As Manchester City prepared for a fourth FA Youth Cup final in five years, there was an almost tangible excitement around the Academy Stadium, very similar to the Youth Cup run in 2017 when the side contained now star names such as Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz. When there is such excitement to see teenagers take to the pitch, you know there is special talent on display.
Since the City Football Academy opened in 2014, there are a number of different way in which City’s investment can be deemed to have been a success. Chief amongst them at present is unearthing and development of Stockport’s own Phil Foden, a player who in his first full first-team season has heavily impacted both domestic cup and league games, would certainly make the academy a roaring success if he goes on to truly establish himself as a regular, which is expected given his ability.
However, the academy could also be viewed as a success through the money recouped from the sales of youth players. For example, the sales of Brahim Diaz, Kelechi Iheanacho, Angus Gunn, Jason Denayer, Jadon Sancho, Pablo Maffeo, Angelino and Bersant Celina have seen City receive just under £100 million, an astounding figure given that it covers nearly half of what the CFA cost to build. True, none of these players have managed to crack City’s first team, nor have any bar Sancho yet established themselves as global talents, but the increasing interest in City’s youth products is showing that the CFA is only growing in stature.
Nevertheless, an academy may be financially viable, but in my eyes, it should only really be viewed as a complete success if young players can truly make an impact within the first team set-up. After all, that was the original purpose of creating academies.
Yet in City’s 2019 FA Youth Cup finalists, the club could have the generation to break through. In fact, there are a number of players bubbling away at the CFA, each with brilliant individual qualities.
The quality of the players produced from the academy is very high and these youngsters are not only hard-working and fit the ethos of the club, but their versatility could work in their favour with City’s first team squad lacking in depth in certain areas.
For example, with Nicolas Otamendi reportedly set to leave the Etihad Stadium and Vincent Kompany only likely to receive a maximum of a one-year contract extension at the end of the season, the door wide open for Eric Garcia to continue to gain more first-team experience and slowly establish himself as a first-team member in the coming years.
Beyond Garcia too, there is Taylor Harwood-Bellis. He has partnered Garcia throughout the Youth Cup run and has all the attributes required to succeed in the professional game. A very calm ball-playing centre-back with a dominant presence in duels, you would back him to at least stake a claim for some first-team opportunities in the future at City, too.
Further forward, tactical versality will certainly favour the likes of Tommy Doyle and Jeremie Frimpong. The former, blue through and blue, is adept in a creative midfield role but has also featured in a holding midfield role as a deep-lying playmaker during the Cup run. With such depth in the two more forward midfield roles at City, working as both a creative and deep-lying midfielder will only better his chances of getting opportunities in the future, which he will be more than determined to do.
Frimpong meanwhile is not only able to play both full-back positions, but he has also featured on the right-wing at stages this season. The 18-year-old is most specialised at right-back and has a lightning-quick turn of pace, as well as being comfortable in possession on either side of the pitch. Being so flexibible in a position like full-back, where the first-team do not have many youthful options, means that the future could very well be bright if Frimpong and his teammates keep working hard and present their case to Pep Guardiola in training.
There are, of course, other names that could continue to develop and catch Guardiola’s eye, or indeed the eyes of other high-profile clubs, with promising careers ahead of them. With that being said though, by no means am I saying that every player in that side will get their chance at City – it is just unfeasible.
But if they can see a potential route for themselves into the first-team and they are determined enough to try and make the grade, then who is to try and stop them?
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