Man City have perfect plan to cope with academy successes and Premier League rule change – Joe Bray


What made Manchester City’s academy clean sweep all the more remarkable this year was the fact that both the under-23s and under-18s underwent significant turnovers last summer.

City became the first team to win both the Premier League 2 and U18 Premier League in 2021, and repeated the feat this season under new coaches – and a lot of new players. Enzo Maresca and Carlos Vicens left their posts as academy coaches, with Brian Barry-Murphy coming in and Ben Wilkinson stepping up. The result was the same, with silverware from U16 to U23 level secured in 2021/22.

As is the norm with academy football, players get older and are either promoted to the first team or leave in search of first-team football, leaving the youth sides to rebuild most summers. This year is no exception, with as many as eight U23s potentially unavailable next season.

ALSO READ: Kalvin Phillips could hand Man City the missing quality to unleash Jack Grealish

Already, full-back and former U18 captain Kwaku Oduroh has been released, with midfielder Darko Gyabi set for a £5m transfer to Leeds at the same time as Kalvin Phillips moves in the opposite direction.

Gyabi’s season last year was disrupted by injury, with his expected price tag a reflection of how highly City rate him.

Reports suggest U23 captain CJ Egan-Riley and Sam Edozie could be set for permanent exits this summer – the latter for a significant fee if those rumors are to be believed. Both would be key players for the Elite Development Squad next season if they were to stay.

Then there are the talented academy players on the fringes of Pep Guardiola’s first team like Cole Palmer, James McAtee, Liam Delap and Romeo Lavia. In the cases of Palmer and McAtee, they could be given more opportunities at City next season, although McAtee has been linked with plenty of other clubs, as has Lavia.

Delap is in a tricky situation, with no shortage of sides wanting to take him on loan or permanently, and a harder route to first-team football at City following the signings of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez. Whatever happens, like the previously-mentioned players, he has clearly outgrown under-23 football and would be justified in wanting more regular games at a senior level.

So that would take the core of the side that has won the last two Premier League 2 titles. In fact, if Palmer, McAtee, Delap, Lavia, Egan-Riley and Edozie leave, only defender Luke Mbete would be left of the squad who won the PL2 in 2021 – assuming he doesn’t leave on loan and others who were loaned out this season get new spells away.

Darko Gyabi is set to join Leeds on a permanent deal as Kalvin Phillips moves the other way.

But instead of that being a problem, City will see it as an opportunity, with a new generation of talented under-18s ready to step up having retained their national title for the third year running.

Of those under-18s, the likes of Dire Mebude, Carlos Borges, Tai Sodje, Nico O’Reilly, Micah Hamilton, Shea Charles, and Juan Larios would all look to step up to Barry-Murphy’s squad next year. They would join the likes of Kayky, Rico Lewis and Oscar Bobb who all impressed by the U23s and if they aren’t loaned out, they will look to be key players in the search for another title.

Other youngsters, like Josh Adam, Liam Smith and Kian Breckin all had breakout seasons last campaign and may see 2022/23 as the season they continue the momentum and get more games at under-23 level.

Of course, some of these players could leave on loan, or permanently, or it might be better for their development to stay with the under-18s for a little longer. However, the depth and talent is there at the academy and City have won the PL2 with one of the youngest sides in the division for the last two years, both times changing a fair number of the squad as others leave.

The Premier League have changed the rules this season to lower the age limit from under-23s to under-21s, but City were effectively an under-20 or under-19 squad anyway, accounting for the certain amount of ‘overage’ players allowed.

So as the academy continues to provide more and more sellable assets and first-team-ready players, it’s also providing a good number of youngsters ready to push up through the age groups each year, and 2022/23 will be no different.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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