Manchester City-Manchester United: The Youth Academy Debate

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I stumbled across an article by the respected James Ducker recently, entitled ‘Manchester City’s global scouting mission pays off with ‘mind-blowing’ talent’.

The article describes a 13 year old kid, James McAtee, who City signed from United who they claim to be ‘one of Europe’s most talked about young talents and a shining light at City’s burgeoning academy’.

The article also touches on the usual rhetoric’s associated with City’s youth academy such as describing big under 14 victories etc. The article was incidentally published just one day after United had claimed their 3rd Under 21’s Premier League title in 4 years and against a backdrop of academy products flourishing in United’s first team.

What actually represents a successful academy?

All of the points mentioned in Ducker’s article, and many other articles City have fed about their academy over the past year or so such as their richly talented youngsters, their massive underage victories, their state of the art facilities….. Do any of these things actually represent a successful academy? Simply put they don’t.

What represents a successful academy is actually producing and promoting players to the first team. All of the above points certainly help in achieving that but until City start bringing these players through then I’m sorry but they have nothing to shout about.

The article itself is pretty desperate stuff and for City to create unnecessary hype over one of their 13 year old kids in order to use him to get one over United, is plain wrong.

It screams of small man syndrome.

But of course we’ve been here before with City.  When I read this article, the ’Welcome To Manchester’ sign featuring Carlos Tevez in City Blue sprang to mind. The image was created at a time when City hadn’t anything to shout about on the pitch in terms of results so decided to scream about signings instead. Ultimately signings such as Tevez, Aguero, Toure and others have led to success on the pitch and trophies, worth shouting about.

However whether City’s infrastructures and underage talents will lead to City promoting them into the first team remains to be seen.

Do results matter underage?

The assumption that City’s academy is flourishing is usually linked to their underage results. Just to put into context underage results, before we all have to read through another 14 articles about how City’s under 7’s team won 8-0 due to future stars x, y and z, United were defeated 5-1 in the FA Youth Cup by Chelsea in January.

Two players who featured for United in that 5-1 defeat were Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who both started in the FA Cup Semi Final victory over Everton. Also present in that United side were Callum Gribbin and RoShaun Williams, two players who United fans will become a lot more familiar with over the next few seasons with big futures ahead of both. A late substitute in the game for United was Angel Gomes, who could well go on to be the best player United will have produced in many a year. Will this result have an impact on any of these players careers? No.

Another pointer is the United youth cup side of yesteryear featuring Guiseppe Rossi, Gerard Pique, Johnny Evans, Ryan Shawcross, Darron Gibson and Fraizer Campbell (6 internationals) who lost in the FA Youth Cup third round to Stoke. The result didn’t exactly have a bearing on their careers.

Development is the name of the game underage, not results.

Producing first team players is the bottom line

I watched that Chelsea side, who crushed United 5-1 in the Youth Cup in January, draw with City in the first leg of the Youth Cup Final on Friday. There were some great prospects on show for both sides, but the player who stood out was City’s 16 year old midfielder, Brahim Diaz. Diaz, as mentioned in Ducker’s article, looks to have everything required to make it to the top.

Diaz, however, reminded me of another youngster who belied his years that City had in their academy system of late – Marcos ‘Rony’ Lopes. Lopes became City’s youngest ever scorer at 17 years and 9 days when he scored against Watford in 2013. Lopes, like Diaz, looked to have all the tools required to not just make it at City, but to star.

Where is Lopes now? He was last summer sold to Monaco for £9million. After three underwhelming appearances, he is now on loan at Lille.

The point is there is no use shouting about young players and 9-0 under 14 victories unless these talents are nurtured and three or four of that under 14 team come through at City.  Up to now City haven’t developed any young players into the first team – Kelechi Iheanacho signed at 18 can hardly be described as a product.

United, with three youth products starting against Everton in the FA Cup Semi Final, have now stretched the record to 3,798 consecutive first team games in which an academy product has featured in the match day squad. The record that has stood since October 1937.

I know that City are at the early stages of their academy overhaul and the real results can only be judged in 5-10 years, however a piece of advice would be to only shout about things worth shouting about. Should the likes of Diaz and 13 year old McAtee go on to have careers at City then shout away. Until then I am going to enjoy watching Rashford and Fosu-Mensah continue their flourishing first team careers at United and look forward to Williams, Gribbin, Gomes and others getting their opportunities to also shine.

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11 Comments

  1. City appear to be taking part in the Youth Cup Final for the second consecutive year. They have the highest scoring teenager in Premier League history (Kelechi Iheanacho) so they are getting some things right.

    • Blue here. Highest scoring PL teenager in history, get a grip. The article has merit. They have been a million times better at delivering youth players than we have. We are better placed than we have been to quash that over the next over the next ten years. But nothing achieved at a meaningful level until we do. The under 16s look special, as does Diaz, until they arrive we can enjoy their successes at youth level, which are great, but in the big picture rather peripheral.

      Aside, shite season for both clubs.

  2. erm Iheanacho you bought last season he was not produced in your academdy you will just buy the most promising youngsters and claim you developed them from the start when your producing players like southampton, Fulham, West Ham and yes Even UTD then you can start boosting

    • Were Fosuh Mensah or Anthony Martial from your academy? No mate. The reality is that United’s youth end up at Sunderland or playing in the Championship.

  3. All good stuff except City haven’t been shouting about anything, so the story is a non starter. The author seems very bitter. Still upset at the masterstroke that was the Tevez poster. He needs to let that go, it will make him ill. Here’s another red waffling on about City again. Please remind me, who are the noisy neighbours?

    • MM, read the article hyperlinked in the very first sentence… It’s just one of many pathetic articles based on information City have fed the press. If it’s not boasting about beating United in an under 14 game, it’s about poaching one of their players, or even poaching one of United’s former players kid’s.. This current one hyping up a 13 year old tops the lot – it’s pathetic. The press are worse to publish it.

      I don’t know how you can’t see that?

      Do you think United were feeding the press stories about Rashford when he was 13 to get one over City? Not a hope. We have/always had our players best interests at heart. Do City have McAtee’s best interests at heart posting this article?

  4. Fred the Red on

    I am a ManU fan and have to be honest chose City academy for my son even before the CFA.

    Im no expert and my son is only young, even more so at the time, so a large part of my decision was about where he enjoyed playing which was at Platt Lane at the time.

    The new facilities are very good and you will never get games or training cancelled as a result which i guess is one small advantage over ManU, but as stated not worth shouting about. 2 full time coaches at every age group versus i think 1 full time member for every 3 age groups is another plus investment brings, plus arguably better coaches.

    Only time will tell, and a lot depends on first team managers and circumstances, i dont thing all the ManU youngsters would have been given the same opportunity if we had a full squad and were challenging for the title and in Champions League. Although Manu and a few others like Tottenham lead in this department by some distance.

    What to me was very apparent was a arrogant we are all ready the best attitude at ManU, and a real desire to catch up, take over and be the best at MCFC! This is evident by the fact the head of the academy watches and takes a real interest in younger age groups and is at all home games observing, the same i dont beleive could be said of Brian McClair?

    I suspect that Nicky Butt will improve things, and the real plus is that ManU will also win with all of Citys investment in youth because the competition will wake up the sleeping giant, and just as good players get better competing with good players, both academies will benefit.

    From my experience at my sons age group it is Man City and ManU that appear to have the best players in the NW so all good for both.

    Therefore stop bickering and enjoy the benefits competition may bring !!!!

  5. Good points, Fred the Red.

    Completely agree that competition only serves to rise our own levels and standards, therefore all of this – even the press reports, should contribute to United gaining parity on coaching and recruitment. As you say, it seems that we had become a bit complacent on that front over the past few years.

    That said the point I was trying to make was in spite of these things, was that I feel it is very unnecessary of City to be leaking articles the way they have been and also believe that it is unfair for the press to continuously bash United’s youth system when after all we are churning out more players than any other English club year after year, which is the bottom line…….. Ultimately I’d like if there were more balanced articles written on the matter.

  6. My son tried Man City, Man Utd , Everton ,Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers, after much travelling every night, I told him to pick the two he enjoyed the best, he chose Blackburn and Liverpool. So we stayed with them two, then it got even harder because they both wanted to sign him, he loved them both, so I decided for him and chose Blackburn Rovers because he stands more chance getting in the first team. He is now 15 years old, still loves it, Blackburn are not as big as all the other clubs but they are very friendly and its more family orientated.
    Getting back to Man City and Man Utd, if it came to it, it would have been Man Utd, I thought they were a lot more professional and had a bit of class about them. I could not understand why mums and dads chose Man City, they are never going to get into the first team. I am a rochdale fan, so do not support utd or city

    • Thanks for your comment Ian. Very interesting to get a view from your standpoint having a son who is actually part of an academy system – indeed I wish him all the best in his burgeoning career.

      I, as a keyboard warrior, am basing most of my views from….behind a keyboard. Therefore it would be great to get your views on academy matters more frequently. I’m not trying to be a salesman but if you wish to contribute to the Stretford End Arising forum, I for one would be very interested in your views, particularly on Academy football.

      Good to hear that United are going about things well in recruitment. It seemed we lost our touch of late, however I refer to that old adage when I say ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’.

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