Until Phil Foden’s emergence from Manchester City’s Football Academy there were plenty of doubters, all too quick to cast aspersions on the CFA.
CFA star graduate Phil Foden and son Ronnie with Big Ears.
Along with the usual lazy jibes about the Club’s wealth ‘ruining football’ – wholly unjustified – the CFA was accused of hoovering up promising youngsters, simply to prevent them going to potential rivals.
The malicious and misguided judgements just kept on coming, fuelled by the jealousy and discomfort of those who couldn’t hold a light to City’s approach when it came to nurturing and developing raw talent.
A young Foden caught the eye on City's preseason tour in China 2017.
Even when the Stockport Iniesta signed his first long term contract there were those who sought to undermine the credibility of both the player and City. One of the more memorable snide asides was that Foden would be ‘…sitting on the bench for the next six years.’
Phil scored the opening goal against Newcastle on the day the Etihad rose to applaud Milly-Rose Stirrup.
Five Premier League, four League Cup, two FA Cup and one Champions League winner’s medals later, City’s number 47 is the CFA’s most decorated graduate – and all at the ripe old age of 23!
Undoubtedly the most lauded of all the CFA ‘products’, Foden is proof, if any more be needed, that City’s business model and player development structures are the best in the world.
Turkish Delight - Foden and City are Champions of Europe.
Just as Pep Guardiola’s team have won three Premier League titles on the spin and five out of the last six, the Elite Development Squad (EDS) have won a trio of Premier League Two crowns on the bounce.
It’s a similar story of success – not necessarily trebles – throughout the different age categories U18s and below, where City’s playing philosophy is reaping rewards.
An iconic image of City's Treble celebrations.
Trophies and titles are tangible measurements of unrelenting success, but so too is the emergence of youngsters deemed worthy of the chance to prove they can command a place in Guardiola’s first team squad.
But this isn’t just any Premier League squad.
As nigh on perennial English champions and now Champions of Europe, the bar is high – incredibly high. Only a few stand any chance of making the breakthrough. If they manage to do so, that’s when the hard work really begins.
Rico Lewis helped City win The Treble in his debut season.
Foden apart, the likes of Cole Palmer, Rico Lewis and more latterly James McAtee and Oscar Bobb might, just might, have what it takes to stand the test of time at the Etihad. Even then, success in a first team shirt can take a roundabout route.
James McAtee is back at the Etihad after Championship glory with Sheffield United.
McAtee had an outstanding campaign with Sheffield United helping them win promotion back to the Premier League. He’s back at the Etihad as Pep and his coaching team assess his progress. Thus far it’s adjudged to be sufficient to turn down offers of £30m from other Premier League clubs.
Cool Cole - Palmer hit a sumptuous goal in the Community Shield.
Palmer – a much heralded talent who scored a sumptuous goal at Wembley last weekend – was earmarked for more City game time last season. For whatever reasons he didn’t make the anticipated impact and, despite rumours of a loan move to teams of the calibre of Brighton and West Ham, he’s by no means done at City.
Palmer might be spending 2023/24 away from the Etihad on loan.
Those CFA graduates who only ever play very few senior first team minutes – or none whatsoever – still have their role in City’s consistent success.
The ‘conveyor belt' of talent delivers substantial financial returns – money that is integral to City’s transfer dealings.
U21 keeper James Trafford saved a last minute penalty to help England win the 2023 Euros.
This summer’s transfer window has already seen the headline sales of goalkeeper, James Trafford to Burnley, Shea Charles to Southampton, Carlos Borges to Ajax, Jack and Tyler Fletcher to Manchester United, plus loan deals and fees for Callum Doyle to Leicester, Issa Kabore to Luton, Liam Delap to Hull and Josh Wilson-Esbrand to Reims.
City brothers in arms James Trafford and Cole Palmer could yet be stars at the Etihad.
There’s been a number of other undisclosed fees for players such as keeper Ciaran Slicker to Ipswich and lesser-known players, plus money from previous sales and sell-on clauses e.g. Pedro Porro originally sold to Sporting Lisbon for £8m who subsequently joined Spurs, netting City a further £10m.
Since July 1st City have brought in fees of circa £65m and that’s before Riyad Mahrez’s £30m switch to Saudi Arabia.
Taylor Harwood-Bellis faces a tough task with City's high quality centre back line-up.
With the emphasis on money generated by CFA graduates, there’s the potential for a further £30m+ if Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Tommy Doyle depart on a permanent basis. Both players – and lifelong City supporters – proved their worth winning promotion to the Premier League with Burnley and Sheffield United respectively.
Masterminded by Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, City amassed something in the region of £50m+ last summer from CFA sales.
Txiki Begiristain gets the important transfers over the line at City.
Fuelled by a quartet of players moving to Southampton – Gavin Bazunu, Samuel Edozie, Juan Larios and Romeo Lavia – it made perfect business sense – especially as the majority of outgoings now include buyback clauses and sell-on fees as standard.
Is Romeo Lavia one of City's rare mistakes in the transfer market?
City are shrewd operators – there’s no doubting – but they aren’t immune from the occasional mistake. Lavia (19) the Belgian defensive midfielder who made his international debut this year, is now the subject of transfer bids of £48m and £45m from Chelsea and Liverpool, with Southampton holding out for £50m.
Romeo Lavia goes up against Rodri, the world's best defensive midfielder.
City sold him for a maximum of £14m plus a sell-on clause of 20%, presumably now £10m – a total of £24m. Pep clearly rated the player but couldn’t guarantee him the playing minutes last season, hence his departure. As ever, City stipulated a buyback clause – believed to be £40m – but it doesn’t kick in until summer 2024. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Lavia enjoyed Premier League Two titles with City.
Irrespective of the one who may have got away, City have already accrued CFA sales of well in excess of £100m in just two summers, with the potential for another £30m-£100m depending on the futures of Harwood-Bellis, Doyle, Palmer and McAtee.
Euro U21 Champions - Harwood-Bellis, Palmer and Doyle.
In the first few seasons after Sheikh Mansour’s 2008 takeover, City had a reputation not just as big spenders, but over spenders. It was a necessary evil. The club had to pay over the odds, before the full force of the fatuous Financial Fair Play regulations were brought in.
The situation couldn’t be any more different today.
A quartet of Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Ferran Soriano, Txiki Begiristain and Pep identify target players, decide a value which City are prepared to pay and, if a selling club want more, then City walk away.
Josko Gvardiol could prove to be a £77.6m bargain.
RB Leipzig – at least in public – were demanding £85m plus add-ons for Josko Gvardiol. City landed him for a total of £77.6m
West Ham wanted £100m+ for Declan Rice. City allegedly bid £90m, forcing Arsenal to go to £105m. Pep and Co weren’t the slightest bit perturbed.
Mateo Kovacic 'standing alone' against Arsenal.
The £25m-£30m capture of Mateo Kovacic – let’s hope it’s £30m because that’ll mean he’s won titles with City – is a sound investment.
The rumour mill is spinning with ‘stories’ of City’s interest in West Ham’s Brazilian midfielder Lucas Paqueta and wingers Michael Olise of Crystal Palace and Jeremy Doku of Stade Rennais in France.
Bernardo Silva could be City's best signing this summer - fingers crossed.
Closer to home, there’s growing optimism that Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva will sign contract extensions, news that, if it happens will be greeted with unbridled joy by City fans. Not so in Bavaria or by the crooked Catalans in Barcelona.
On the City outgoings it appears Joao Cancelo – despite his showing on the preseason tour in Japan and South Korea – is surplus to requirements.
High Five - Kyle Walker might sticking around to go for more Premier League title success with City.
The same might be true of Aymeric Laporte due to Gvardiol’s arrival, but the departure of ‘Eric’ will be greeted with much sadness. The show must go on, but Laporte has been a huge success in his five-and-a-half seasons at the Etihad, with a glittering array of honours.
Gvardiol will hope to have Bernardo as a team mate and not as a potential opponent in 2023/24.
Summer transfer windows can often be a ‘pane’ as clubs try and keep hold of their star players, whilst seeking to strengthen for the challenges that lie ahead.
In 2022 City sold three serial winners in the shape of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko. This year could see a quartet of multiple title winners depart (Gundogan and Mahrez have already left the building) but what’s to say Guardiola won’t have an even stronger and hungrier squad in 2023/24?
Gundo-gone, but what a glorious exit!
City still spend big money on top quality players but, unlike many rivals, they always seem to spend it wisely and within budget.
It helps that the club amassed nearly £300m in prize money when bagging The Treble, but never underestimate the steady stream of revenue from the CFA.
A priceless homegrown talent - one of our own!
Those sold may not have graduated with honours at City, but many have gone on to varying degrees of success as professional footballers.
By David Walker
This article focuses on the cost, values and worth of City’s CFA players.
It is however dedicated to the priceless memory of a sky-blue angel – Milly-Rose Stirrup on what would’ve been her seventh birthday.
Today would've been Milly-Rose's seventh birthday. Fly high Blue Angel.
Milly-Rose’s tragic story was conveyed by Read But Never Red in February – going on to touch the hearts of millions who read and heard about her tragic passing.
There are no words that will bring comfort to Milly-Rose’s amazing Mummy and Daddy, Pip and Shaun and the rest of her family and friends today, but they are uppermost in our hearts and thoughts.
Milly-Rose Stirrup's legacy lives on with a new charity bearing her name.
The Milly-Rose Stirrup Foundation – registered charity number 1203667 – has been set up to help and support parents and families who suffer the unimaginable and immeasurable loss of a young child.
Milly-Rose loved her favourite player Phil Foden.
It’s a legacy to a beautiful, brave, loving and all round amazingly brilliant little girl, who touched the hearts of everyone who knew her and her love of her idol – Phil Foden and her team – Manchester City.
Milly-Rose's heart-breaking story is available on the link below. Read But Never Red will be writing a blog on the charity that bears her name in the near future.
Twitter @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu