Man City academy are successfully moving on from Phil Foden blueprint – Simon Bajkowski
Manchester City coaches thought they had a uniquely special talent on their hands when Phil Foden joined the academy aged eight, and those hopes and expectations only got giddier with each passing year.
By the time Pep Guardiola arrived at the club, there were no doubts that Foden would be the one to break through and be the poster boy for the academy that City had been missing since the 2008 takeover by Sheikh Mansour. Here, finally, was the homegrown hero the Blues were desperate for.
Guardiola was taken aback by what he saw, and to the surprise of nobody has cultivated him into one of the most exciting talents in world football. If that allowed the academy to breathe a sigh of relief, however, there was also concern over what came next.
As much as Foden is a product of the fine work done in the City academy over more than a decade, it has also been obvious for a while that the Stockport youngster is a freakishly good talent. Players good enough to contend for the Ballon d’Or come along once in a blue moon, so it is unsustainable to think that such success can be replicated time and time again.
City do not need to produce potential Ballon d’Or winners from the academy even if it is their dream, but they do still need to make players suitable enough for the plans of the first team manager to be able to compete with the world-class talent that sporting director Txiki Begiristain is scouring the world for. After this season, there is more evidence than ever that there are more blueprints for young talent to follow than the exceptional Foden.
Across the 2020/21 season, there were 168 appearances in matchday squads from ten City academy players, of which 36 per cent of those came from Foden. Of the 10 who contributed, seven either left on loan or permanently last summer with Eric Garcia being a significant departure.
This year it was 191 from 13 players with 26 per cent from Foden — despite their being six fewer matches this term to indicate the dependence on him has been lower at least from an academy perspective. More academy talents than ever before are contributing to the first team, with the first game of this season the only one that didn’t feature a youth player in the matchday squad and one Champions League match featuring as many as eight.
Of course, there is room for improvement. As academy director Jason Wilcox said recently: “Complacency is a word that you will never hear in the academy.
“We are ultra competitive with ourselves in that we want more debuts, more first team appearances, more minutes, more titles. We want better education results, better family survey results. In every element of the academy we want to improve.”
However, a large print currently residing in Wilcox’s office from City’s league cup game over Wycombe tells of the successful integration of academy players into the first team. With six academy starters that evening and two more coming off the bench, it really did hint at a bright and Blue future.
For young players coming through, they now have the example of Palmer, who was in the academy for a while but nearly dropped out before defying expectations and showing he could be perfect for Guardiola. Or CJ Egan-Riley, who stepped up effortlessly in the Carabao Cup and Champions League to make up for City shortages at right-back. Or Sam Edozie and Liam Delap, who have adapted quickly after coming in from other UK academies.
It remains a hellishly difficult challenge to break into the first team at City, but there have never been more visible pathways into the squad than there are now. For that, the academy are rightly pleased.