What are the purpose of youth academies in the modern game? When Manchester City opened their £200 million Etihad Campus, which included state-of-the-art facilities for the club’s young players, they made clear just how significant they believed the development to be.
On the wall of the City Football Academy reads a quote from Man City owner Sheikh Mansour: “We are building a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars.”
Indeed, the plan was always for Man City to start developing their own top-tier talent. Their academy is now revered as arguably the best in England, with Wayne Rooney even taking his soon to train with City over Manchester United.
However, while young players might be getting a good grounding at Manchester City, their route into the senior game is being blocked. Brahim Diaz, the 19-year-old midfield regarded as one of the brightest young talents in England right now, provides the perfect case study. He symbolises how City are failing their academy players.
Diaz is widely expected to join Real Madrid as a free agent at the end of the season. The Spaniard’s Man City contract is up in June and Diaz unhappy at the number of first team opportunities afforded to him by Pep Guardiola he has taken the decision to leave the Premier League champions.
This is illustrative, not just of the problems City have in bringing through young players, but of a wider issue in the Premier League. Diaz believes he stands a better chance of breaking through at Real Madrid, the European champions and biggest club in the world, than at Man City. That says something.
Callum Hudson-Odoi is another such case, with Bayern Munich keen to sign the winger who has only played 42 Premier League minutes for Chelsea this season. In the modern game, a young player stands more chance of breaking through for the German champions, one of the frontrunners for the Champions League, than for the team currently fourth in the Premier League table.
Chelsea’s wastefulness when it comes to the cultivation of young players has been well-documented to the point of common cliche, but now Man City are joining them in betraying the next generation. Their £200 million youth academy means nothing if what it produces has nowhere to go but the exit door.
Diaz isn’t the first City youth product to have suffered from the lack of pathway into the first team. Not so long ago, Jadon Sancho found himself in a similar position, considered one of the brightest young talents in England, but with no way of breaking into Guardiola’s squad. And so Sancho took the decision to move to Borussia Dortmund, where he has become a first team figure, even breaking into the England squad.
Of course, Phil Foden, English football’s next big thing, is another for whom first team opportunities at Man City have been sparse. Foden has enjoyed more success in breaking into Guardiola’s team than Diaz, but he too surely needs regular action, particularly at this crucial stage of his career. The 18-year-old could come to regret the six-year contract signed with City just last month.
A move to Real Madrid could work out well for Diaz. The Spanish giants are on the brink of a transition and in that transition there will be opportunities for young players, like Diaz. The likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will be phased out at the Santiago Bernabeu and that’s where Diaz likely sees an opening for himself.
At Barcelona, Guardiola earned himself a reputation as an advocate of youth. He was key in bringing through a generation of young players that sustained Barca for the best part of a decade. Man City wanted something similar, but that hasn’t materialised. Diaz’s exit illustrates how they are failing their young players.
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