Friday, 17 July 2015

EDS players on the first team tour - Part 3

Part 1 - featuring Unal, Gunn, Glendon, Maffeo, Evans, Humphreys and Zuculini || Part 2 - featuring Lopes, Garcia, Horsfield, Barker and Jose Pozo.

And finally, part 3. After covering twelve players so far, with Garcia, Barker, Unal, Zuculini, Humphreys, Glendon, Evans, Gunn, Maffeo, Horsfield, Lopes and Pozo all featured, we're down to the final six. And as ever, it's a list brimming with ability and promise. A lot of it actually - and I genuinely find it a little overwhelming. I had something of a realisation when I was writing this just how lucky we are at the moment. It hit me just how good some of our players are. Admittedly I'm naturally a positive person, and I even wondered to myself if I'm perhaps getting a little carried away. But I don't think I am. I'm really not - this is an incredibly exciting time to be a City fan and i'm not sure if enough of us actually realise this. We have arguably the greatest training facility in football freshly built, an incredible and constantly improving stadium and we're absolutely blessed with top-class footballers signing for us, with bucketfuls of players coming through the the academy ranks who could genuinely make it at the highest levels. And this is only the beginning.

Imagine what it'll be like in five years time? Something simply has to give - you can't possibly hold such a good thing down. There's genuinely more players than you could count on your hands that could go on to be top class footballers, all equally capable of excelling and starring for City. And that's just looking through the players out on tour with the first team. It doesn't include Jack Byrne or Angelino, both out on loan, or even other brilliant young prospects like Kean Bryan, Thierry Ambrose, Tosin Adarabioyo, Marcus Wood and Denzeil Boadu who aren't over here. The first year scholars too from last season - players such as Fernandes, Patching, Tattum, Buckley and Oliver who improved as the season progressed.

Then you look at the u15s and the u16s and the talent pool just gets wider and wider. Rafael Camacho, Tyrese Campbell, Lukas Nmecha, Luke Bolton, the much-hyped Brahim Diaz and Phil Foden, or the incredibly promising Myles Beerman. Ash Kigbu and Sadou Diallo too. And reports have emerged that we've just signed another alleged next big thing, Taylor Richards, a impossibly skilful prodigy, closely following on from last season's capture of Jadon Sancho who promptly went on to claim the MVP in his first tournament appearance for City. The young keepers and Joe Hilton and Curt Anderson are both excellent and then you consider that City have just signed the promising young french forward, David Faupala. The strength in depth we through the ranks is mind-boggling. And I've most likely missed out a whole host of hugely promising names too.

It's formidable. It really is. We're a lucky bunch and you can't help but feel that we're sat on the cusp of something very special. This season should be fantastic in one way or another. And on that note, and ahead of the friendly tomorrow morning against Melbourne, here's the final six...

Jason Denayer 

One of the best pieces of news we had this summer was that Jason Denayer had signed a new five year contract with City. I'm not sure I would have been able to find any motivation for the new season if he had declared his intention to move on. Our most highly rated academy prospect in a long, long time - losing him would have felt like a real kick in the teeth and a massive set-back after all the promising developments over at the CFA. It could have been potentially our very own Ferguson and Pogba moment. A potentially disastrous loss that would have most likely seen him lining up for Bayern or Barcelona in a year or two, showing the world what a fantastically complete footballer he is as we looked on enviously. Thankfully that fear has subsided. It was a clear statement of intent to tie him down. Importantly, it sent out a huge message to the rest of the academy prospects that there is a plan for them in place too. It's likely he'll be the one that sets something of a trend in the future on that front, opening the door for others after his inevitable breakthrough. He's simply too good a footballer not to establish himself at City. It's been a truly meteoric rise - this time last year he hadn't kicked a ball in anger professionally. Fast forward twelve months and his life has changed. He went on loan to Celtic with their fans initially expecting little from it, and to say he excelled and won them over doesn't really do his accomplishments justice.

He was brilliant. Cool, controlled and impossibly confident for a nineteen year old - he was something of a revelation at the heart of the Bhoy's defence. They loved him up in Scotland as he displayed an intelligence and ability that immediately won over the Celtic Park faithful. After impressing as they claimed the league title, he won the Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year award at a canter, making their team of the season alongside his Celtic partner, Virgil Van Dijk. It was his displays in the Europa League however that really drew attention to him. Particularly a game against Inter where after twenty minutes his fellow centre-back, Van Dijk, was sent off. This left him with the daunting task of keeping the Italians team out for 70 minutes at the San Siro. He was immaculate. Celtic didn't progress, but he came out of the game smelling of roses. It was his character that impressed the most as he took responsibility in a way that you just wouldn't expect one so young to do. It didn't go unnoticed internationally either, Marc Wilmotts, the Belgian manager, citing that very game as proof of his ability, handing him his international debut towards the of the season. Predictably, he strolled it. It's just too easy for him. When he eventually gets his chance for City too, be it in any position, he'll most probably find this Premier League stuff a bit of a breeze too.

Olivier Ntcham

The last 24 hours have seen Ntcham linked with a loan move to Ligue 1, Guingamp specifically. This would be ideal. He needs it. I touched on it during my EDS loans article about how experience for him in a first team somewhere, and possibly France, would be essential for him now. It really is. There's not much more he can learn from the EDS. He has it all on paper - he's strong, fast and an effervescent box-to-box midfielder. He's a handful at his best, undoubtedly, and there's a lot to admire about his bullish approach to the game. All he really lacks is first team experience and importantly the consistency that would hopefully come with it. There was a few times last season when he didn't fully assert his authority during a game anywhere near as much as he's capable of doing. This is the same for most young players, admittedly, but for him to break through he will have to learn to do that. It's as simple as that. The fence is incredibly high at Manchester City these days, and while that is clearly a good thing, it will also mean some players will fall by the wayside where they would have usually starred for us in the past.

This could be the case for Ntcham. Adversely it might not. He's undoubtedly got a chance - there's an admirable directness to his game. He's strong and quick to break forward, particularly evident in his last couple of games of the season for the EDS. He gave United a torrid time, a constant powerful thorn in their side as the u21s ran out 3-1 winners in the final game of the year. It was Ntcham at his best. He's not all power and physicality though - he can pass. He can do it well too on his day, capable of spreading play and moving the ball quickly. He's not exactly lacking a trick or two either, often turning a defender with ease. Add to that the fact that he's scored a few crackers from long range and you can see why there's hope for him. You get the impression that the management like him, and that's understandable - his attitude is fantastic, as his work-rate. They must know that just perhaps there's a potentially very interesting player locked away inside of him somewhere. With a bit of help, and a tiny bit of fortune, then maybe it could materialise. Fingers crossed.

Kelechi Iheanacho

An almost certainty to step up for the first team this year, and it's justified. Iheanacho is a seriously, seriously talented footballer. He's still only eighteen, but there's magic in his boots. This may sound like hyperbole, and I can only assure you that I believe it isn't, but he genuinely has the ability to potentially exceed anyone we have at the club. He may not, I'm aware of that, but it really is possible. City know this. It's the reason we've not been linked to any strikers, despite Jovetic and Dzeko looking likely to leave. There's something about certain young players that just stands out. They possess a confidence and self-assuredness, call it arrogance if you like, that just gives you the impression that you're witnessing something potentially special. Ronaldo had it, Henry did and players like Zlatan and Neymar definitely have that same aura too. So does Kelechi. He knows he's not just any normal player. By all accounts, he actually seems like a humble person, admirable really given his talents, but there's definitely a self-belief bubbling under the surface that propels him forward. It's justified. You don't win the player of the tournament and win the golden boot at the u17 world cup without being extremely talented.

He would have been involved with the first team last year too if it wasn't for work permit problems and a long-term injury that left him out for most of the season. Instead he found himself regaining fitness in the EDS and u18s for a few games. It didn't take him long to impress. He managed to find the net in more or less every game he was involved in, despite not playing any competitive football for almost a year, or even being an out and out centre forward. His last game of the season stood out. He was simply fantastic - finally reaching something near match fitness he destroyed United notching two sublime goals. His first was magnificent and one of the best goals I've witnessed in person, delightfully turning one, nutmegging another before sliding it past the keeper into the far corner. The composure, the skill and the technique involved - just marvellous stuff. Bergkamp-like. He second was Aguero-esque. Guiding the ball into the far corner with consummate ease. I suspect we'll see a lot more of this over the coming years, and even this season. I seriously cannot wait.

Seko Fofana

I could repeat a lot of what I said about Ntcham here. It'd be quite easy really. Both are strong, powerful runners, often compared to Yaya due to their impressive physiques. Both are french too, and both are also more than capable of smashing one in from 25 yards. The parallels are clear. Furthermore, City probably recognise that as well. Like they probably have with Ntcham, the club decided twelve months ago that Fofana required a test in the professional game and not the u21 league. Still wet behind the ears, the club sent him out on loan last year to Fulham. He did quite well. Not great, if i'm being honest, but not bad either. Certainly not enough to warrant a chance at City this year, no, but he learned something at least and his inclusion in the tour makes sense. They'll want to assess how he's developed over the past year. It wasn't a perfect loan, but the championship is an incredibly tough league to spend your first twelves months in as a professional footballer. There isn't many harder really. It's a nitty gritty league, constantly up and down. Moods often shift in a heartbeat - especially at a club fighting relegation.

It was a testing campaign for the cottagers, likewise for Seko. He was often asked to 'do a job' being played out of position on the right-wing where, despite his best efforts, he looked a little lost at times. It wasn't necessarily his fault, and there was no questions about his work-rate. He's eager, that can't be doubted. The reaction to his first goal proved that - there was clear genuine affection towards him from the Fulham fans as he ran to the crowd to celebrate. It was a nice moment. It was actually technically where he came up a little short. He was a little loose in possession, often overrunning the ball as he burst forward with all the sprightly momentum of a young gazelle, still not quite yet sure of their footing. It just didn't always happen. Like Ntcham though, there is ability there. You do wonder if one day it could click for him. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of performances to go well, a player's confidence rises and all of a sudden something just happens mentally. A confidence appears, their play becomes more controlled and they just seem to grow visibly. It's possible. Another year out on loan could see that happen.

Ellis Plummer

It can't be easy being a young centre-back at City these days. I can't recall the last time we had such a fine collection of young defenders all waiting to breakthrough. There's talent everywhere. The young English pairing of Humphreys and Adarabioyo are both excellent, the foundations which the u18s season was built on, Jason Denayer's just signed a new five year deal and looks for all the world a star in the making, and Ash Kigbu has turned heads with the u16s. Even the 17 year old right backs such as Sam Tattum and Pablo Maffeo acquitted themselves well when played in the middle. There's talent through all age groups defensively. It's a tough one for Ellis Plummer. I feel for him. He's a good, solid defender, but I worry there's simply just too much competition as it stands. At twenty he needs first team football, and with Humphreys and Adarabioyo both likely to step up to the EDS next season, you suspect that he may move on this summer. He asserted himself well for the EDS last year too. He spent the first half of the season at St Mirren in Scotland, notching up a few games before his loan was cut short through injury. After regaining his fitness he found himself in the EDS line up as the clock wound down on the campaign. He did well too, ending up as an integral part of the successful Premier League International Cup campaign as they beat Porto in the final. He was defiant, stubbornly keeping the Portuguese at bay as they piled on the pressure, likewise during games against Leicester and Celtic in earlier rounds. And though he's maybe isn't as comfortable on the ball as some of defenders, he improved noticeably as he grew in confidence. He'd have been pleased with his performances, and with getting a call up for this tour. There's clearly a future in the game for him, and despite beige at something of a crossroads in his City career he should rightfully feel optimistic.

Bersant Celina

If reports were to be believed, Celina was a near ever present during first team training sessions from January onwards. Pellegrini likes him, clearly. He even made his debut in the mid season friendly v Hamburg too. It isn't hard to see why either. Surprise, surprise, like most at the club - he's another technically wonderful footballer. He was excellent in the u18s run to the FA Youth Cup Final. As one part of an impressively dominant midfield three with Kean Bryan and Denzeil Boadu, he shone with his bright, fleet-footed displays. He was great, scuttling about with a real purpose, twisting this way and that, popping up in goalscoring positions and linking excellently with those around him. One game in particular stood out. At home to Crewe in the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup. We ran out 6-1 winners and he tormented them, interchanging delightfully with Boadu as they both constantly peppered away at their defence. He scored a beautiful goal too, side-stepping one before coolly placing the ball in the bottom corner.

It was particularly out of the ordinary either - he's a natural finisher. He possesses an almost Lampard-like ruthlessness, equally capable in a one on one as he is of doing something pretty spectacular, be it chipping the keeper from 30 yards of rocketing one in from the edge of the area. It's exciting stuff when it all comes off. Naturally, it obviously all doesn't as he's still learning and there are some doubts. He's slight still, and he'll still have to prove he can consistently impress against players of a more physical nature. The same can be said of most of youth players, but he's capable, definitely. Competition is fierce within this club, and he's one of the reasons why. There's a whole host of our exceptionally talented youngsters all vying for that position behind the striker, even just for the EDS, never mind the first team. The competition is good though and it'll surely push them on to better things. I suspect he'll step up this year as a regular for Vieira's u21s, though I'd not be surprised if he found himself out on loan either, following a similar path to the one Bytiqi and Rusnak took last year. I wouldn't be surprised either if in twelve months time I was sat here writing about a season in which he made his official debut for the first team. With a little luck I wouldn't put it past him.


  1. Superb articles fella, have to be honest I hadn't heard Celina was doing so well because I guess all the hype is around Denayer, Angelino, Barker and Iheanacho right now...but wow he looks special. Hope signings like Sterling and potentially De Bruyne don't skupper opportunities for him. Looking forward to the game today hopefully can witness some of this magic!

  2. Cheers pal. Celina's very good. Shame he didn't get on today, but he'll get a chance in one of them.

  3. Celina for me is very reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo in EVERYTHING he does, he runs similar to him, plays in a way like he does, his feet and step-over speed is as quick as his is, and for me, I will make this claim that before he hangs up in his boots at this game, Bersant Celina will have won a CL title, and a Ballon D'Or, he is THAT good, for me the best player we have in the EDS/u18s set-up technically and far superior to the talents of Navas or Fernandinho, sadly we have a manager who has no courage to play the kids, so I take great pleasure in watching these lads at the CFA, and so unlike you mate, I hope they don't loan out any of the talented players, they should be getting game-time experience when they perform well for Patrick's side by playing alongside a team containing, Silva, Yaya, Aguero, Kompany, Sterling and Hart as part of a City team.

    I for one am sick and tired of this clubs approach to the youngsters in the academy, we show no desire to ever integrate these lads into the set up.

    Celina, Angelino, Maffeo, Denayer, Lopes, Ihenacho, Barker, Pozo, Gunn, Byrne and Ambrose for me should already have played a first team game for this club……….yet not one of them have done, I wonder why that is?

    1. Ha. I think Celina's a fantastic prospect, but I think you're getting a little carried away there! Watching him week in week out I don't think he necessarily stands out as better than any of the rest, but that's not a criticism as the rest are really, really good too. He moves like Ronaldo, as in literally does move like him with his shuffling running style, and he's capable of walloping them in from a mile out too, but i don't think he plays like him in general.

      I was really frustrated last year with regards to the academy players approach, but I genuinely think this year will be the year that it'll change. They've been overly cautious, but Denayer, Lopes and Iheanacho will all get games definitely. Some very regularly. Garcia, Maffeo, Humphreys, and in spells when he was on the left, Barker were all excellent today. It didn't go unnoticed either. Garcia I think will definitely get on the pitch at some point too.

      This year will be the turning point. I'm 100% certain.

  4. Are you still as confident now as you were when you wrote this? thing is for sure mate, this club don't do youth players and producing them, we just SPEND, SPEND and SPEND again to fix our issues.

    I guarentee you that you will still be saying the same thing on both this, Bluemoon and this time next season "This will be the year that we give them a chance", when fact is that Pellegrini has never ONCE given a young player that opportunity at any of the other clubs he has ever managed, not one kid has ever come through under his watch, and so it won't change here.

    Denayer, Lopes have not even made the bench or got onto the pitch once this season, and Kelechi is only on the bench, because he doesn't have enough fit players to leave him off the bench at the moment, but the minute Fernando and/or Delph (both are useless by the way) are fit, then neither will Kelechi be included on the bench.

    I wish the FA would introduce a rule stating that 4 or 5 ACADEMY graduated players (i.e. players who have played 1 or more games at any of the Academy level sides) must be included in EVERY team's matchday squad every week, only then would we get to see the fruits of our hard work training these supremely talented individuals come to fruition, other than that, none of the 3 mentioned here will make the bench again this season, I guarentee the total games played this season (including subs) between them 3 and anybody else in the EDS/u18 or Patrick Roberts will be "0" at the end of this season, as Pellegrini doesn't play the kids EVER.

    Manchester City is a graveyard for young talented footballers to be at, their careers hit a ceiling at EDS and then no matter how well they do there, they never get the bonus of seeing if they are capable of forging a career in the big game, I am just glad that Messi, Ronaldo, Aguero, Silva or Hazard were NEVER at this club as young kid, or else we would never have got to see the talents they have got before our eyes.

    If I was a parent, and even as a blue, there is no way I would allow my kid to waste his time at this club just to go as far as reserve team football, when he can get 1st team games at other premiership clubs or lower level clubs initially and then progress from there................I don't think there will be any difference this year than there have been the other 2 under this so-called manager who manages Manuel Pellegrini CV and not Manchester City Football Club.