Manchester City: Finding the next Phil Foden

I can still recall the excitement of making my debut for Manchester City as a player aged 17. It was the best day in my life. I love seeing other children get their chance.
This has not happened at City in recent decades, but it is now.

Pep Guardiola already made debuts to eight academy graduates in the Community Shield, Carabao Cup and Carabao Cup this year. We will hopefully see more of them at West Ham United's fourth round on Wednesday.

This group of young people has so much talent. They are more technically minded than the City players 15 years ago, when I was there. They are all English, so it's not surprising that there is so much excitement.

Cole Palmer is the best among them all. Some of his touches are unbelievable and he's an extraordinary talent.

He could follow Phil Foden and become a regular on the first team at City. But the statistics clearly show how difficult that will be for anyone, regardless of how talented they may be.

That was something I discovered as a child. Below are some stories about the players I shared a house with when I was a teenager and we all dreamed of becoming big.

Ashley Williams (left), and Karl Moore (centre), were housemates of Micah (right), when they were playing together in the City youth soccer team. How was it to live with him then? Learn more below

"The difference is that I got a chance"

It was much easier when I was at City at the time, when there was not much money to invest in players. They were famous for getting youngsters into the first team and through the ranks.

Between 1998, when City academy was opened, and the Abu Dhabi takeover of 2008, 26 players moved from the youth team into the first team. Twenty-six of us also started at least one competitive game.

You can see that 44 academy players made their senior debuts for City between 2008-2008. 32 of them started a game.

However, if you dig deeper, only 16 players made more than one start. So far, only four players made more than 20 starts, including Foden who leads the pack with 74.

Comparing that to my day when three out of 20 players received only one start, I can see how this compares to today. Eight of us made more starts than 20, and we combined made 998 starts for City, compared with only 212 among those who have followed.

We had a small team so we were able to have a chance. Although a poor game did not mean the end of our season, it was a start.

Micah Richards had 228 starts for Manchester City. This is the most of any of the 78 club players who have made the transition from academy to first team since 1998. Phil Foden, who has 74 starts, is sixth on this list.

It is easy to get sidetracked.

The real challenge facing the children who have made it this far is to make that change.

However, ability alone is not enough. Because I've been there, I can see how difficult it will be for them to make it at City and even in the professional game.

They will feel lost or forgotten at times. But my advice is to keep their eyes on the journey they are on right now.

Many of my former team-mates and best friends were lost as teenagers, no matter how talented they were.

They were just three of the victims, and it was all out of their control.

Danny Allen: "It was heartbreaking to watch it happen to my friend"

Danny Allen, a 14-year-old boy from Oldham, joined City in 2002 on the same date as Micah. However, he suffered a knee injury during his first day of training with the club.

Micah: Although I'm sure no one believes me when i say that I used to play upfront, Danny was my strike partner at Oldham. He was more than just a friend.

When I was with Oldham, I lived in Leeds. I also lived there when I joined City. I used to spend a lot of time at Danny's place. His dad used to train us when my dad could not, and he had such an amazing family who were so kind to me.

It was even more difficult when he didn’t make any progress. Danny had more technical abilities than I, but his injuries prevented him from improving.

Because we had been so close for so many years, it was terrible to see this happen. As you age, you realize it's part of football, but it was difficult for a young man to find himself in such a situation.

It was very heartbreaking to learn that he was not being kept on by City. It was awkward to be around his house. I wanted to talk football as we had always done and share our memories of the games. But I knew that he wasn't playing due to his injuries. I was on an up curve.

Danny Allen, inset. He was a player for FC United of Manchester from 2007 to 2007, and is now training at his gym.

Danny: Micah was always with me. He had the muscle, I was the one with touch. City was talking about sending me to England for trials, so football was my only passion.

The injuries I sustained were due to growth issues. My left leg is one inch longer than my right, so when I ran, my right leg straightened out and reached for the ground. This eventually wore down the cartilage.

It happened on my first day at City. I was never able to get it under control again. It was not fixed. I had three keyhole surgeries to fix it over the years.

I was constantly injured throughout my time at City, and left the club at 16. After that I was offered a trial at Bolton. I got a hat trick, but they said afterwards that they didn't have enough money to sign me. So that was it. I moved into non-league.

When I was playing football, I was always interested in my health and fitness. That is what drew the interest of me to pursue that career. Because it was affecting the work I do as a personal coach, I quit playing football at 21.

It's something I miss, of course. But I love what I do now. I have my own CrossFit Gym in Saddleworth, which I've been operating for six years. It reminds me a lot of my football days with the people we have here.

Ashley Williams - "He was our Nicky Butt"

Ashley Williams says, "I wasn't selected for City's matchday squad but I did get a squad number 35 in 2006-07 and was on the preseason photo." "I'm the little skinhead fifth from the left on row one."

Williams joined City at the age of 14 and was, along with Micah, part of their team which reached the FA Youth Cup finals in 2006. Micah was also Williams's first housemate. They stayed with a family from Stockport.

Micah: It was a great time living with Ash. He was always trying to get me up. He was a great player and loved to challenge others. I used to play in midfield with him, and we were two rats together. But he was also a good ball handler.

He would smash people and then ping a 40 yard pass. Although he didn't direct in midfield, he had excellent close control and would sweep up. He was a Nicky Butt type of player who was great on the ball and without fuss and was someone I enjoyed playing with.

Ashley: My only complaint with City was how it ended. Stuart Pearce, my manager, told me in March 2007 that I was being fired and that I could find a new club. However, I didn't have an agent or any idea how to go about doing this. I wish there was more support.

I expected that a Football League club would come to my aid, but they didn't. I was at City's first team and quickly moved to the West Cheshire League with my dad's team. I didn't have any club.

I returned to Vauxhall Motors in Conference North after a year and was offered the opportunity to join TNS in the Welsh Premier. However, I was just beginning my apprenticeship as an electrician, so it was not the right time.

At the beginning of 2018, I was part-time playing for Airbus UK. I was injured in a bad tackle and broke my leg in two places. It was an open fracture. Since then, I have not played - it has caused me to miss a lot of work time.

It's strange to see Micah on Match of the Day. We lived together for the last year. In order to be seen as promising football players, we were each taken out of school for an hour every week. Although I was pleased that he did well, it wasn't what I expected.

Karl Moore - "I used to nick His aftershave"

Moore wins a Shelbourne header in 2019. Moore played for six clubs in 11 years of playing in the League of Ireland. He also spent two seasons with Bohemians.

Moore, a Dubliner who joined City at the age of 16, was also a member of their FA Youth Cup Final team. After Ashley left, he moved in with Micah and they lived together for 2 years.

Micah, Karl was always intelligent and always thought about his education. He was a lot smarter than me. I used to nick his aftershave. He caught me once, and he was very upset.

He was a skilled winger and I still remember the amazing goal he scored against Nottingham Forest for his youth team. There were five other men in the field, but it wasn't the right time for him to be offered a City chance.

Karl: Micah was not just aftershave; he used to nick everything, even my boxer shorts.

Last summer, I decided to retire and consider City the wrong club at the right time. Although I didn't play for the first team, I would have had more chances of breaking through if not for the takeovers by Thaksin Shinawatra and again by a new owner in 2008.

There was previously a pathway for youth-team players to the City first team. But, the door was closed for a while.

I was fortunate enough to have a little bit of education before I arrived in City. I had already completed some studies back home, so I took A Levels in maths and accountancy in Manchester.

It was hard at the time, but it turned out to be a good experience. I took some accounting exams at Manchester University and continued with City until 2010. However, by that time I was ready to return home.

After playing in the League of Ireland, I returned to college in Dublin and continued playing. I then worked while playing and have just made it up to being a commercial finance analyst.

I have no regrets about how it turned out in England. I didn't win the big leagues, but I still fell in love with the game. I also enjoy my job so it's been a good mix of the two. I understand that not everyone is as fortunate.

Micah Richards and Danny Allen spoke to Chris Bevan of BBC Sport. Ashley Williams, Karl Moore, and Danny Allen also spoke to Chris Bevan.


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