Welcome back to the City Magazine – it’s been a while!
Some 10 years ago (almost to the day), City’s long-running official Club magazine ceased to be.
Having launched in September 1995, the magazine ran for the next 16 years, charting relegation from the Premier League in its first year, to our rise from the third tier and winning the 2011 FA Cup before the presses stopped rolling.
Though the sales figures were healthy, the magazine’s production halted just as the Club were about to embark on an unforgettable 2011/12 Premier League campaign and that seemed to be that… until now.
Our new-look online digital City Magazine is back and will be available to all our supporters once a month throughout the 2021/22 season, becoming, we hope, essential reading in the process.
Uwe Rosler was the first cover star back in 1995 and in the years after Andy Morrison, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Paul Dickov, Daniel Sturridge, Kevin Keegan, Yaya Toure, Nicolas Anelka, Carlos Tevez, Noel and Liam Gallagher all made the front cover with approximately 192 issues (or thereabouts) produced and an estimated 1.5m copies sold.
But that was then, this is now…
The main difference is the new digital City Mag is FREE for one and all.
Each month we will have exclusive content showcasing first team players, backroom staff, Manchester City’s legion of women stars, EDS and U18s names to look out for and a host of new (and some old) features.
Two of our most popular columnists from the hugely successful digital matchday programme from last season will be onboard in the shape of BBC 6 Music DJ Marc Riley and one of Britain's foremost rock and indie photographers , Kevin Cummins, will continue to mine his incredible archives.
Andy Morrison will preview the matches for the month ahead and we’ll bring you a themed City XI as well as loads of other stuff.
For our September issue we have an interview with our new £100m man Jack Grealish, while Canada star Janine Beckie reveals what it means to be an Olympic gold medallist and Lucy Bronze reveals what it takes to be a winner.
Paul Dickov is our guest columnist this month, while The List gives us a top 5 opening day victories.
The Fantasy Premier League round-up is packed with stats and tips on City players, plus a Celebrity Blue feature, an ‘Introducing…’ interview and plenty more.
We’ll be looking to get you guys involved, too, so if there’s a feature you’d like to suggest or if you have something to say, let us know.
But for now, on with the September issue...
Jack Grealish may be a future heir to the throne, but he is more than happy to be a loyal subject of the man he considers to be king… KDB – as he explains to City Magazine's Rob Pollard…
It was probably the biggest day of Jack Grealish’s professional career, signing for Manchester City, Premier League champions three times in the last four seasons, his ambitions of silverware now looking a distinct possibility.
Yet there were no nerves or uncertainty. He cut a relaxed figure, his humour evident throughout his first-day duties, which involved an intense medical, the contract signing, a tour of the training facilities and his first interview with the Club’s media team. He was charming and easy-going, but with a steely determination. He wants to make this move work and believes he has the ability to be a success.
The 25-year-old arrives from Aston Villa, his boyhood club where he’d spent 19 years. This is his first time entering a new locker room since his loan move to Notts County back in 2013 and it’s one bursting with world-class talent.
"I am still youngish. I am only 25 so I can still learn off these people as well. I can’t wait to play and train and be in and around them and learn off these people."
The challenge clearly excites him. He’s joining arguably the strongest squad in Europe, led by one of the game’s all-time great managers. But in among City galaxy of stars, one name stands above all in Grealish’s eyes.
“I have spoken about [Kevin] De Bruyne a good few times,” he tells City Magazine. “I have always said apart from Ronaldo and Messi I think he is the best in the world.
“He has got absolutely everything.
“People don’t give him credit for how fast he is when he knocks the ball by defenders. His final ball is unbelievable.”
De Bruyne is now considered the finest player in the Premier League. He scooped the PFA Player of the Year award last season for the second successive year, becoming only the third person after Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo to win it back-to-back. He also won the Premier League Player of the Season award and UEFA Midfielder of the Season in 2019-20 and has become one of City’s main leaders off the field.
He provides the blueprint for what a central-midfielder in the modern game should be, and Grealish doesn’t just admire De Bruyne – he has actively used the Belgian’s performances as a yardstick to develop his own game.
“I have always said apart from Ronaldo and Messi I think he is the best in the world."
“The season before last [2019/20], I got six assists and I sat down with the manager and watched clips of Kevin when I was at Villa,” he explains. “I said I want my end ball to be like his. That is something I practiced on and last season I got 10 assists in 27 games, which is a good return.
“That’s what I based it off, the way he plays and the way he always finds that perfect ball. I have played against him a few times and have got his shirt. I cannot wait to play alongside him.”
One look at City’s squad list and the strength in depth is clear. It’s arguably the most talented group of players anywhere in Europe and almost certainly the best in English football. In every position, there’s competition for places.
In that environment, a new player has two options: feel overawed or embrace the challenge and use the quality around you to improve your own game.
Grealish, with his quiet confidence and clear natural talent, is determined to take the latter option.
“That’s something you thrive off,” he says. “I think everyone needs to be kept on their toes, for competition for places. There is so much talent here. I can’t wait to get in amongst it and speak with these guys.
“It is something that I thrive off. I felt like over the summer I had such a good connection with all the England fans. It made me happy to see the support I had."
“I am still youngish. I am only 25 so I can still learn off these people as well. I can’t wait to play and train and be in and around them and learn more. I can’t wait to get started."
Grealish joins City having enjoyed a fine summer at international level.
Part of the England squad that reached the country’s first major final since 1966, he won plaudits across the game for his contribution, which included a game-changing cameo in the famous 2-0 last-16 win over Germany.
There was a clamour for his involvement, with the love and admiration he received bringing fans together, no matter who they supported.
Did the fervour overwhelm him? Not a bit of it.
“I love it!” he says. “It is something that I thrive off. I felt like over the summer I had such a good connection with all the England fans. It made me happy to see the support I had.
“I have already seen the support I’ve had off City fans, so that is really nice. I hope I can have the same connection with them. I think there is only one way I can repay them, that’s to perform, score goals and bring back trophies.”
Former City skipper Andy Morrison assesses our opponents in the coming month and what he expects could happen…
With the expectations of the Club and the standards that we’ve set over the last few years, I think it’s fair to say that City are expected to win every game. There will be games where that might not happen, and on reflection, a point might not seem a bad result, but in my opinion, they are few and far between.
Against title rivals, a draw away from home is not a bad result, because it sets you up nicely for the return fixture, but outside Chelsea, Liverpool and United, you’ve got to be winning the other games. We can paint a competitive picture against teams City should be beating, but that’s not what I’ll be doing in this monthly column.
Tottenham v City, 15 August, 4.30pm
This is our first game of the season, which adds a different dynamic to the clash. We’re away from home against a side who have been in the upper echelons of the Premier League for some time now and they also have a new manager in, so every player will be playing for their position, every player will want to impress and they will be playing in front of a full house for he first time in 18 months.
Despite all that – and the fact that we’re still going to be probably missing five or six players – I think we have to go there and win and reflect the intentions of the Club which, of course, is to retain the title.
It’s not going to be easy and there will be the side aspect of Harry Kane with Pep confirming our interest of the player, so it’s as hard a game to open a season as we could have got, but if we’re going to set our stall out for the rest of the season, we need to go to North London and win.
City v Norwich, 21 August, 3pm
This has to be a home win. It doesn’t matter who we play at the Etihad – top or bottom – every match we play on home soil will be a game we should win. The way we play, especially at home, we can be pretty certain that we will dominate possession an create chances.
This will be Norwich’s first away game since winning promotion, but the difference between the Premier League and the Championship is seismic and with a full house and a fantastic atmosphere, we will expect to dominate this game.
Norwich will pick up points along the way and will look to get as many of them as they can at Carrow Road, but it’s hard for me to see anything other than a home win against the Canaries.
City v Arsenal, 28 August, 12.30pm
Almost every home game I saw last season after Ruben Dias came in, we dominated the stats in terms of possession and chances created. The opportunities we created compared to our opponents almost always are heavily in our favour so it’s all about taking two or three of those chances.
Arsenal are moving in a different direction under Mikel Arteta who is relying more on homegrown talent to take the club forward, though they have brought in one or two new faces and play with a different energy, but I can’t see them coming to the Etihad and creating enough opportunities to outscore us.
Ben White has come in from Brighton for big money and has recently broken into the England squad and will improve their defence, but we should have too much for Arsenal and if we are moving the ball quickly and are ruthless with our finishing, we are hard to stop, so I’m expecting another victory.
Leicester v City, 11 September, 3pm
I think this will follow the pattern of games against Leicester in recent times for this one.
They had an incredible victory at the Etihad last season, one that probably did us more good in the long term because we signed Dias a week later. They are an excellent counter-attacking side with pace in the shape of Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes, and very good technical players such as Youri Tielemans and James Maddison who can break lines very quickly and look to expose the space behind the defence and down the flanks, which is how they hurt us in that loss at the Etihad.
I don’t think they will have changed in any way and we saw again the Community Shield that, despite missing as many as eight key players, we can go toe to toe with them. It’s a game I think we have to go and win and I think the players all buy into that weight of expectation on their shoulders. This is Manchester City and if we win, everyone thought we should, whereas if we draw or lose, there is a major inquest in the media. It comes with the territory with the standards we have set.
So, if we are following the process and even just eight of our players are at the top of their game, it doesn’t matter how the opposition play because it almost impossible to stop us.
Andy was was speaking to David Clayton
From dream debuts to five-goal demolitions, take a look back at five of City’s most memorable recent opening day victories - George Kelsey investigates...
#1: WBA 0-3 City - 2015
The Baggies were beaten in style as Raheem Sterling made his City debut back on the opening day of the 2015-16 campaign.
Smart saves from West Brom stopper Boaz Myhill twice denied the England winger a first goal in sky blue, but his devastating pace and fleet-footed dribbling injected a new-found energy into an already thoroughly convincing display.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men were ahead inside ten minutes when Jesus Navas cut the ball back into the path of Yaya Toure, whose effort through a crowd of bodies ricocheted off David Silva en route to the net.
But there was no need for a deflection when the Ivorian was next presented with a goal-scoring opportunity, as he played a neat one-two with Wilfried Bony before curling exquisitely into the top corner before the half-hour.
Vincent Kompany added a third after the break with a towering header, his first City goal since scoring in our title-clinching victory over West Ham in May 2014, to round off a dream start to the season.
#2: West Ham 0-5 City - 2019
A five-star performance from five-goal City in the capital.
Gabriel Jesus handed Pep Guardiola’s men the lead when he stole in between Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena to cleverly flick Kyle Walker’s low cross in at the near post after 25 minutes.
City had to wait until after the restart to add to the scoreline, with Raheem Sterling doubling our advantage after a typically incisive run and pass from the irrepressible Kevin De Bruyne.
Sterling then looked to have turned provider, laying on for Jesus to tap home a third midway through the second half, but was adjudged to have timed his run in behind a fraction too early by the newly-implemented Video Assistant Referee.
But the England winger wasn’t to be denied by VAR for a second time, latching onto Riyad Mahrez’s lofted pass in behind the Hammers’ defence before delicately chipping the ball over the onrushing Lukasz Fabianski.
It was a goal of supreme quality which, thankfully, wasn’t chalked off following another lengthy VAR review, much to the chagrin of supporters inside the London Stadium.
A two-goal flurry in the final five minutes capped off a near faultless display, with Sergio Aguero lighting the blue touch paper when he tucked home a penalty after Mahrez was felled inside the box.
And the Algerian and Sterling combined once again as the latter completed his hat-trick in stoppage time, finishing at the near-post after feigning to square the ball to Aguero to complete an emphatic opening day win.
#3: City 2-1 Sunderland - 2016
The famous proverb reads that a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step and, for Pep Guardiola, the Catalan’s glorious City reign was launched with victory over Sunderland in 2016.
It was poignant, however, that the new regime was sparked into life by a cornerstone of City’s past success, with Sergio Aguero on target from the spot inside four minutes after Raheem Sterling was sent sprawling.
Despite enjoying large spells of the game, including a staggering 77% total possession, Guardiola’s men were pegged back with 20 to play when former City midfielder Jack Rodwell threaded through Jermaine Defoe for the equaliser.
However, the boss got his reign at the Etihad Stadium off to a winning start thanks to a late winner, created by Jesus Navas’ searching ball in from the right.
The Spaniard picked up play from Bacary Sagna, angling a dangerous ball across the face of the Sunderland goal which, despite his best efforts, was inadvertently headed into the net by the rapidly retreating Paddy McNair.
A hard-fought victory to kickstart a glittering period at City which continues to go from strength to strength.
#4: City 3-0 Watford - 2001
Kevin Keegan’s City stung the Hornets to kick-off his tenure as manager and our promotion-winning campaign with a deserved three points.
Shaun Goater headed home the opener on the hour before Eyal Berkovic, instrumental throughout proceedings, tapped home a second five minutes later after Paulo Wanchope’s initial effort had come crashing back off the Watford bar.
And Stuart Pearce, entering the final year of his decorated professional career, smashed home the game’s final goal on debut with a trademark free-kick as stoppage time approached.
An imperious way to begin an unforgettable campaign, which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.
#5: City 4-0 Swansea - 2011
A debut double from our record goalscorer as City put the Swans to the sword.
Sergio Aguero entered the fray on the hour, replacing Nigel De Jong with Roberto Mancini’s side a goal to the good after Edin Dzeko’s close-range finish had broken Swansea’s resistance in the 57th minute.
And the Argentine took just eight minutes to make his mark, tapping home the first of his 257 goals in City blue from Micah Richards’ cross to double our advantage.
The forward turned provider for David Silva soon after, lobbing the ball over Michel Vorm before squaring from a tight angle for the Spaniard as City began to run riot at the Etihad Stadium.
And Aguero’s dream debut was completed in stoppage time, as he lashed home an unstoppable long-range drive into the bottom corner of the Swansea net to hand Mancini’s side a dominant opening day victory.
A dream curtain-raiser for the Argentine who, nine months before his title-winning strike made his name synonymous with the 2011-12 campaign, grabbed two goals and one assist in his first 35 minutes of English football.
Paul Dickov lifts the lid on the dressing room atmosphere leading up to the opening day, as well as the impact a memorable curtain-raiser had on him during his playing career...
I used to get hammered by my teammates for being so excited about getting back into pre-season.
Don’t get me wrong, the rest in the summer, spending time with the family, going on holidays and so on was great, but I’d get bored after about ten days of finishing the season. I used to look forward to getting back in, seeing the lads and then having that sense of anticipation leading up to the first game.
For people like the Goat (sorry Shaun), pre-season was a vision of hell, and he wasn’t the only one who hated those early weeks of running and fitness work, but I was always super excited as the new campaign approached. In fairness, the earlier pre-season games can be a bit of a drag because you’re not quite up to full fitness, in the back of yours and the manager’s head is that thought that you don’t want to get injured as well. It’s understandable that sometimes you don’t go full pelt from the get-go. But after you get your first few pre-season games in you really start to get excited and then, as the season draws nearer and you start feeling sharp again, that’s when the adrenaline really starts kicking in again.
But I’d like to think I’ve always been quite level headed, both when I was a playing and when I was in the dugout. Obviously if you won it was fantastic but, if you were beaten, it’s important to not get too down about it because you know the games are coming thick and fast. Regardless of the result, afterwards you’re leading into the other games, you can’t change what’s just happened, you just have to look forward to the other games.
That being said, one that really sticks out in my mind is the opening day of the 1998-99 season. I speak to people quite a lot about this, they reminisce about the promotion and obviously the play-off win at Wembley against Gillingham. That was a fantastic occasion, no question, but the other thing about that season that I’ll never forget is the game that kicked it all off; Blackpool at Maine Road.
The lads, especially on the Thursday and Friday leading into the game, were quite apprehensive about what sort of reception we were going to get, how many fans were going to turn up and so on. We’d just dropped down to Division Two which, to be fair, was a crime in itself. On the Saturday morning, I was buzzing to get out there as I normally was on the opening day but in my head I was also still pretty apprehensive about it. The lads were the same, there was just a weird feeling about the whole situation.
But when we walked down the tunnel on that scorching hot day and saw 30,000 fans at Maine Road, those fears were gone in an instant.
Honestly, it’s no exaggeration to say that you could see each of the lads physically growing - we knew that the City fans had our backs and we were determined to repay that faith. It’s one of the moments that really sticks out in my career, not just at Manchester City but on the whole, because the supporters could quite rightly have either not bothered turning up, or battered us for the position that the club were in. We ended up winning the game 3-0, but it could’ve even been five or six.
I bet Pep Guardiola and the players also can’t wait to get going ahead of our season opener against Tottenham.
Obviously, going into the first game of the season again as Premier League champions, they’re going to be there to be shot at as they always are. Everyone will want to beat them and will likely raise their game whenever we’re in town but there’s a real resilience about this team, as we’ve seen time and time again. On the flip side of that, I don’t like talking about it, but they’ll also want to get the memory of the Champions League final out of their system as soon as they possibly can.
Being out in Porto at the time, there was a massive disappointment but also a real determination to put it right going into this season from everybody involved at the Club. I think we’ll see that in both the Premier League and the Champions League, you’ve got to use that disappointment as something to drive you forward. The best way to get over a setback is with an immediate response, and I’m sure that’s what the lads be thinking as they step across that white line on Sunday afternoon.
Paul was speaking to George Kelsey....
Caroline Oatway caught up with Olympic Champion Janine Beckie as our Canada star reflected on a first gold medal, defeating Sweden on penalties in a dramatic and thrilling final...
The first question I have to ask: where are you going to put your gold medal?
“I don’t know! It’s still to be determined! My other one (a bronze from the 2016 Games) is in a safe down in Texas with a friend – but I haven’t seen it for ages and I don’t want that to be the case with this one! I want to have it with me. Right now, it hasn’t left my side!”
Were you able to celebrate with your City teammates at all?
“I’ve had so many messages from the girls and from the staff. It’s so nice to know that they’re proud of me – that they were following from afar. I had a really nice FaceTime with Ellie Roebuck and Alex Greenwood. It was great to share the moment with them. I can’t wait to come back to Manchester and see them, and then hopefully, win some trophies this year!”
Of course, it wasn’t the first time you had taken part in an Olympics but what did you make of the tournament in Tokyo?
“It was amazing. At the end of the day, it was a miracle the Games even happened. I can’t say enough about how amazing it is that they were even able to put the event on – never mind for it to have run so smoothly, They were so prepared.
“It’s an incredible country. I didn’t want to leave – the people were so nice! I was able to see first-hand how emotional the public were to have us there. It would have been amazing to have fans – I felt so sorry for the people of Japan who were not able to be there in person, but I’m so fortunate the Games happened. It was a blessing.
“It’s been an incredible time. I felt like I’d been there forever and I’m so thankful to have been part of it – to say I was an athlete at the Tokyo Games.”
With so many restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it must have been very tough mentally without the opportunity to switch off, explore, How did you cope with that?
“It was really hard. A lot of the time, I had to check in with myself to make sure I was doing what I needed to do to get through the days. For me and for our team, the mentality was all about perspective and it’s a credit to our staff – they did an incredible job preparing us for the worst-case scenarios.
“We knew we were going to be in a bubble and we had to be prepared to be locked down – we weren’t allowed to leave the hotel or go outside and we could only stay on our floor, or visit the floor we were having our team meetings on at specific times.
“We did have roommates, which was great – something we hadn’t experienced for the last year. It was nice to have somebody around but it was weird to share a space with someone again, after being used to being on our own for so long.
“On top of that, you add all of the normal mental stress that comes with a big tournament and that wasn’t something we had experienced since the World Cup, as well as the stresses of a global pandemic!
“It was a lot to handle but I’m really proud of my teammates and staff, and myself, for making I through. It was definitely a big effort from everyone.
“When you think of all the preparation that went in and the fact the Games were delayed by a year with people not seeing each other, it puts everything into perspective.
“This is something that can never be taken away: the first world final that we played in, we won. That’s pretty special!”
Was there a particular game leading up to the final you felt was pivotal in your success?
“Thinking back to our preparation for the first game against Japan, we were so focused on that one game – but the scoreline didn’t tell the story of the match.
“We were quite good, we were well-prepared and missed some big opportunities but Japan are a great team and they came out with a draw. Although it wasn’t detrimental, it wasn’t a great start.
“Then, in game two, we needed a result and we got it. I’d say the game against Team GB was really important for us. It was the first time a lot of different people had game time and we knew we would have to rely on more bodies come the knock-out rounds.
“It was such a strange game – we knew that unless something drastic happened, we could both go through but we had to get the group finished.
“It was a really crazy second half but that game probably flew under the radar.
“Then, in the knock-out stages, we beat the United States, which – let’s face it – had taken long enough! It had been 20 years since we had beaten them, but I speak for the rest of the team when I say: we went into that game absolutely knowing we were going to beat them.
“There was a big mental shift in our team that day. It’s something that will propel us forward for the next time we have to play them.
“Now, we can say: ‘We did it!’ and it’s a result we can look back on and take confidence from for a long time.
“Overall, looking back, we did a really good job of taking each game as it came.”
And you scored two crucial goals on that journey – a brace against Chile in the group stage. There aren’t many people who can say they have scored a goal at the Olympics!
“I feel like I have a strange perspective about scoring because I sit here and wish I’d scored more than I did! It’s always special to score for your country and at an Olympics, it’s extra special.
“I don’t even know how to describe it – it’s a great feeling to have helped your team in that way.
“I’m doing my job when I put the ball in the back of the net for my team and although it’s something I’ve struggled with in the past couple of years, I can walk away with two goals and be proud, although it’s something I want to keep building on.”
There is such a strong mix of youth and experience within the Canada squad. Do you feel that played a part in your success, particularly in the high-pressure moments, such as the penalty shoot-outs?
“The mix of youth and experience definitely played in our favour. Since I’ve been on the team, I’ve had a really interesting mix of older players and really young players.
“I’ve always been in the middle – I’m the only ‘94’ on the team, although there are a bunch of ‘95s.’ I think there are six or seven of us on this roster who played in the Under-20 World Cup.
“Playing for Canada, we’ll always have the foundation of what we’ve built as a culture.
“In this team specifically, Christine Sinclair, Desiree Scott, Sophie Schmidt are women who build Canada Soccer so this medal is 25 years in the making – but the best thing about them is that you can sit in a room with them and never know they have the profiles they do.
“There is so much humility in the group. Christine will look at Julia Grosso, who scored the winning penalty at 20 and not think anything of it because she has such believe in young players and what they can do.
“Christine – the person who changed the women’s game all over the world; the player who has scored more goals than anyone ever – will bring them in and make them feel like they’re really making a big impact on this team, and that’s so special.
“Julia did an interview the other day and the interviewer asked: ‘What was going through your head when you took that penalty?’ and she said: ‘I just thought about what my dad always told me: ‘It’s a hard pass to the corner.’’
“That made me laugh! We build up these moments in our head. As professionals, you practice things and go through processes but when you’re a veteran player, there’s an expectation on you and things become something bigger.
“When you’re young, you can keep things simple: ‘I used to do this with my parents. Just pass the ball in the goal.’ She made it seem so simple, even though she’d just won us a gold medal, and it was really refreshing to hear.
“We’d never had to rely on every person like we did in this tournament. That was a big learning for us and moving forward, that’s something we’ll have to do to compete for number one spot. That’s what it takes to win.”
City stars’ price breakdown
With the start of the new season comes the new Fantasy Premier League.
Participants must create a squad of 15 Premier League stars from a budget of £100m, but are limited to only three players from each respective club.
Given City’s plethora of talent, choosing only three of Pep Guardiola’s men is certainly an unenviable task.
Below you can find some of the key things to look out for as the new season gets underway, including the FPL price of our new No. 10, Jack Grealish.
Price rises for midfield duo...
While our success across the 2020-21 campaign was down to a collective effort, midfield maestros Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden enjoyed standout individual campaigns.
Gundogan was City’s top scorer in all competitions, including a flurry of an incredible 11 goals in 12 Premier League matches from mid-December to mid-February.
The midfielder finished the campaign with a price of £5.5m but, reflecting his phenomenal season for Pep Guardiola’s men, the German now commands a fee of £7.5m.
It’s a similar story for Foden who, fresh off the back of claiming the PFA Young Player of the Year award, has also seen a hike in his FPL value.
The 21-year-old enjoyed his most productive Premier League campaign in 2020-21, grabbing nine goals and five assists, including three strikes in his final four matches.
With that in mind, Foden’s price has increased from £6.1m to £8.0m, to reflect his meteoric rise for Guardiola’s men.
After claiming the most clean sheets in the Premier League for a second successive campaign, Ederson is likely to once again be one of the most popular stoppers in FPL.
The Brazilian is valued at £6.0m for the third successive campaign, with only Liverpool’s Alisson and Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy matching our stopper’s price.
Despite him being a relatively expensive option between the sticks, only Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez picked up more points than Ederson’s 160 in last season’s FPL competition.
On average, the Brazilian has kept just under 18 Premier League clean sheets across his four seasons at City, an astonishing level of consistency that justifies his price tag, and even popped up with an assist in two of those campaigns!
Jack Grealish’s FPL price
It was another standout season for Grealish in 2020-21, as he grabbed six goals and 12 assists to help Aston Villa finish 11th in their second season back in the top flight.
And the England international’s return of 135 FPL points, considering he was ruled out for almost three months towards the end of the campaign, is a hugely impressive feat.
Our new No.10 is available for £8.0m, a £1.0m increase on his initial price at the beginning of last season.
Jack is our fifth most expensive player in the popular game, behind only Gabriel Jesus (£8.5m), Riyad Mahrez (£9.0m), Raheem Sterling (£11.0m) and Kevin De Bruyne (£12.0m), and level with fellow midfielder Phil Foden.
Points mean prizes
The capture of Grealish will unquestionably add a new dimension to Guardiola’s already devastating attacking options at r City. And that fact is reinforced once again by an incredible statistic garnered from last season’s edition of FPL.
Grealish’s arrival means that City now possess six of the 12 highest-scoring midfielders in terms of average points gained per match (ppm), with the 25-year-old’s return of 5.2 ppm the eighth-highest of anyone in his position.
He joins the esteemed company of Phil Foden (4.8ppm), Raheem Sterling (5.0ppm), Riyad Mahrez (5.4ppm), Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne (both 5.6ppm) on that list.
With players only able to select three stars from each Premier League side, our new No.10’s arrival has left FPL managers with a serious conundrum on their hands.
De Bruyne hitting new heights
It comes as no surprise that Kevin De Bruyne is one of the most regularly sought after players in FPL.
The PFA Players’ Player of the Year has grabbed an incredible 32 assists in the past two campaigns and, across the 2020-21 season, his average of 5.6ppm was the best of any midfielder or attacker at the Club.
This time round, our brilliant Belgian has been handed an opening value of £12.0m, his highest ever initial price.
Indeed, only Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (£12.5m) commands a higher fee than De Bruyne but, given our midfielder’s consistently clinical output, his value is unlikely to deter most from securing his services in their team.
When it comes to coaching and Ben Wilkinson, you could say it runs in the blood for the newly appointed City Under-18s head coach as Neil Leigh discovers...
Ben Wilkinson took up the reigns of his new role at the CFA earlier this summer after successful spells as both our Under-23 assistant lead coach and head coach of our Under-16s.
That followed an instructive seven-year stay at Sheffield Wednesday where he undertook a number of key positions after a playing career that saw him operate for several non-League clubs.
But Ben was also lucky enough to have enjoyed a formative top class football education thanks to the input of his Dad.
And no ordinary Dad at that.
Howard Wilkinson enjoyed a stellar near 30-year managerial career over the course of which he was twice asked to operate as England caretaker manager and established himself as one of English football’s top operators and shrewdest minds.
He enjoyed great success in a five-season spell in charge at Sheffield Wednesday but it was for his eight years at the helm with Leeds United between 1988 and 1996 that he is best remembered.
Wilkinson senior was the man who masterminded Leeds’ famous 1991/92 Division One title triumph when – in the last season before the creation of the Premier League – the Elland Road side famously overhauling Manchester United in a dramatic run-in to be crowned English champions.
Howard is still actively involved in the game today through his crucial role as chairman of the League Manager’s Association.
Intriguingly though, rather than football being the current bedrock of interest between father and son, Ben says that it was more during his formative years that both his interest in the game and his Dad’s pivotal role in football really took centre stage.
“It’s a strange one really," Ben reflects. "It’s because of Dad's career that I fell in love with football, and I was surrounded by the sport at such an early age.
“But we don’t speak about it as much as you would really think. Nowadays, I speak to him to about more about general stuff than I do about specifics about my day-to-day work.
“But I was very, very fortunate to grow up in the environment I did.
“I was privileged to see so many things at close quarters that invariably lit my fire and made me think (that football) may be something I wanted to do in the future."
“So, I’d say his biggest influence on me was more from a younger age. Now at this stage we don’t really speak about it that much. It’s more like he’s just my Dad!
“But obviously it’s great to know that if I do need any advice, he’s always there. The problem is that if I ask him for any advice, it’s probably going to be right!”
However, though coaching is woven into the Wilkinson family DNA, Ben has also proved he is very much his own man.
He gained plaudits for the work he undertook during his seven plus years at Hillsborough where was Under-16s lead coach and Professional Development Phase manager.
And that sharp-eyed insight, knowledge and coaching acumen has since underpinned his work during the past three years at City, firstly with our Under-23s and more latterly with our Under-16s.
Now, Ben has been handed the challenge of overseeing our talented Under-18s squad with City seeking to build on last season’s superb twin haul of the Premier League Under-18 North and national titles.
Wilkinson will be working with a group that – bar a few individuals – will be markedly different from last season’s cohort.
But though the names may change, he says the underlying principles and philosophy that underpinned our achievements will remain.
“There was some great work last year,” Ben reflected. “The teams played some exceptional football, and we had some top players. You put all those things together and it’s a real recipe for success.
“And though Carlos (former Under-18 head coach Carlos Vicens) has obviously moved to his new role, we’ve still got members of staff that were part of the group last year and who have a lot of experience with the Under-18s and for me it’s really helpful to lean on those people.
“For me I’m approaching 80 per cent of the players I had last year (at Under-16 level) so the message from me to them won’t change – there will be small individual tweaks but nothing too glaring.”
And according to Wilkinson that overarching commitment to a cultured, possession-based brand of attacking football that is embedded within the CFA fabric will also help him quickly attune to the new role.
Indeed, in many ways you could say it’s a case of how familiarity breeds content.
“We can all be very proud of the fact that there is a very strong identity running through all the teams in the Academy,” Wilkinson asserts.
“When you come and watch any of the City teams play; there is a real strong link through all the different age groups which is testament to the good work that has gone on for a long period of time here.
“It is a very complex world we are operating in, and for this team I have been on both sides of the coin.
“I have seen it as assistant Under-23s coach and as Under-16s coach.
“It’s understanding that no-one is more important than anyone else and also trying to look after all the different teams in the Academy.
“That journey I have been on has probably allowed me to do that in a better way than if I had just come into the role.
“Now it’s time for new blood as our team this year will be almost unrecognisable from last year – maybe one or two players will stay, the rest have all moved up and it’s about trying to take that success on.
“It’s a very exciting challenge and one I am really looking forward to.”
BBC 6 Music DJ Marc Riley continues to track down the great and the good in his Mixed Grill series...
There are some ex MCFC players whose legacy and legend weighs so heavily that it almost seems pointless writing up a background story for them. But I can try.
Joe Corrigan is the man mountain who played for Manchester City between 1966 and 1983 before he was sold to Seattle Sounders for £30,000.
He joined the Blues in 1966 and found himself between the sticks for his City debut in a League Cup match against Blackpool a year later. He established his place in the first team in 1969 and went on to become one of the club's true greats.
In the May of 1976 he also found himself the proud recipient of his first England cap…one of nine.
Joe appeared for City in a total of 592 games for City. A number beaten only by Alan Oakes. To this day Joe has made more appearances in nets for our club than any other ‘keeper.
On a personal note I recently had a ‘significant birthday’ and was delighted to open one present gifted to me which was a glorious signed photo of Joe pulling off what looks like an award winning save.
Over to Joe!
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF GOING TO A FOOTBALL MATCH?
My earliest memory of going to a football match was when my Uncle Thomas and Uncle Brian took me to Old Trafford when I was about 10 to watch United reserves and after that I always wanted to become a professional player.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST PROFESSIONAL GAME YOU PLAYED - AND WHAT SCORE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF OUT OF 10?
My first pro game was against Blackpool in the League Cup at Maine Road, drawing 1-1, the goal against us was my fault but the reaction of encouragement from the senior players gave me so much confidence, I got through the experience. Mark out of 10? 6.5.
WHAT IS THE MOST PECULIAR OR MEMORABLE THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO YOU AT A MATCH?
The most memorable experience was when we were getting off the coach inside Wembley at the 1970 League Cup final when Malcolm Allison told me to walk up to the pitch, on my own. It felt like you walked through a barrier of emotion, at the top of the tunnel and I then went and stood on the centre spot and took the whole experience in. Fantastic experience for a young player to realise the significance of the occasion and to soak up the atmosphere.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME AND TAKE YOURSELF OUT OF A TEAM FOR ONE MATCH - WHAT MATCH WOULD THAT BE - AND WHY?
It would be the 1970 West Ham United game at Maine Road. We lost 5-2, Jimmy Greaves scoring two goals on his debut for the Hammers. During the game I kicked a ball straight to Ronnie Boyce on the halfway line who volleyed it straight back into an empty net, as I had turned my back on play and then saw it sail straight past me into the net. The best part of the game was after, when Bert Trautmann, who was at the game, spoke to me and his words lasted with me until I retired. Never dwell on mistakes, you can never change that moment, forget it and look forwards and learn from what happened and try not to make the same mistake again.
WHICH TEAM WERE YOUR LEAST FAVOURITE OPPONENTS - AND WHY?
I didn't like playing against Wolves at Molineux... strange.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST FAVOURITE MAN CITY TERRACE SONG OR CHANT - AND WHY?
'England, England's No.1, England's No. 1!' - but I always remember The Kop singing it when we played Liverpool in the 1981/82 season when we won 3-1 at Anfield.
DID YOU HAVE ANY PRE-MATCH RITUALS OR SUPERSTITIONS?
I was very superstitious, wore the same clothes for match days for the whole season when changing took them off in the same order every match plus a sprig of heather from Big Helen before every match.
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE CITY GOAL YOU HAVE WITNESSED?
Quite a few to remember but one from Dave Watson, playing against Ipswich, a bullet header from just inside the box from a corner, best header I have seen, but also the Steve McKenzie goal in the 1981 Centenary FA Cup Final replay v Spurs, volley from outside the box - best goal of the game but we didn't win so Ricky Villa's got all the plaudits.
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE GOAL YOU HAVE PREVENTED?
A save from Allan Clarke's header v Leeds United at Eland Road 1978/9 ? See it on, YouTube.
IF YOU COULD INVITE ANY MAN CITY PLAYER - PRESENT OR PAST - TO YOURS FOR TEA AND BISCUITS - WHO WOULD IT BE - AND WHY?
I always wondered why Joe Hart didn't go on and beat my 602 games for City, he had the world at his feet and was a popular and important member of a great squad. Then after the game against Iceland in the Euro Championships, things seemed to go badly fro him. People say it was because he didn't use the ball well in playing from the back, but you have to have players who want the ball, making angles but most times all Joe could see was the number on the back of players shirts. I would love to have known his thoughts but he was a great keeper when he was at City and I think he will be for Celtic.
HAVE YOU EVER SHED A TEAR - OF JOY - OR PAIN - AT A CITY MATCH?
The pain of losing the 1981 FA Cup final, we lost it on the Saturday, in my opinion. The FA Cup replay on a THURSDAY at Wembley, after England v Brazil was played at Wembley on the Wednesday, putting tickets on open sale in London on the Sunday - typical FA thinking at the time!
HAS IT EVER COME TO FISTICUFFS BETWEEN YOU AND AN OPPOSING PLAYER
Against Joe Jordan, Leeds Utd v Man City, handbags at 10 paces. Would have both been sent off in today's environment. Good friends off the pitch as most players were in those days
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT MAINE ROAD?
The Kippax, great supporters and most have followed the team through thick and thin and are now reaping the rewards. Let's hope that the jealousy of other teams in the Premier League doesn't spoil it.
WHO DO YOU THINK WOULD WIN IN AN ARM WRESTLING MATCH…PHIL FODEN OR STEPHEN IRELAND?
Phil Foden, because of his focus and his willingness to go the extra mile to win.
IF YOU COULD PICK ONE CITY PLAYER (PAST OR PRESENT) TO BE ON YOUR PUB QUIZ TEAM - WHO WOULD IT BE - AND WHY?
Joe Royle, great player, great friend and knows more about modern day music than anyone I know.
John Edwards explores the roles and responsibilities of City’s backroom staff and how they contribute to our teams’ success...
Alan Mahon has been a mainstay of Manchester City’s women’s first team success over the past seven years.
Initially appointed as Assistant Coach, the former Republic of Ireland international was promoted to Assistant Manager in 2018 and has been an important and valued member of both Nick Cushing and Gareth Taylor’s coaching set-ups.
It is a relatively small set-up.
Taylor can count on Mahon, Goalkeeping Coach Chris Williams and Performance Analysts Jermaine Lopia and Roya Arabshahi to provide tactical and technical coaching support, in addition to the sports science and medical staff.
Mahon’s remit, therefore, is particularly wide-ranging, in a position where a one size fits all job description couldn’t be less appropriate.
Ask 100 No.2’s to explain what they do and you will likely get 100 different answers, with managers’ expectations, as well as the coaching structure, meaning an assistant’s responsibilities will vary from club to club.
“My role is to make sure the gaffer is supported throughout,”
But for Mahon, the primary aim is quite simple, despite the job being anything but.
“My role is to make sure the gaffer is supported throughout,” he tells City Magazine.
“I’m the go-between to help manage the load he may have. It’s been interesting; fantastic for me personally.”
Mahon is involved in everything from coaching and recruitment, to the Girls Academy.
He has first-hand experience of the demands Taylor faces, having temporarily taken charge of the team following Nick Cushing’s departure in February 2020, but the 43-year-old never considered applying for the role on a full-time basis.
Instead, he is content to influence matters from behind-the-scenes.
“I’m the point person, making sure everything is ticking over,” he explains.
“A lot of people run things past me – equipment, physio, technical and tactical stuff – and sometimes, I’m just an ear to speak to. I know the girls well and I don’t mind having a chat."
“A lot of stuff comes through me: helping with planning for the training sessions, helping with the management of players, making sure everything is alright.
“I lead on recruitment and I’m responsible for the correspondence with players and agents.
“I also help young players who are leaving the club to find new clubs, ensuring they have a pathway to continue their future careers and football education, which in turn helps to grow the game.
“But first and foremost, it’s about assisting with the training sessions and what they look like.
“I take the sessions – things like set-pieces - make sure the equipment is out, liaise with certain departments, find out which players are available and feed back to the manager.
“I position myself as a point person for lots of people and I don’t mind helping out.
“Sometimes, they just want extra coaching. I do a lot of one-to-one sessions after training to help players with individual stuff."
“Sometimes, you can pick up on body language or maybe they’re not playing as many games as they would like, there may be issues at home, or they just want technical or tactical advice.
“Sometimes, they just want extra coaching. I do a lot of one-to-one sessions after training to help players with individual stuff.
“It can be full on but it’s a fantastic place and I’m involved with an unbelievable group of girls.”
Whilst Mahon has significant coaching responsibility, Taylor takes the lead tactically, though he is always keen to hear the thoughts of his assistant.
The pair have formed a good relationship since the former City striker took charge at the beginning of last season, landing their first trophy together three months into the campaign, when we won the delayed 2020 Women’s FA Cup.
It has been a positive experience for Mahon, who has learnt a lot from Taylor during the hours spent on the training pitch.
“It’s been really good for me to see the way Gareth coaches and it’s been really good to support him,” he adds.
“I’ve known Gareth for a long time. As a player, I had many a battle with him over the years at various clubs and I’d watched him coach from afar.
“He’s always commanded respect on and off the pitch. He’s a leader and I always think you can normally tell a manager by how the players speak about him.
“I have a relationship with some of the Under-18s and they all spoke highly of him – and to be honest, it’s hard to have that level of rapport with players when you’re the one in change of picking the team!
“Having watched him over the past five or six years, you get to know someone and their coaching ways.
“We spoke a lot. Of course, he wanted to know about my experience and I have a good knowledge of the women’s game. He could lean on me to gain that experience and vice versa with the coaching side.
“I felt he was the perfect candidate for the job.”
“I am literally over the Blue Moon,” says Cel Spellman.
Nestled in a quiet room at the City Football Academy, the 25-year-old is preparing for his second season in his dream job as the presenter of Manchester City’s Matchday Live show.
And his reaction to being asked how it feels to have landed such a gig highlights why the actor whose body of work includes the award-winning Cold Feet and Waterloo Road, considers his latest role to be extra special.
Spellman, who also starred in Netflix’s mystery thriller White Lines, is a lifelong City fan from a family for whom following the Club is something of a religion.
He has his grandad to thank for that, who opted for the blue half of Manchester when he came over from Ireland and by the time his grandson was born in August 1995, supporting anyone else was out of the question.
“I didn’t really have a choice because all my family are Blues,” Cel tells City Magazine.
“When I was born, I think the first thing I put on was some sort of City baby hat.
“I’ve had a season ticket since I was a kid. Where it says ‘season ticket holder since…’ on your card, I think mine says 1998 or 1999, so I will have been going since I was around four.
“The early 2000s was when I first started remembering games, watching the likes of Paul Dickov and Danny Tiatto.
“That was my introduction and I’ve never looked back.”
“I’ve loved the club and grown up going to see them week in week out since I was four or five and then there is what it means to my family. City is everything to us. It is a bit like a religion in a way."
A member of the Junior Blues, the standout memory of Spellman’s early City fandom was being a mascot in an away game at Stockport County, which is immortalised in the family photo album with a photo of him alongside George Weah.
Shaun Goater, who he has the honour of sitting alongside on a regular basis for Matchday Live, was his childhood hero, whilst David Silva is to him what Colin Bell was to his grandad – the greatest player he has seen play for City.
Among the treasure trove of sky blue memories there is even a brief, but fondly remembered moment when he got to don the kit and emulate his heroes.
“I went on trial as a 10-year-old and played in a summer tournament for them, which was a dream because you got the full kit,” he recalls.
“I did always love football, but I think I always loved drama that little bit more.
“I went to Sylvia Young Theatre School at 11. They didn’t do sports, so it was a case of which one I preferred and because I’d been acting since I was seven, that was the dream.
“I did always want to be a footballer and play for City, but drama took me down that path.”
What the aspiring actor didn’t know then, was that his TV career would one day allow him to fulfil his childhood dream of performing alongside the players he grew up idolising.
It was in June 2020, in a world turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, that City launched We’re Not Really Here – the precursor to Matchday Live – offering fans watching from home a City-centric option to their pre-match build-up, half-time and full-time analysis.
In another life, Cel would have been one of the supporters tuning in.
Instead, he has become the popular face of the programme, working alongside and becoming friends with the likes of Goater, Paul Dickov and Nedum Onuoha.
“I still can’t quite believe it now, even going into a second season,” he explains.
“I get a bit speechless because it is a total dream come true. Acting aside, if you asked me what my dream job would be, it would be this.
“I’ve loved the club and grown up going to see them week in week out since I was four or five and then there is what it means to my family. City is everything to us. It is a bit like a religion in a way.
“I just keep counting my lucky stars and I am forever saying thank you to the club and the people who gave me the chance to do it. It really does mean everything. It is a dream come true.
“I love every second of it. I want to do the club proud, the show proud, but also the fans proud, because I feel like there is a bit of me that is them. That’s how I see myself.
“I am fortunate enough to do my presenting, but I am sat there as a fan and I hope that comes across in the show. I try to ask what they would ask if they were sat in the same chair.
“When I got offered the job, I said I am literally over the Blue Moon and probably will be forever.”
Cel was talking to John Edwards
Photographing Jack Grealish and why does he have my credit card?
Looking back over the archive, it seemed prescient to feature a session I shot with Jack Grealish now that’s he’s taken over Sergio’s iconic number 10 shirt. We ran it against Villa last season but thought it worth another airing now he's our player.
In 2016 I was commissioned to photograph Aston Villa, for all their stock shots for the season. It’s difficult to get anything out of a shoot like this for myself, like a portfolio portrait. Everything is conveyor belt- choreographed, and the players want it to be over as quickly as possible.
Backgrounds are neutral to make it easy for the design team to cut players out and to place them in groups of three. Most clubs have an agreement with sponsorship partners that three players are used when promoting a brand.
The player stands there for a few full-length portraits to show off the kit, then they point in different directions and hold blank cards so as ads can be dropped in place and so on. They invariably just do whatever they’re asked to do, then it’s the next player’s turn to do a range of similar shots. Nobody messes around, because they just want to go home.
For me, it’s more exhausting than working with a band because it’s relentless.
A band might turn up 12 hours late, but at least they enjoy being photographed. Not many footballers do.
I wanted to try to get a few photos of Grealish that I could maybe keep in my archive too. I took a photo of his legs because he has the unique short sock over short shin pad trademark look that everyone was commenting on at the time - and it’s so obviously him. I also managed to get a portrait for myself, Villa mainly wanted full length shots.
Then I had to do a shot of him holding a credit card for a credit card partnership deal Villa had. Except the card wasn’t yet available and nobody else had any other card with them. The new one could be stripped into the photo later, but he had to be holding a card in the shot. Consequently I had to get one out of my wallet and pass it to him - reluctantly - well, you never know with Brummies do you!
Fair play to young Jack, he did give it back to me later, but I quickly checked with my bank that I hadn’t just paid for a new Aston Martin for him …
Anyway, Villa were a very decent group of players to work with, and I wish them well for the season - except when they play us, obviously. But with Jack now playing for us, it might have a bit more needle than it normally would. And Jack’s not a bad player either, is he? – although I didn’t think he’d turn out to be our record signing back then.
Anyway, if he needs me to look after his credit card on his home debut, I’m happy to return the favour.
Each month we’ll put together a themed City XI made up of players who fit the specific criteria. We’ll kick-off with a mixture of pace and, let’s say, players who didn’t (or don’t) shirk from a tackle…decipher which asset each player brings to this team from the key below…
Keeper: Tony Coton
(Terrific goalkeeper and not somebody you’d want to pick an argument with. He was that tough he even had a perm and moustache at the same time and got away with it)
Right-back: Kyle Walker
(So fast, you’d have fancied him to come home with a medal from the Tokyo Olympics in the 100m or 200m sprints)
Centre-back: Andy Morrison
(More solid than the Rock of Gibraltar, Andy Morrison caused more opposition strikers to pick up a mystery knock in training on the days leading up to a game against City than any before him)
Centre-back: Keith Curle
(The elegant and speedy centre-back could be both fast and furious – few players beat him for pace and physically, even fewer got the better of him)
Left-back: Terry Phelan
(Rapid defender who would have complimented Kyle Walker perfectly – as the song went, ‘We’ve got that Terry Phelan and he’s fast, fast, fast…)
Left midfield: Ian Brightwell
(Son of Olympic athletes Anne Packer and Robbie Brightwell, Ian had pace and an engine that never ran out of fuel)
Central midfield: Mike Doyle
(Legendary former defender/midfielder, Tommy Doyle’s granddad was not one to be messed with – played with his heart on his sleeve, fair but full-bloodied)
Central midfield: Gerry Gow
(Scottish midfield general who ate raw meat for his pre-match meal before setting off to hunt opposition victims – tough as old boots, once tackled, you stayed tackled)
Right midfield: Shaun Wright-Phillips
(Rapid in full flight, Wrighty left many a full-back tackling air and chasing shadows own the flanks during his time with City)
Striker: Carlos Tevez
(Controlled aggression – Carlos had it in abundance. Never tackled late or left a boot in – just a nightmare for defenders because he never gave up)
Striker: David White
(Probably the fastest forward ever to play for Manchester City. White was probably incorrectly flagged offside more than any other player because of his lightning pace.)
Joe Corrigan, Nedum Onuoha, Paul Power, Dennis Tueart, Micah Richards, Stuart Pearce, Paul Dickov
Caroline Oatway catches up with our much-decorated star...
What does it take to be ‘The Best?’
It’s a question posed by all who recognise greatness – those who stand in awe of accomplishment and appreciate the strength and sacrifices made to reach such levels of stardom.
This summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo have shone the spotlight on the world’s greatest athletes, celebrating the outstanding achievements of sportsmen and women from across the globe in 33 different sports.
Of those sports, women’s football was once again contested with Janine Beckie’s Canada clinching the gold medal for the first time.
With Team Great Britain fielding a squad for just the second time, City boasted an astonishing 12 representatives in Japan – the most from any Club.
Of those 12 stars, FIFA Women’s Player of the Year and three-time Champions League winner Lucy Bronze competed in her first Olympic Games – a dream at age 29, she declared.
Bronze is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the world – admired for her strength, speed and elite winning mentality.
Marauding down the right flank, she played a pivotal role in City’s triple trophy success in her first stint with the Club between 2014 and 2017, clinching the FA Women’s Super League title, FA Cup and Continental Cup – scoring in both finals of our cup double.
Upon re-joining the Club in September 2020, following a phenomenal move to European heavyweights Lyon, where her stock rose even higher, the right-back asserted she felt there was still more to come, despite having lifted every domestic trophy available in England and France, and bagging a hat-trick of Champions League triumphs.
While she agreed she had added plenty of new strings to her bow, particularly on the technical side, she was eager to ‘hone in on’ the attributes that had stood her out from the crowd during her first spell in sky blue – her physicality and fitness – and believed the stern competition of the English league provided the perfect opportunity to ‘add more levels to her game.’
"I’ve probably had to adapt more than other people to fit into the playing style."
Her transition back into the WSL did not prove as smooth as she – and many others – had anticipated. With a new manager, new teammates, new style and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and unusual experience of playing in empty stadiums, City struggled to adapt in the opening months of the 2019/20 campaign – a slow start ultimately costing Gareth Taylor’s side what would have been a second league title.
It was a testing period for all and while many had expected Bronze to simply pick up where she had left off three years prior, it was a real challenge, as she admits she had to ‘adapt more than anyone else’ to Taylor’s new philosophy.
A key factor of the new style: the ability to build from the back, showing composure, patience and effective decision-making in carving attacks from the backline with attacking outlets reserved for the central midfielders and attacking trident.
England’s 2015 World Cup star Bronze was used to having a licence to roam rampaging runs down the wing or even the centre, dribbling past players with effortless pace and close control, carving chances with pinpoint deliveries and impressive vision. Defensively, her strength and speed served her well.
Under Taylor’s stewardship, she has had to employ a more cautious and logical approach – one that took a while to adjust to, but one she can appreciate the benefits of.
“I’ve probably had to adapt more than other people to fit into the playing style,” she reflected, “especially with a lot of new players around me being new as well – we had to learn each other’s game.
“Normally, I was used to having full freedom here, there and everywhere – Gaz is a bit more disciplined, more reserved in the way he wants to play.
“On an individual level, it’s been more of a mental game coming back to England – learning a new system, dealing with injuries, things like that.
“I’ve learned lot about myself in that respect – more so than on the pitch and physically.
“Patience is a big thing. We had a lot of new players, a new system, a new manager – you have to be patient because these things can take a lot of time to work on."
“Sometimes, two players play together and no matter how hard they work, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, you put two players together who have never played together before and it looks like they’ve played their whole lives together.
“Look at the men’s first team with Ruben Dias and John Stones. It looks like they’ve been playing at centre-half together for their entire lives!
“Sometimes, these things take a long time; sometimes, it’s quick. To have had so many other things going on, it was never going to be quick that everything just fell into place.
“There were some things we definitely needed to work on but you can see when we play well and things gel together, it looks really good – we play really good football and we win games.
“We were still working out how to get best out of all of our players in our system.”
As the season progressed and City grew familiar with each other and the new system, the Taylor train clicked into gear. FA Cup success in early November sparked an upturn in fortunes and the squad embarked on a record winning run to take the league title race to the final day.
Sadly, Bronze was unable to replicate her Champions League success at the first attempt back on home soil, as City fell to defeat against eventual winners Barcelona in the quarter-finals. A 3-0 reverse in the first leg gave Taylor’s side a mountain to climb but although it would not prove enough to progress, a spirited display in the return leg at the Academy Stadium saw City inflict a rare defeat on the Primera División Champions.
Again, when Bronze put pen to paper on her return to Manchester, she spoke of the importance of instilling belief into title-chasing City – a trait evident in that particular game, which issued a statement of our credentials and sparked plenty of hope for the coming campaign.
“There’s no excuse now,” she stated. “As a team, we now know what it takes to be at the top level – the fine lines we talk about and being on it every single game.
“Playing for a team like City, wanting to win trophies, it’s inevitable that every team who plays against you plays like they’re playing in a Cup Final. You have to be at the top of your game every “single day.
“That’s something I learned in my career anyway but it’s more new to this City team right now and something we’ve been working on. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves this year.
“Everybody has had those experiences and felt that level of what it takes to be at the top – to be the best team in England or in Europe.
“We all expected and hoped for more but we weren’t a million miles away from Chelsea. The results at the start of the season were the ones that held us back.
“Equally, in the Champions League, a little bit of inexperience showed but we beat Barca in the second game and showed our quality by going toe-to-toe with them.
“We still had success, winning the FA Cup early on and we showed we can be a top team. We have to make sure we’re consistent throughout the season and I know we can be that by believing in ourselves."
“The players have believed. Being 3-0 down to Barca, the way we attacked in that second game showed we had a lot of belief in ourselves, each player and each other.
“A lot of people or teams would have given up the fight but we came out all guns blazing against one of the best teams in Europe. Even though they were a few goals up, we kept fighting to the end.
“That was the game which probably showed what we’re capable of – that we can beat these top teams and believe in ourselves.
“You have to go through those moments to realise that. That’s just experience and again, there was a lot of rebuilding, a lot of change, a lot of things happening.
“Another time, things could have gone in our favour – we could be sat here with the FA Cup, a league trophy and a place in the Champions League Final… but these are the fine margins we need to look to improve on next year.”