Kelechi Iheanacho proves Manchester City academy is working

Kelechi Iheanacho scores the fourth goal for Manchester City

Man City have spent vast amounts of money on their academy in recent years and it is beginning to pay dividends.

Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho misses a chance to scoreManchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho has a chance to score

In December 2014, Manchester City opened their prestigious City Football Academy, the CFA. Also known as the City Campus, it features 16.5 pitches - 12.5 of which are used for the youth teams - and boasts a 7000 seat stadium used for both the women's and elite development squad matches. 

Reminiscent of Barcelona's famous La Masia, it is no surprise that club executives Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano pushed through the plans. The duo spent time working together as backroom assistants under Pep Guardiola whilst he was in charge of the Catalan giants. 

Forking out almost £1 billion on transfer fees since the takeover in 2009, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak realised his spending was not sustainable and that a restructuring of the youth system was crucial for the future. Spending £200 million on a complex that includes a full-size indoor synthetic pitch, with seating for 200 people, a gym, medical rooms, a relaxation lounge, teaching rooms, swimming pools and office space, City can now boast having one of the finest football centres in the UK, if not the world. 

Manchester City manager Pep GuardiolaManchester City manager Pep Guardiola

Though the finest facilities count for nothing compared to results, City's youngsters are beginning to flourish in their new home as every age group earned silverware last season. Speaking to CityTV, academy director Mark Allen stressed the importance of enshrining a winning mentality at the CFA.

He said; "It's not all about winning championships and cups – but it is an important part of development and we stress that with the boys.

"Last year was a particularly good year for us winning national championships at many levels and ages, and progressing players through the system.

"The under-10's led the way, winning national championships and multiple tournaments in Europe, which is again part of their development. They did exceptionally well.

"The 11's winning their national title, the 13's likewise. The 15's winning the inaugural Floodlit Cup, both the northern division and the national final and going on to win a tournament in the Cayman Islands.

"Our under-16s went undefeated last year and they form the basis of our new scholars this year.

"And obviously our under-18s became National Champions for the very first time and made it to the Youth Cup final, where we were beaten finalists again." 

Despite the unprecedented success of the youth setup in 2016, club officials are disappointed that only Kelechi Iheanacho has made the grade at first-team level. Scoring 14 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions, the Nigerian 19-year-old is the only academy graduate to have started more than once for City.

Manchester City players during the penalty shootoutManchester City players during the penalty shootout

And with City aiming to produce a squad that is half made up of homegrown players by 2021, the youth system is being restructured yet again.

Speaking to Manchester Evening News ahead of the FA Youth Cup final back in May, under-18's coach Jason Wilcox revealed the plans.

He said: "What we are going to do next season is go very young in both age groups. Next season we will have under-17's playing in an under-18's league and under-19's playing in the Under-21s league. And then after that we have to bridge to the first team."

Though some elements from La Masia have been brought from Barcelona to Manchester via Guardiola, Begiristain and Sorriano, others have not.

"We've taken bits from the Barcelona model but it's not the Barcelona model being put into Man City," added Wilcox "we are taking a bit of everything and putting our own stamp on it too. It's now a case of what is Man City's model.

"It is an interesting concept. When you speak to people about Barcelona - Iniesta, Xavi – they never played up a level. Never.

"I’m not criticising another club’s model. But we’ve got to believe in our model and I think that’s what we have got. We will get it right." 

With Iheanacho now fully involved in first-team affairs, Allen has called on the younger players take inspiration from the striker, capped four times by his country.

Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho in action with Dortmund's Marc BartraManchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho in action with Dortmund's Marc Bartra

He said: "He flew the academy flag in many respects. In and around the box he did exceptionally well last year. I think that bodes well for him being given another opportunity.

"He's another player whose work-rate is phenomenal and he trains hard everyday – and these are all the things we're trying to get instilled in the younger players that to get to the very top you have to work hard every day and every day is an important day in your life in the academy."

The arrival of Guardiola has added a real buzz to the City Campus and with one of the world's real heavyweight coaches now there on a daily basis, the club is maintaining its place as one the elite clubs.

If the elite development squad can take any inspiration from the Iheanacho story, it may not be too long before Guardiola is overseeing the development of yet another young Citizen. 

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