Manchester City and the myths surrounding youth development

With the failed bid for Riyad Mahrez, claims have been made about the failure of Manchester City’s youth policy. RealSport look to see if these claims are founded.

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(Photo credit: David Dixon)

Football is as much a game of chance, opportunism and luck as it is about skill. 

Just ask Marcus Rashford, one of the best examples in recent times, who took a chance afforded to him through an injury to a starter, scored a brace in the Europa League and has never looked back. 

But at big clubs, those chances are rarely forthcoming with Chelsea and Manchester City the main culprits. 

City seem to be slowly taking over Chelsea’s mantle but it’s much more complicated than that.

A cross-city rivalry

Manchester City are a club who have raced ahead of city rivals Manchester United in youth development, spending money on a brand-new training complex. 

That gave them the upper-hand when it came to attracting youths, with several former United players unabashedly sending their children to City too. 

But when it comes to bridging the sizeable gap between academy and first team, United continue to lead the race and there’s no debate.

City lost Jadon Sancho to Borussia Dortmund this summer, a warning sign, if not a hammer blow, that the club’s money will always be a barrier towards youth progression. As one of England’s brightest starlets, it was a big loss for City. 

This season, Guardiola has only been able to afford limited minutes to the promising youths he has at his disposal: Tosin Adarabioyo, Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz lead the lines, along with Lukas Nmecha, Tom Dele-Bashiru and the uncapped Jodi Latibeaudiere. 

On the other hand, Mourinho has not been shy to give playing time to Scott McTominay, a functional midfielder, when able to. 

That is enough for fan boys on the world’s most balanced platform, Twitter, to proclaim Mourinho to be better than Guardiola. It’s comparing apples with oranges though.

You can’t win things with kids…

Guardiola has certainly disappointed on the youth front, given that was one of his remits. 

There was plenty of debate on deadline day as Riyad Mahrez was rumoured to be on his way for a fee in excess of £60 million, reportedly. Why wouldn’t City give Diaz or Foden a go instead? 

Of course, both players are injured at the moment, which doesn’t help a poorly-phrased argument. But Foden and Diaz are symbols for the youth academy: if the club are more than happy to source a replacement for Leroy Sane, injured for two months, what does that mean for their first-team hopes? 

It doesn’t matter whether it is Alexis Sanchez or Riyad Mahrez and it doesn’t matter if City baulked at the asking price: the point revolves around their desire to do so. 

If Bernardo Silva, a £45 million signing, is unable to play regularly himself, what hope do the kids have?

The need to win

The counter-argument, of course, is that Manchester City carry the hope of doing the quadruple, winning all trophies on hand, and that requires established players, rather than kids. 

Injuries may mean youths are given more of a chance, nevertheless, but is it because of necessity or choice that Guardiola is doing so? 

His reputation for blooding youths at Barcelona and Bayern hangs around his neck like an albatross. 

While Pep is a mastermind in its own right, handling youths differs from club to club. At City, it is much more difficult and, with the need to deliver trophies, money will always win. 

Profiteering

That means players will have to find means of regular game-time, whether that mean forcing a move or not. 

This summer, City sold on Kelechi Iheanacho, Enes Unal and Olivier Ntcham but they continue to stockpile players. Most of the youngsters on the club’s books have been loaned out, creating competition within competition. 

While City’s club network is impressive, one wonder whether it’s really conducive to ideal youth development. It creates a grey line between players City are using to make a profit in the future and those they have real hopes for, and those lines are now being blurred. 

Their acquisitions of Philippe Sandler and Jack Harrison can be viewed as just that.

Not an exact science

The bottom line is: youth development is not an exact science. It’s not even a science. As with Rashford, it’s down to chance and opportunism. 

City are undoubtedly coveting their own Rashford to lead their project, which is what they could have in Foden. But they will have to take the bus when it arrives. They usually only arrive once and they have to be prepared for it. 

Guardiola may continue to use his kids as they coast to the Premier League title but the idea that Mourinho or him have a hold on youth development is best discarded. 

These are two clubs with different circumstances and situations. City are coasting to the title but, with regards to youth development, they will eventually have to hold the money if they want someone to make it. 

It’s food for thought in a world where several myths hover around youth development.

What do you think of Manchester City’s use of youngsters? Let us know by commenting in the section below.

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