Manchester City youngsters out to reverse the trend of Guardiola's loan players

Teenage pals McAtee and Delap are with Championship clubs and want to become the first to return to City's first team

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Manchester City youngsters James McAtee and Liam Delap know they will have to buck a trend if they are to succeed at the Etihad where others have failed.

The pair of 19-year-old friends, considered the most likely to succeed among the current crop of the champions' Academy graduates, have both been loaned out this summer to clubs in the Championship – arguably the most competitive league in European football.

Midfielder McAtee has already begun to impress at Sheffield United and, less than 50 miles away, striker Delap has played his first minutes at Stoke City.

Their short-term aim is to play regularly at a high standard, to continue their football education in a pressurised environment and then, long-term, to return to City and play in the Premier and Champions League – both have already had a brief taste of life at football’s top table.

However, if they are to become permanent members of Pep Guardiola’s squad – they have both made appearances in the Premier League and Uefa Champions League – McAtee and Delap are going to have to overcome something of a hoodoo.

During the great Catalan manager’s six-year reign at the Etihad Stadium not one youngster has been loaned out and returned to regular first-team football.

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The two youth products who are currently in his squad – Phil Foden and Cole Palmer – made all their progress on the perfectly manicured training pitches at the City Football Academy.

Other recent hopefuls like Gavin Bazunu (now at Southampton), Patrick Roberts (Sunderland), Lukas Nmecha (Wolfsburg), Arno Muric (Burnley) and D’Margio Wright-Phillips (Stoke) left on one or more loan deals and never came back to play regularly for the first team before securing permanent moves at a high level elsewhere.

Others in a similar position to McAtee and Delap, though more probably facing a make-or-break season in terms of their permanent futures with the champions, are defender Taylor Harwood-Bellis, who is in his fourth loan spell, this time at Burnley, and Tommy Doyle, who is with McAtee at Sheffield United – his third temporary home after making his City first-team debut in 2019.

McAtee and Delap, meanwhile, are still held in very high regard by Guardiola and his inner circle and their departure is as much to do with the manager’s fondness for operating with a small squad than any lingering doubts about their ability to make the grade.

Stoke City's Liam Delap and Sunderland's Dennis Cirkin battle for the ball in the Sky Bet Championship match at the bet365 Stadium, Stoke. on August 20, 2022. PA

Both had the choice from several loan suitors this summer as City batted away significant cash bids for their promising duo. Tellingly neither has a "with a view to buy" clause in their Championship deals.

They can also take comfort from the fact that, while loaned-out players have subsequently struggled to make the grade at City, there are many examples of big names who left their parent club for a while and come back to become not just local legends but internationally renowned superstars.

For example, current Everton manager and former Chelsea midfielder (and City player) Frank Lampard scored his first ever senior goal while on loan at Swansea in the 1995/96 season.

Famously Harry Kane, the striker preparing to lead England into the Qatar World Cup later this year, had four fairly nondescript loan periods at Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester before finding his feet and goalscoring boots at Tottenham Hotspur.

And there are many more success stories to be found should any of the current youngsters on loan need reassurance.

Ashley Cole played for Crystal Palace in the Championship before making his mark at Arsenal as perhaps the Premier League’s best-ever left-back and David Beckham, one of the most famous players of the modern era, wasn’t always at Manchester United or Real Madrid. In his early days he was loaned out to Third Division Preston North End, who had current West Ham manager David Moyes in their ranks.

Beckham’s teammate at Old Trafford Rio Ferdinand similarly had a loan spell at Bournemouth and fellow top Premier League centre-half John Terry was once loaned out to Nottingham Forest.

Sometimes in football the road to the top isn’t always straight.

Updated: August 24, 2022, 5:08 PM
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