norwich City. AP

This summer also builds on the last two or three windows when significant money was made from the sales of Rabi Matondo (Schalke 04), Brahim Diaz (Real Madrid), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund, now Manchester United), Lukas Nmecha (Wolfsburg) and Jeremie Frimpong (Celtic, now Bayer Leverkusen).

The increase in business highlights a growing trend in English football with teams below the current Premier League big six, as well as European sides, eyeing potential and backing themselves to improve talented young players who they know would have had the best possible grounding on and off the pitch.

It also illustrates how difficult it is to be a regular member of Guardiola’s first team squad with some seeing the route as nearly impossible and therefore passing up on signing extended deals in the hope they get high level, first team football elsewhere.

Those who do make it, however, can count on Guardiola’s support and admiration.

Manchester City player ratings 2021/22

“The academy has many good players, not just one or two,” he said. “All of them are incredibly well-educated people. Thanks to their families, too.

“We have talented players. We can count on them absolutely. Some of them train with the first team every single day. They don’t make bad faces; they don’t make you feel uncomfortable in your decisions.

“They just have the desire to be something in world football. With their skills and desire. I am so proud to be manager of this club.

“As a manager I can enjoy it. I can use them. Without the incredible effort of many people in the academy it would not be possible.”

A handful of youngsters are expected to travel on the champions’ pre-season tour. They return for training on July 11 before jetting out to the USA on July 16 where City will play Club America on July 21 (in Texas) and Bayern Munich on July 24 (in Green Bay).

City will then face FA Cup winners Liverpool in the Community Shield, the traditional English season curtain raiser on July 30.

Updated: July 06, 2022, 11:00 AM
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