The loan market. A necessary evil; one that shares a tempestuous relationship with many an academy director, and for good reason. Loans are a gamble. For all the promise of turning a player into a potential star they're also unreliable, potentially damaging and often underwhelming. Your brightest prospect can find themselves sat on a bench for weeks, dropped for 'experience' when their new manager panics after a couple of bad results, immediately sapping the life and self-belief out of a young player as their club watches on helplessly. Patrick Vieira hinted at a similar opinion recently when he spoke out quite vocally about his belief for the need of B-teams in the British game. The potential benefits of a parent club being able to nurture future first teamers up close, letting them have the space that they need to grow as adults while playing competitive football are undeniable. It still seems a pipe dream though - opposition is vocal and understandable and it's unlikely to subside any time soon. The loan market is here to stay, basically, and the only choice the clubs have is to simply be good at it.
Bearing that in mind, the 2014/2015 season was a relatively successful one for City. Not all of the moves were perfect but many of the young prospects came back better players, wiser having lived in considerably more demanding environments than the relatively pressure-free Barclays u21 league. Denayer was the notable success - he hadn't had even the briefest of tastes of first team football before he moved to Celtic this time last year. His development was startling. Barely twelve months later and he's a full Belgian international, the Scottish Young Player of the Year and being lauded as potentially world class. He's almost certainly set to be involved with City's first team next year. In a nutshell, his loan to Celtic was a masterstroke. Lopes excelled too, asserting himself at Lille as one of the most exciting young forwards in world football. Rekik's second spell at PSV earned him a permanent transfer to Marseille, whereas Rusnak shone for Cambuur before moving to Groningen officially in January, earning City tidy sums in the process.
It was in the typically tough English leagues where some of the moves felt a little frustrating. Fofana, Evans, Hiwula and Cole all had wildly different spells, highlighting the unpredictability of temporary moves. There were some moderate successes - Fofana found plenty of game time, even if he didn't quite express himself fully, and Leigh has probably guaranteed his future in the professional game with his performances at Crewe. Hiwula likewise impressed at Walsall following an initially disappointing move to Yeovil. Others didn't quite go to plan. Notably Devante Cole's moves - he shone at Barnsley before a later stint at MK Dons found himself becoming far too familiar with the bench, dampening any sense of progress he had initially made with Barnsley. Guidetti's move to Celtic flat-lined too after an explosive start, and the less said about Zuculini's disastrous time in Spain at Valencia and Cordoba the better. Hindsight's a wonderful thing...
And so to this season. With the players reporting back for training today I thought I'd take a look at the others who would benefit from first team football, and in particular players who I think could use a good loan as an opportunity to make a viable bid for a first team squad place for the start of the 2016/2017 season.
There's a lot to like about Kean Bryan - he's strong, technically astute and a real leader in the centre of midfield. He excelled in last season's run to the FA Youth Cup final for Wilcox's men, snuffing out attacks with a tactical proficiency and intelligence not too dissimilar to the vastly underrated Gareth Barry. He's still only eighteen, yet he's an imposing figure already so there's no worries that he will struggle to adapt to a more physically testing environment. The aggression and bite to his game marks him out as a bit of a budding fan favourite, add that to the fact that he's home-grown, incredibly passionate (as noted by his emotionally driven interview after the derby defeat at Old Trafford) and naturally confident then you do wonder if a year out on loan somewhere could take him to another level like it did for Denayer. I'm almost certain he has no less potential than Fabian Delph, put it that way.
Rightly nominated for the EDS player of the year, Gunn should be a dead cert to spend a season away from the CFA. He's simply too good to be playing for the u21s now. He has everything you'd want from a modern keeper - he stands at 6'5, his shot-stopping is excellent and his handling is great. He fits the current Valdes and Neuer inspired trend too - he's as comfortable with the ball at his feet as most outfield players are. Guardiola would love him. His confidence really is startling. Nothing seems to faze him and on the rare occasion he does make a mistake he immediately shrugs it off and carries on as if nothing has happened. Essential for a goalkeeper, and an attribute that suggests he's ready for first team football already. He's as good a prospect as any we have and a successful spell away could see him come back as a genuine challenger to Hart which would save us a lot of money and add to the HG quota in the process.
For a few months during the middle of last season Brandon Barker became something of the golden boy for the academy set up. He was on fire, scoring a series of spectacular goals and setting up many more as he formed a formidable partnership with Angelino down the left flank. There was even calls for him to be included with the first team squad - the idea of a skillful, pacy young English winger seemed incredibly exciting during the frustrating winter months for Pellegrini's men, but it wasn't to be and in hindsight it might have been a bit too much too soon. He faded a little towards the end of year to be honest - a long season of expectation, mental fatigue and his own relentless work ethic took its toll a little, but he remains a terrific prospect and a real match-winner on his day. There's been rumours recently that Leeds would like him on loan and that would make sense - Uwe Rosler, who's son Colin currently plays for the excellent u16s team, is a regular at CFA games and a loan for one of our EDS players feels inevitable. A scenario where he can test himself up against opponents who know every dirty trick in the book could see Barker come back a serious prospect for the first team, not too dissimilar to how Jordan Ibe was recalled by Liverpool after impressing at Derby.
Equally capable of moments of brilliance as he is looking totally lost, Ntcham is a real mixed bag. Frustrating, but hugely likable at the same time. There is clearly talent there, and he really is capable of absolutely everything you'd want from a top class centre-mid - he's a box-to-box player in its truest form. It could be that a year in a professional environment brings that much needed consistency out of him. He turns 20 this coming season and the management will want to test him, certainly. His engine is terrific, as his is physique, and the way he ended the season was encouraging - he scored a belter against Southampton for the EDS, before causing United's u21s all manner of problems in the last game of the season. This lead to a spot with the first team squad during their post-season tour to America and he impressed in his brief cameo against Toronto, showing a real healthy arrogance as he looked to exert his bullish authority on the game. I'd suspect a loan move for him would be a certainty given his age, especially considering that Garcia and Boadu are likely to step up to the EDS this year. As a proven breeding ground for talented young central midfielders, and given he's French, Ligue 1 would be ideal for Ntcham.
Maffeo's the wild card of this bunch due to his relative youth - he doesn't turn eighteen until next week, and I genuinely find that a little hard to comprehend to be honest. He's excellent - arguably the academy's best player last season. There's a composure and intelligence to his game that's defies his age and it speaks volumes for his ability that despite being only 5'8, and nominally a right-back, he excelled at CB for Vieira's u21s last year. I'm almost certain he's have been signaled out as not only potential first team squad member, but even as a reliable long term successor to his namesake Pablo Zabaleta. When you consider that Bacary Sagna is approaching the end of his career too there will definitely be a spot available inside the next couple of years at right-back and he will most likely take it. He might not even require a loan elsewhere, but it could definitely speed up his progress and make him a real option a lot sooner. A move to a league where he could get used to the pressures of first team football, while having freedom to express himself would be perfect. Perhaps the Eredivise.
Another who needs a test simply because of his age. He's still young, twenty isn't old by any stretch, especially when you consider Coquelin only made his real breakthrough last season for Arsenal at 23, but there's arguably not much more he can learn from playing for the u21s for another season. He's a technically gifted footballer, clearly, and he was excellent as he captained the EDS to victory against Porto in the Premier League International Cup. At his best he's brilliant at recycling possession and keeping things ticking over, but that might not be enough. The fence is set incredibly high these days as George Evans and Emyr Huws before him will attest. Both are cut from a similar cloth, and both found it hard to earn a chance with the first team despite impressing in loans and friendly cameos. Evans still might, but there's no guarantee. A move somewhere could be a game-changer for Glendon and it could be the chance he needs to really make name for himself as a classy, deep-lying playmaker. There was rumours about a move to Holland, but anywhere he can be tested against men and in a competitive environment will be worthwhile. I suspect he will get that opportunity.
Jack Byrne and Angelino would have been in this list if they hadn't already confirmed moves to Cambuur and New York City respectively. The latter will join another City academy prospect Shay Facey at City's sister club in the MLS, stepping out alongside Lampard, Villa and Pirlo for a few months in a league growing in stature by the year. Not bad at all for a player with no prior experience of first team football. There's criticisms of the quality of the MLS, but he will undoubtedly benefit from playing in what is definitely a step up from the u21 league, potentially putting himself in the window for a move later in the season to a more prestigious European league. Byrne's move surprised me, but its exciting. I suspected he'd stay in the UK, but instead he'll follow Rusnak and Bytiqi in moving to the Eredivise and Cambuur. It's league that welcomes players with a knack for a pass and given his naturally determined approach to the game he could surprise many by excelling quickly and hopefully putting himself in a position to challenge for senior City appearances eventually.
I suspect there might be one or two who will go out who haven't been covered here, and you could definitely make arguments for many more. It'd be easy to make a strong case for Thierry Ambrose to get taste of first team football somewhere, as he's an exceptional talent, but instinctively I get the feeling that he'll stay at the club this year after his injury problems - but if he doesn't there will be a whole host of clubs waiting to take him, most of them in France where he's clearly highly thought of. Pozo would be a safe bet for a move away - there's still something there and despite an indifferent season for him a loan to a Spanish team where he could play as the second striker that he so clearly wants to be, as opposed to the no. 9 role he's often stationed in, could see his confidence rocket - and that's all he's missing really. The young Portugese winger Intima could also feasibly spend a season away from the Etihad after signing a contract extension, as could Ash Smith-Brown, a solid and reliable England youth international capable of playing anywhere across the back line. If Gunn doesn't go out on loan it could be Ian Lawlor that does instead. There are many potential loanees.
The likes of Hiwula, Fofana, Plummer and Evans will surely go out on loan again and perhaps Cole too. Boadu, Celina, Adarabioyo, Humphreys, Nemane and Garcia will probably stay - they're all very young and they don't yet need a loan with many likely to step up to the EDS officially and making the odd appearances last season. Maybe any loans would come the season after. All in all, this year will be an exciting one, highly interesting too, as for the first time we're really starting to see the roots of years of work on the academy. There's talent in abundance now and for every player that makes a name for himself in the u18s these days there's most likely 2/3 more just as good, if not potentially better, only a year or two younger waiting to take their place. Loans will become commonplace as there simply won't be enough youth football to appease them all and that can only be a good thing. I've never felt more confident that the future of City's academy is in great hands than I have now.
As ever there will be reports and feedback as and when on their individual progress. Roll on the new season...