FEATURE: The Manchester City Football Academy

Arguably our best decision, off the pitch, in recent times was David Bernstein’s shrewd investment of £500,000, back in 1998, in to our Academy.  That money and Jim Cassell’s vision went on to produce several first team professionals and brought back £50m+ in transfer fees.  Now, 15 years later, we look forward to the prospect of £150m being invested, with a view to our club becoming self-sufficient, with a conveyor belt of home-grown starlets. The Club’s new youth development and first team training facility is to be built on the 80 acre site opposite the Etihad Stadium, due for completion in time for the 2014/15 season.  The Academy will provide a centre for up to 400 young players as well as the first team training base.  It will include classrooms for 200, on site accommodation for junior and senior players, 17 football pitches (12 of them dedicated to players aged from 8 to 21), a state of the art first team building with changing rooms, gym, refectory and injury and rehab centre, a 7,000 capacity stadium for youth matches, and a bridge linking the site to the Etihad Stadium.  The Club has donated 6 acres of the site for community use, and is also supporting the creation of education and leisure facilities for local residents, not to mention jobs and skills training for local people.  Ferran Soriano (CEO) said, “The development of young and home-grown players is central to our strategy of creating both a winning team and a sustainable football club – an ambition outlined by Sheikh Mansour at the outset of his ownership in September 2008.   We are now in a position, after four years of research and planning, to execute that.”

Our executives have flown far and wide to see how all the world’s top clubs operate their academies and obviously the La Masia has had a profound effect on them.  Barcelona’s academy is also in the shadow of the Nou Camp and all youth players live on site, giving a real sense of progression from small stadium to the real thing, from youth football to professional.  As most copied the Ajax models in the 90’s and the French model in the 2000’s, now football bodies and clubs all over the world are clamouring to copy the Spanish and Barcelona models.  Youth football in England is once again going through a big transition, with everybody struggling to stay on the same page (football is a game of opinions after all), and it doesn’t help that the person in the top job at the FA keeps changing.  The suits in power at the FA and Premier League think they have found their answer in the Elite Player Performance Program (EPPP) aimed at producing more home-grown stars.  The old system involved the ’90 minute rule’ where clubs could only sign players that lived within 90 minutes of their training facility, which will now be abolished.  Fixed levels of compensation for smaller clubs are now also in place, seemingly taking all negotiation power away from smaller clubs and putting it in the big club’s favour.  Time will tell how this new system will bed in and how it will affect our future players.  City Youth scouts will now be scouring the length and breadth of the UK, as opposed to just the North West of England, to find talented young players.  As long as they give 48 hours notice they can effectively turn up to a training session and buy a player from any academy in the country starting from a fixed fee of just £3,000.

As a parent and coach, the serious worry now is that thousands of children are ultimately going to get chewed up and spat out by the system. However, looking at youth football from the point of view of a Manchester City fan is only positive. No club is investing into their academy at anywhere near the level we are.

Sit back and enjoy blues.

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