James McAtee’s family values have taken him to the brink of Man City first team – Liam Wood
Manchester and its surrounding areas have always been blessed with supremely talented siblings who have helped keep the city on the map; the Gallaghers and Nevilles spring to mind. But they are not alone. Past, present and future, Manchester will forever be a hotbed for the gifted and successful.
You would have to go back some 80-plus years for the last time Manchester United named a matchday squad that featured no academy graduates, while modern-day Manchester City have England sensation Phil Foden flying their flag after growing up in nearby Stockport. Cole Palmer is also waiting in the wings.
Beyond that, there is hope that England U21s newcomer James McAtee will join them. Pep Guardiola is a huge admirer of the 19-year-old and, following some speculation, he has put pen to paper on a deal that will keep him at the Etihad until 2026.
McAtee has no better example to follow than Foden. 80 per cent of the current intake at City grew up in or close to the area. That will only ever help strengthen the bond between club and fanbase.
Prospects such as McAtee are getting the best footballing education they could wish for, even if the majority may eventually have to move away from the Etihad Stadium to make a name for themselves. That is the harsh reality that comes with the territory, but elite pathways are not the be-all and end-all for young players.
Having dealt with question marks over his status already, McAtee understands that more than most and has developed a resoluteness for the challenges that will and have come his way. Born and raised in Salford, McAtee is the youngest of two footballing brothers who continue to make their way at opposite ends of the footballing pyramid. His older sibling, John, has been the driving force behind Grimsby’s promotion back to the Football League at the first attempt.
Along with 13,000 travelling Grimsby supporters, James became an honorary Mariner last Sunday when John and his plucky teammates defied the odds to seal a memorable promotion. In all three play-off games, Grimsby were behind before hitting winners in extra-time; the last of which came at the London Stadium.
James celebrated as much as John, who progressed through the Shrewsbury youth ranks and played at Scunthorpe before a switch to Grimsby last summer. His signing was the catalyst and James could not be prouder.
Assigned to filming duties on-field as he joined John to show off the trophy, James simply could not hide his delight for his older sibling – as shown through a succession of Instagram posts – and you only have to scan through each of their social media profiles to understand how important family is to the McAtees.
John, 22, repays the favour and often refers to his younger brother as ‘starboy’. What would have, no doubt, started off as a boisterous sibling ‘rivalry’ in their school days has transcended into a beautiful, brotherly relationship; giving the proud family behind them even more reason to follow their respective journeys.
As many of us can relate to, James would have grown up mixing it with older players such as John and that footing would have paved the way for his early success. Healthy competition runs rife through any family, let alone one that can now boast two professionals who are each shining lights in their own setting.
James stopped filming his promotion-winning brother and picked up the phone for its true purpose when England U21s came calling for the first time this week. Another watching capacity followed – albeit with Three Lions stitched on his chest – but there will be ample opportunity for him to take centre stage in the months and years to follow.
The fact he gave up the limelight for his brother speaks volumes of the humility that runs through his character and that humble nature, along with a few brotherly lessons, will stand James in perfect stead as he strives to put Salford and, by very association, Manchester on the map in his own guise.