Like most other top clubs, Manchester City’s academy was set up to provide a breeding ground for talented young players to be groomed for the first team. But City’s first team is on another level. The Blues are now one of the best teams, if not the best in Europe and the world.
Only the very best players are selected for the squad as Pep Guardiola tries to take the club to the pinnacle of European football. Despite dominating the home front winning the Premier League title and other domestic cups severally, there still remains the little matter of finally laying hands on the Champions League trophy.
It’s a competition that remains to be conquered that will put a seal on the club as one of the European greats. The quest to conquer the continent means that the manager cannot take chances when it comes to the personnel that will get the job done.
So only the best of the best qualify to play for City as the stakes are sky high. Having shown tremendous potential playing for the youth teams while in the club’s academy, there comes a time when some of these players will need to graduate. The next step is to play regular football in the first team.
Unfortunately for most of these players, that opportunity will not be available at the Etihad Stadium. It becomes necessary for them to move elsewhere. That creates a situation where the academy can easily become a feeder team for other clubs.
Hence, City have faced a dilemma in the last few years.
What should be done about players who are too good for the Premier League 2, yet not considered good enough to challenge for a regular matchday role in the first team?
Last season Pep Guardiola brought on Liam Delap, Cole Palmer and James McAtee into the senior team while still featuring for the Elite Development Squad. But having outgrown academy football, yet not ready for a place in the starting line up in the senior team, something had to give this term.
The result was loan moves for both McAtee and Delap while Palmer is playing a bit-part role with the senior team. He is expected to follow in Phil Foden’s footsteps.
With the path to the senior team proving more and more elusive for the vast majority of the players coming through the academy, it risks failing to achieve its purpose. Some will argue that producing a talent like Foden once in a generation will be worth the effort and financial outlay.
Moreover, the academy can also serve as a source of revenue for the club. Quite a significant amount has been generated from the academy in the last few years. This could become a reliable source for the future by moving on players coming through to other clubs.
However, it will be a shame if a good number of this crop of young players fail to step up to the senior team. This group has been nothing short of a golden generation.
The club’s hierarchy may need to resort to inserting buy-back clauses into their sales to bring them back in future if it becomes necessary.
A balance must be found between getting the best of the best through to the first team and monetising the best of the rest for the benefit of all parties involved.