A common theme amongst Manchester City’s transfer business this summer has been the age of the players who have been brought in.
Last season, the Blues were unsuccessful in their title defence and ended the campaign without any silverware, and many pointed to the fact that City’s squad was ageing and suggested some serious freshening up was required. It has not been the overhaul that many anticipated, but already the side looks more youthful and hungrier than ever.
Fabian Delph and Raheem Sterling are the two major signings the club has made in the current window, though youngsters Enes Unal and Patrick Roberts have both been signed, yet have seemingly gone under the radar. At 25 Delph is the oldest of the four, while it seems like Sterling has been around for a lifetime, yet he is still only 20. These four signings may not be considered as masterful business or names that will guarantee immediate success, but it provides a clear glimpse into the direction City want to go in.
Football fans tend to find joy in a number of things – an exciting new signing, a change of manager who wants to change the club’s style, or even the club’s new kit. But I would maintain that football fans love nothing more than an Academy product making the grade in the first-team. It can give the club a lift and the fans can sometimes see the player as one of their own.
The last real player to do that for City was Michael Johnson; a cultured player in his day with an unbelievable engine. He was excellent but injuries took their toll and Johnson, now 27, plies his trade as a restaurant owner. City fans are crying out for an influx of young, homegrown talent and as much as people try to suggest otherwise, City as a club want nothing more than that to happen.
Believe it or not, City are a club with a great tradition of producing youngsters. Back in 1986, City had a wonderful youth side that soundly overcame rivals United in the FA Youth Cup final with a 3-1 aggregate win. The side, coached by the legendary Tony Book, included the likes of Ian Brightwell, Steve Redmond, David White, Paul Moulden, Andy Hinchcliffe and Paul Lake. Five of that crop would play a key role in the ‘Maine Road massacre’ three years later, where City’s first-team destroyed their neighbours with a crushing 5-1 victory. Lake in particular starred in the game and was tipped to become England captain had he not suffered such unfortunate injuries.
The success in ’86 served as a major wake-up call for Sir Alex Ferguson and United, who revamped their scouting system completely. Merely years later, the famous ‘Class of 92’ came about, with Beckham, Scholes, Giggs and co. Perhaps it would be wrong to say City should take any credit for the achievements of that United side, but many Blues fans will tell you that City’s version was far superior. The lack of guidance and chopping and changing of managers is what is said to have heavily hindered a talented group of players.
Granted that was a long time ago, but City have produced youngsters since. Under Jim Cassell’s tutelage, the club claimed the FA Youth Cup once more in 2008, beating Chelsea over two legs. None of the players from that side are at City now, but have gone on to have fairly commendable careers. Daniel Sturridge was the cream of the crop and would be considered one of the best strikers in the league had he not suffered such niggling injuries. Dedryck Boyata was at the club last season, but a lack of football meant he has been moved on to Celtic. An impressive season with Burnley in the Premier League for Kieran Trippier culminated in a move to Spurs. He is another member of the 2008 Youth Cup winning side.
In my view, many of the players produced by City would still be here had the club not embarked on such a remarkable upwards spiral. Now, with the club mixing it with the European heavyweights, City have different goals and targets but they are now heavily focused on integrating youth. The rise in quality means that you have to be unbelievably talented to make it in the first-team, but that’s not to say it won’t happen.
City are building for the future. Last season, Jason Wilcox’s Under-18 side played some incredible football on the way to the FA Youth Cup final and while it was Chelsea who claimed the trophy yet again, it is clear to see that there is a great amount of talent in City’s ranks. And, all-importantly, there was a real Mancunian flavour in the side.
Patrick Vieira’s EDS Side also endured some success, claiming the inaugural Premier League Under-21 International Cup, seeing off a number of Premier League sides as well as some from Europe’s Elite, including Porto’s B side, in the final.
The club’s new £200m City Football Academy has earned rave reviews and we are already seeing the effects of such a facility with last season’s successes. Academy sides play with the same style and principles as the first-team and with all teams being based at the same campus; they can almost taste their first-team opportunities.
And many of those players have been rewarded with a host of chances in the first-team’s pre-season tour of Australia and Vietnam.
16-year-old Cameron Humphreys started games against Melbourne City and Real Madrid, Manu Garcia, a slight but slick Spanish midfielder has looked perfectly home in the company of David Silva, and Kelechi Iheanacho, the Nigerian starlet, has once again shone in pre-season and has struck a wonderful understanding with new-boy Raheem Sterling. Pellegrini has spoken glowingly of the latter two.
Brandon Barker, a local lad, has demonstrated his superb qualities and is surely destined for a big future at City. Jason Denayer, fresh from a double-winning campaign on loan at Celtic in which he claimed the SPL’s Young Player of the Year award, is set for a place in next season’s squad, as is Rony Lopes, who has been earmarked as a blossoming talent after starring in the League Cup against West Ham a couple of years back.
Ultimately you will be judged on the quantity and quality of players progressing to the first-team but there is no reason at all why that cannot happen. The infrastructure is there, as is the talent and the opportunities will arrive. Manchester City are totally serious when it comes to youth and soon we will see the City Football Academy bear fruit.