It’s scary to think that it’s not far off ten years since the once perennial underachievers of the Premier League, Manchester City, were changed completely. Investment from oil-rich Qatar meant that suddenly £30million signings, like the deadline day arrival of Robinho, were no longer a dream or a result of cheating on Football Manager.
It changed everything; the Sky Blues are now awash with cash, trophies, star players and are no longer seen as city neighbours United’s little brothers; they’re now arguably the best team in Manchester.
Yet one thing at the club has perhaps suffered despite Sheikh Mansour’s incredible investment; the Academy. Before the hundreds invested, the Citizens had reached two FA Youth Cup finals in 2006 and 2008, featuring the now-departed Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge and Burnley right-back Kieran Tripper amongst their ranks, with the class of 2006 having all British and Irish players.
Now, with the departure of Micah Richards back in the summer to Fiorentina, the City squad has just the one academy graduate with any first team involvement; Juan Angel Pozo, who was bought from Real Madrid for £2.4m, so hardly a story of local boy done good.
The added investment has brought many things, but the fact is that it has so far been at the expense of Manchester City’s youth system, which used to churn out several players for the squad from the nearby area and perhaps understood the club more than the salaries on offer.
It could get worse, too. The Independent are reporting that Manchester City are looking to expand the number of affliations and partnerships across the world with a partnership with Ligue Un side St Etienne, to take advantage of Les Verts renowned youth system.
That is a worrying thought for English football, never mind the youth of Manchester. The fact that one of England’s heavyweights now look to hoover up the best talent from Central France instead of the many thousands up and down the country is something to be criticised, not praised.
After the whole debacle of Frank Lampard and the newly born New York City, not to mention Melbourne City’s completely changed kit colours, City are now looking to stretch their financial muscle to turn St Etienne, record winners of the French top flight, into something akin to a nursery.
It does make sense for Manchester City though, with the likes of Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam, Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma and Swansea’s Bafetimbi Gomis all notable graduates, adding to players like Laurent Blanc, Michel Platini and Blaise Matuidi who have spent time at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
But the fact remains once again the pathway for homegrown talent at Manchester City will be blocked not just by foreign imports costing big money, but by youth players from abroad too.
The report also mentions that players from Manchester City can spend time at the French side too, but then that begs the question of whether fans of Les Verts would want to see the team they watch every week having a number of City-owned players in it.
With all due respect, Ligue Un is not one of Europe’s major leagues, and I expect that deep down the fans at St Etienne would know that it is difficult to keep their best players, either from Paris or Monaco in France, or from bigger clubs abroad once those players have outgrown the Geoffroy-Guichard pond.
But what they shouldn’t accept is the players from their highly respected academy should be snatched from them before they’ve even had a sniff of the first team in France before being lured away.
Many would point to the Pozzo regime at Watford, Udinese and Granada, arguing that just because that is a trio of smaller clubs doesn’t make it any better.
However, the Pozzo family use the trio’s links for the clubs benefit, whilst making sure that despite the imports from Italy into Hertfordshire, it does not come at the neglect of the Academy at The Hornets and make the path into first team football at Vicarage Road that much harder.
The report argues that the senior figures at the Etihad are of the opinion that the u21 Premier League is not strong enough to help the players in their academy develop, and that Ligue Un represents a better finishing school, a bit like Arsenal have done with fellow French side Lorient.
But why couldn’t they look to loan out their players to the Championship or smaller Premier League sides; a season at Burnley to help them adapt to Premier League football, for example.
And whilst that idea is a good point, it shouldn’t come at the detriment of the youth players already at Eastlands, nor using one of France’s finest clubs as a reserve team.