City set to sign Brahim, the boy compared to Messi

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Just over a month ago I wrote an article about City’s pursuit of Brahim, Málaga’s boy wonder who has had scouts across Europe raving.

Now, after lengthy negotiations, City have beaten Barcelona to the signing of the 14-year-old, whose full name is Brahim Abdelkader Diaz, and who is due in Manchester this week with his family to wrap up the deal.

Brahim may only be 14, but this is a major coup for City and the club’s rapidly improving youth system, to sign a player who is being compared to Lionel Messi. Of course, it’s pretty unfair to compare any young player to the great Messi (who joined Barcelona at a similar age) and creates unrealistic expectations, but scouts believe he is at a similar level to what Messi was at the same age.

Barcelona pursued Brahim for two years, even rolling out the red carpet and introducing him to Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, a sign of just how much they rated the Málaga starlet. It was even reported that Barca felt he could break into their first team by the time he was 16!

It took a lot of work from Txiki Begiristain and others at City to convince Brahim and his family to make the daunting move to England, but an agreement was finally reached between City, Málaga, and his family. The relationship between Txiki and Brahim’s agent Pere Guardiola (brother of Pep) was also instrumental in this deal happening.

City will pay an initial £250,000 for Brahim, an incredible amount for a 14-year-old, but this sort of fee isn’t uncommon now for a teen starlet. That amount will gradually rise depending on Brahim’s progress, and if he ever becomes a star of the first team, City could end up paying £3.7m.

Málaga worked hard to try and keep the “pearl” of their “cantera”. “Cantera”, the name given to Spanish youth academies, literally means “quarry”, so the likes of Brahim are considered “pearls” or similar.

Brahim’s family had decided months ago to move on, the only question being where. The 14-year-old hasn’t played a competitive game this season after not signing the federal records required to play – which would also have prevented him from leaving Málaga before the end of the season.

Brahim will have plenty of Spanish company in Manchester, with the Blues having added some of Spain’s best teenage talent to a very promising new generation of local boys in recent months.

City’s U18s, who have won their last six games on the bounce, have the talented Spanish duo of José “Angelino” Tasende and Pablo Maffeo at left-back and right-back respectively.

If Brahim starts in City’s U16s, he will have Spain U16 internationals Manu García and Paolo Fernandes to keep him company.

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5 1/2 years later… what happened to the FA Youth Cup winning squad?

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20,000 fans turned up at the City of Manchester Stadium on April 16 2008 to see City’s “stars of tomorrow” comprehensively beat Chelsea 3-1 and complete a 4-2 aggregate win in the 2007/08 FA Youth Cup final.

City fans were ecstatic having seen Jim Cassell’s hard work result in an important trophy at youth level. So what happened? Over half a decade later only one of these players is anything close to a household name – and he missed the second leg with injury. That player is Daniel Sturridge, the only major success of that team (so far at least).

17 players represented City over the two legs and only one of them is playing regular Premier League football in 2013. That doesn’t mean they have all failed, and in fact a fair number of them are earning a good living in other leagues, but City fans were talking of several of these kids breaking through and making an impact.

So where are they all now?


GOALKEEPERS

Greg Hartley (now 23)

City’s number one in both legs of the final has fallen further off the radar than any of his team-mates. After his release from City in 2009, Manchester-born Hartley headed to America and played for Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky. He moved on to Georgia Gwinnett College from there and reportedly scored 8 goals… yes, as a goalkeeper!

These days he is still in the USA and playing for Chattanooga FC in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), American soccer’s fourth level. This is a step up from the colleges he played for, but still a long way from Manchester City.


Filip Mentel

Mentel was 1/3 of the Slovakian trio City had high hopes for, the other two being Vladimir Weiss and Robert Mak who were also in the squad. He was on the bench for both of the Chelsea games and a couple of years later joined Dundee United in the Scottish Premier League.

After failing to make any appearances for Dundee United, Mentel was loaned to Clyde in the Scottish Third Division where, for the first time in his career, he got to play senior level football with 11 appearances.

Unfortunately for Mentel, he suffered a serious knee injury and returned to Dundee United, where he failed to make any appearances before being released in 2012. A year later and there is no record of him playing anywhere, with several websites listing him as “Unemployed”.


DEFENDERS

Ben Mee (now 24)

The captain of City’s FA Youth Cup winning side, Mee was the local born leader who the club had high hopes for. Unfortunately for him, and several others of this age group, the takeover happened months after the win over Chelsea and subsequently the required standard shot up.

Mancini did assess Mee after taking charge, though, handing him appearances against the Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls in the US tour of summer 2010. And Mee made one competitive first-team appearance for the Blues against West Brom in the Carling Cup, a game in which Mancini tested several reserve players and City lost 1-0.

After a couple of loan moves, Mee was sold to Championship side Burnley in January 2012. Along with Kieran Trippier, another member of this squad, Mee has been a regular for Burnley and if all goes well the two of them could be playing Premier League football next year, with Burnley currently top of the Championship.


Dedryck Boyata (now 22)

Boyata is one of the few we can easily keep tabs on, because he is one of only three still at City! One of the younger members of the FA Youth Cup winning squad, Boyata was a serious prospect for City and of the 17 players in this squad, only Daniel Sturridge has made more first-team appearances for the Blues.

Boyata made the breakthrough that so many can’t and for a while looked set to be a regular in the first-team squad. Who can forget the excellent job he did on Chelsea’s Didier Drogba? Then he was quite harshly sent off in a home game against Arsenal and Mancini seemed to lose faith in him.

Boyata was loaned to Bolton and FC Twente, both moves not working out with Dedryck often making mistakes and looking low on confidence. He was sent home to City by Twente this January and did very little until pre-season, where he played very well against Bayern Munich in a friendly.

Boyata made his first City appearance in a competitive match for over two years in September when City thrashed Wigan 5-0 in the Capital One Cup, and was given another chance against Newcastle in the next round, where he looked decent.

So there are signs of recovery for a player who seemed to have the world at his feet, but Pellegrini has preferred Garcia and now Demichelis in Premier League games. Seeing Garcia struggle out of position in defence can’t have given much encouragement to Boyata, who may soon have to move on to further his career.


Kieran Trippier (now 23)

Another local lad, Bury-born Trippier was an impressive right-back for City’s academy teams and seemed like he had a chance of making the breakthrough. But then Zabaleta was signed, City got rich, and the rest is history…

Tripper followed the familiar path of loan moves to lower league clubs, but made such an impression on loan at Barnsley that he was named their Young Player of the Year in the 2010/11 season.

City loaned Tripper to Burnley the following season and his good development was recognised in December 2011 when he was named Championship Player of the Month. With Richards and Zabaleta both performing so well in City’s title-winning season at that time, Trippier was sold to Burnley in January 2012 – days before City team-mate Ben Mee.

Trippier has gone from strength to strength since making a permanent move to the Clarets, being named their Player of the Year last season and making the Championship Team of the Year. There were even rumblings of an England call-up, while both Arsenal and Newcastle have been linked with him.

Given City’s strength in the right-back position with Micah and Zaba, you can hardly blame them for letting Trippier move on, but one wonders if he would be playing for the Blues in different circumstances. Next season we could see just how far he has come if Burnley are promoted to the Premier League.


Ryan McGivern (now 23)

Discovered by City’s scout in Northern Ireland, Willie McKeown, McGivern was brought over to Manchester and made a good impression at left-back for the academy team. Just four months after City won the Youth Cup and aged 18, McGivern won his first call-up for Northern Ireland’s senior national team in what was a bittersweet debut against Scotland as he was sent off.

McGivern was highly thought of at City, and despite becoming another perennial loanee was handed a new 3-year contract in 2009. In between all of his loan moves, McGivern made a Premier League appearance for City, replacing Boyata in the 5-0 drubbing of Sunderland in 2011.

Unfortunately, McGivern did not progress as City had hoped and when his contract expired last summer joined the SPL club he had been on loan at, Hibernian, on a permanent deal. It’s probably no coincidence that the man who discovered him in Northern Ireland, Willie McKeown, is a consultant at Hibs.


MIDFIELDERS

Angelos Tsiaklis (now 24)

Born in Cyprus, Tsiaklis played just 8 minutes in the second leg against Chelsea, replacing Boyata late in the game. Little was known and still is known about the midfielder, who has faded into footballing obscurity.

He was loaned out to Welsh club Wrexham in 2008, then joined them on a permanent basis. That didn’t last long, and after a brief stint at Cypriot lower league side Digenis Akritas Morphou, he joined non-league side FC United of Manchester, the “rebel” club made up of people fed up of United under the Glazers.

After his stint at FC United, Tsiaklis’ career progress became blurry with little on record, but what is known is that he’s now playing for Enosis Neon Paralimni in the Cypriot First Division and his most recent appearance was on November 11 before the international break.


Abdisalam Ibrahim (now 22)

Like Boyata, Ibrahim was very young at the time of City’s Youth Cup win and remains at the club… though is currently linked with a move away. The Norwegian midfielder had been signed a year before from Fjellhamar in Norway after being spotted by scouts.

Ibrahim developed well at City through the youth system and caught Mancini’s eye, being given a run in the FA Cup team that beat Scunthorpe at the beginning of 2010. He was on the bench for that Carling Cup semi final at Old Trafford we’d all rather forget, then was handed his Premier League debut in January 2010 as a substitute in the 0-0 draw against Liverpool.

Things seemed to be going well for Ibrahim, but just like Boyata, with whom several comparisons can be made to, he ended up in the loan system and his progress seemed to slow down. A stint at Scunthorpe, the team he made his City debut against, went quite well, but a loan move to Eredivisie side NEC ended in failure after he struggled for game time and was sent back to Manchester.

Since then, Ibrahim has been loaned twice to City’s partner club in Norway, Strømsgodset, and just won the league with them. At the same time, with his contract close to expiring, he has constantly been linked to many top clubs in the media.

It isn’t clear whether he has had a big development spurt in Norway or if his representatives are just keeping his name in the media, but he is due back in Manchester this week and may have a chance to impress Pellegrini. If he doesn’t and isn’t given a new contract, he will be another from this generation to disappear through the City exit door.


Robert Mak (now 22)

Unbeknown to many, Mak has been one of the bigger success stories of the Youth Cup winning team. Another of the Slovakians recruited by City (along with Mentel and Weiss), Mak joined City when he was just 13 and moved up through the youth teams, but could never break through.

Mak was sold to Bundesliga side FC Nürnberg for around £250,000 in June 2010, just shy of his 20th birthday. This seemed a peculiar move since lesser prospects have been given longer to prove their worth to City, and Mak hadn’t even been out on loan, but the cash offer probably tempted City.

The winger/attacking midfielder struggled at first in Germany, but eventually settled and now plays regularly for Nürnberg. He has also been capped by Slovakia repeatedly, and just last Friday scored in their 2-0 friendly win over Romania.

So while he did not make it at City, Mak has avoided the same fall into obscurity that several of his team-mates have suffered, and is playing top flight football in Germany while representing his national team.


Andrew Tutte (now 23)

Tutte joined City at a very young age in 1999 and was another who made his way through the youth ranks, but found himself unable to make the step up to the first-team after a series of loans.

The midfielder was loaned out to Rochdale, Shrewsbury Town and Yeovil Town before City decided he wasn’t going to make it. In June 2011, he signed a permanent deal at the first club he had been on loan to, Rochdale.

Despite some injury problems hampering his progress, Tutte has fared well for the League Two side and signed a new 2-year contract in June.


Scott Kay (now 24)

Born only five or so miles from Maine Road, Kay is a lifelong City fan and these are the ones you hope will make it at the club, but rarely seem to nowadays.

Unlike some of his team-mates, Kay wasn’t given the standard series of loan moves before he was released by City and joined nearby League Two side Macclesfield Town.

Kay’s career as a professional footballer looked in jeopardy when he was released by Macclesfield after one season, but former City youth coach Steve Eyre gave him a lifeline at Huddersfield.

Kay was loaned to Southport from Huddersfield and made 16 appearances, and after all that he ended up back at Macclesfield, who had released him, and now plays for them in the Conference Premier (fifth level of English football).


Donal McDermott (now 24)

Snapped up by City scouts from Cherry Orchard FC of Dublin, McDermott joined City in 2006 and the speedy winger looked the part in both games against Chelsea, playing the full 180 minutes.

McDermott impressed for the reserves and not long before leaving City, looked a real handful playing for City’s reserves against Arsenal.

The Irishman was sent out on loan four times, so you couldn’t blame him for rejecting a new City contract when his deal expired and joining Huddersfield on a permanent basis.

He spent just one season at Huddersfield before moving to Bournemouth and is still with them now in the Championship, but has been restricted to Capital One Cup games so far this season, only making the bench (and remaining an unused substitute) three times so far in the league.


James Poole (now 23)

Snatched from Macclesfield for a small fee when he was 16, Poole showed promise for the academy team and was given a contract extension in March 2010 after impressing at youth level.

Loan spells at Bury and Hartlepool ended in a (you know where this is going) predictable outcome, with the latter loan move being made permanent when he signed for Hartlepool on the same day as Nolberto Solano in May 2011.

Able to play as a striker but more of a midfielder lately, Poole has been a mainstay in the Hartlepool team since joining and has scored 17 goals in three seasons, a decent return for the League Two side.


Vladimir Weiss (now 23)

The third and final of the Slovakians in the squad that won the FA Youth Cup, Weiss was, along with Sturridge, seen as having a huge future in the game. City fans went as far as to compare him to Ronaldo, which was silly in retrospect, but he was a superb talent at youth level.

Weiss was only 19 when he made his first-team debut for City against Bolton in the Premier League, and the following season he scored in City’s 3-0 win over Arsenal in the Carling Cup, kissing the City badge and looking almost certain to be a hit – even with all the big money signings arriving at the club by then.

It started to go wrong for Weiss when he was loaned to Bolton and spent much of his time there on the bench, thanks to the unexpected emergence of Chung-Yong Lee. The lack of game time under Owen Coyle at a major stage of his development may have stunted his progress.

City loaned Weiss to Scottish giants Rangers the following season and he was a huge success there, scoring and setting up goals, and winning the league with Rangers.

City wanted to give him a bigger test than the SPL following his success there and farmed him out to Espanyol in La Liga, one of the toughest leagues in Europe. Weiss struggled to break into the team at first, with the coach demanding he learn Spanish. He did that and became more of a regular in the side, having a decent season, enough so that Espanyol were interested in signing him permanently.

It was decision time for City and Weiss, and with Mancini showing little interest in youth players by now, Weiss left the club on a permanent basis to join Serie A outfit Pescara. Weiss said after leaving that he would have loved to have stayed at City, but Mancini ignored him and showed no interest.

Weiss was one of Pescara’s better players during his one season in Serie A, but they were relegated and his 1-year deal expired. Many clubs were linked with him, but he ended up making the curious move to Greece with Olympiacos.

Weiss is now a star player at Olympiacos and has been playing in the Champions League, scoring a stunning goal against PSG. But this is far from the level both City chiefs and City fans had hoped he would reach. He is still young and starring in the Greek league, so there is still time for him to perhaps fulfill his early potential.


FORWARDS

David Ball (now 23)

A local lad who was born in Whitefield, David Ball is a great example of a youth star who can’t make an effective step up to the senior game.

Ball was a star of City’s youth team at several levels and scored the final goal in the second leg against Chelsea to help the Blues lift the FA Youth Cup. There was much buzz about Ball with the Manchester Evening News even suggesting he could make the bench for a Manchester derby.

City loaned him out to Swindon Town, but he managed just 2 goals in 18 league appearances at League One level. This was disappointing for City and Ball was sold to Peterborough Town for £50,000 in January 2011.

Ball again failed to impress at Peterborough and was loaned to Rochdale, where it was much of the same. City legend Uwe Rösler tried to take him on loan at Brentford, but that fell through and he was transferred to newly promoted League Two side Fleetwood Town in July 2012.

Even in League Two, Ball struggled at first, but is now playing regularly for Fleetwood and has scored 3 goals so far this season. But, like several others, this is a long way from the hopes City had for him.


Alex Nimely (now 22)

Born in Liberia, Nimely was discovered by City playing in Cameroon and snapped up after a trial to much buzz after Sven-Goran Eriksson, then in charge of City, showered praise on him.

Nimely was a standout player for City’s youth teams, scoring plenty of goals and showing fantastic skill. So impressive was the young striker that England convinced him to play for them at youth level, as his father is English.

Nimely looked like another with the potential to break through, but his issues weren’t so much bad loan moves as constant injuries. Nimely has been injured regularly throughout crucial stages of his development, and his most recent loan move, to Crystal Palace last season, was wrecked by injury.

Nimely, who seems to have been around forever, is still only 22 and on City’s books. He looked lively during City’s pre-season tour of South Africa, where he played for the first-team, and does have one Premier League appearance to his name for the Blues.

However, it looks unlikely that he will ever make the step up for City now and another injury caused a move to Paul Dickov’s Doncaster to collapse this season. Nimely’s contract expires next summer when we could see the three survivors of the FA Youth Cup winning squad – he, Boyata and Ibrahim – all gone from the club.


Daniel Sturridge (now 24)

Last but not least, the biggest and arguably only major success story of the FA Youth Cup winning team, Daniel Sturridge. Sturridge joined City when he was just 13 and it soon became apparent that City had a special talent on their hands.

Throughout his years in the academy, Sturridge always seemed on another level and was one of the England’s most talented teens. City fans were excited and so were club staff, handing the young striker his Premier League debut in February 2007 when he was just 17. Sturridge came off the bench a month later and suffered a hip injury that kept him out for the rest of the year.

There is a lot of talk that Sturridge left the club due to a lack of chances, but that isn’t true. He made 26 appearances in the 2008/09 season when he was still a teen, despite Mark Hughes’ occasional preference of Ched Evans, a massively inferior talent to Sturridge.

Sturridge, the great hope of City’s youth system, left us all disappointed when he quit the club to join Chelsea in 2009 after his contract expired. City would not meet his wage demands and Chelsea would, and that is what his departure came down to in the end. He has since joined Liverpool, where he is making a huge impact.

Sturridge is now the joint Premier League top scorer with Aguero and Suarez, and has scored 22 goals in his last 28 games for Liverpool, the record of a top striker. Though his decision-making still leaves something to be desired (as does his selfish streak), it can be said that he has matured into a quality Premier League striker and there is certainly a strong argument for him being City’s best youth product since the academy was set up in 1998.

Taking all of the clauses and sell-on fee from the tribunal into account, City pocketed almost £11m in total for Sturridge, but I’m sure they would have preferred him to stay. While many of the FA Youth Cup winning team have disappeared down the leagues or elsewhere, Sturridge is the only one so far who has turned out to be a top Premier League player.


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TL;DR

So let’s break this down and look at where the 17 players who comprised City’s FA Youth Cup winning team are some 5 1/2 years later.

English Premier League: 4 (Boyata, Ibrahim, Nimely, Sturridge)
English Championship: 3 (Mee, McDermott, Trippier)
English League Two: 3 (Ball, Poole, Tutte)
English Conference Premier: 1 (Kay)
Scottish Premier League: 1 (McGivern)
German Bundesliga: 1 (Mak)
Greek Superleague: 1 (Weiss)
Cypriot First Division: 1 (Tsiaklis)
USA National Premier Soccer League: 1 (Hartley)
Unknown/Unemployed: 1 (Mentel)

The fact so few of them have made it in top flight football isn’t that surprising. It’s the same at most Premier League clubs… you have a (very) small group who turn out to be good enough for a top league, but many who are quickly forgotten and disappear into lower leagues or foreign leagues.

Still, though, a number of these players have so far failed to live up to the huge potential they showed back then. Weiss, Nimely and Boyata, for example, had the raw attributes to make it at a high level, but a combination of injuries and the flawed loan system seem to have hurt them. All three have time on their side and many players have to drop down a level (or more) to build their way up to the top.

Several of them, including Ibrahim, Trippier and Mee could be playing Premier League football next season if the clubs linked with Ibrahim are really after him, and if Mee and Trippier are promoted with Burnley.

Mak is the quiet achiever of this group, playing regular football in the ever improving Bundesliga, though his team Nürnberg are currently rock bottom of the German league.

There is a mantra in youth football that results don’t matter. Of course, we love to see our team win at every youth level, but supposing City’s under-18s lost 8-0 to United tomorrow, it wouldn’t mean much. If even one of those players became a star and regular for City, he will have saved the club a big transfer fee – something the FA Youth Cup winning side failed to do, despite some near misses (Boyata has come close, Sturridge got away).

City chase Brahim, the young jewel of Spanish football

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Although it may be hard to believe looking at City’s expensively assembled first team squad, youth development is one of the club’s main priorities and the spectacular City Football Academy site, which is fast taking shape, is ample proof of that. The club is in particular very optimistic about the younger groups, with the largely Mancunian under-13 and under-14 teams winning national championships last season.

Developing young local players good enough to play for the first team is a serious priority within City’s corridors of power, not to mention something City fans would love to see.

But like any top club in this day and age, City are also aggressively pursuing the best young talent from across the globe. Many foreign starlets have been signed up in the past few years, including several Spanish youth internationals like Manu García, Pablo Maffeo and José Angel Tasende, who have all recently joined.

Another young Spanish player linked with the Blues has made headlines recently and he is Brahim Abdelkader Diaz.

Brahim plays for Málaga in Spain and is a diminutive 14-year-old playmaker considered to be one of Spanish football’s “young jewels”. There have been predictable comparisons to Messi because of his small frame and extraordinary skill, so it should come as no surprise that Barcelona also want him.

Barcelona have in fact been pursuing Brahim for a couple of years now, going as far as to introduce him to Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, but Málaga rejected an offer from Barca last year.

Enter City. Looking to add more wunderkinds to the ranks, Txiki Begiristain has made contact with Brahim’s agent, Pere Guardiola. Recent reports from Spain indicate that Brahim and his parents have verbally agreed to join City, but this has yet to be confirmed. If there is truth to that claim, City must also strike an agreement with Málaga, and a formal offer has yet to be made to them.

Málaga youth chief José Manuel Casanova claims City are not the only English club interested, but Txiki’s good relationship with Pere Guardiola, brother of former Barcelona manager Pep, could help see off interest from domestic rivals. You can’t rule out Barcelona, though, who remain interested in Brahim and will make further efforts to add him to the prestigious La Masía talent factory.

How good is Brahim? You’d have to ask those who watch him every week, but he is so highly regarded by scouts that Barcelona believe he could be in their first team by the time he’s 16. These video compilations offer a glimpse of just what all the fuss is about.

George Evans joins Crewe on loan

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City EDS midfielder George Evans (18) has begun his transition from youth to senior level football by joining League One side Crewe on loan.

Evans has yet to appear for City’s first team, but was given a taste of life at the top when he was named on the substitutes bench against Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena last season. This didn’t go unnoticed by City fans, who were excited to see a local lad so teasingly close to the first team.

Crewe is an ideal destination for the England youth international given their track record of developing youth going back years. Most recently they sold academy graduate Nick Powell to United in a deal worth up to £6million, and in the past have played a big role in developing internationals such as David Platt, Geoff Thomas and Neil Lennon.

City will hope Evans progresses well at Crewe, who sit in the League One relegation zone and will welcome the new face. Crewe can expect a determined young holding midfielder with a broad passing range and a good level of composure in possession. Like so many young players who are sent out on loan for the first time, his main challenge could be adjusting to the pace and physicality of league football.

City fans who follow the youth scene are keen to see Evans break through and get a chance, and if he manages to he will become the first player to have represented City at every age group since the modern day academy launched in 1998. Over 40 players from City’s youth setup have appeared for the first team in the last 15 years, but none have progressed through every level like Evans aims to.

Evans is the second City player to join Crewe recently after striker Harry Bunn last season, but Bunn’s loan spell was cut short by a severe knee ligament injury that kept him out for the majority of the season.