The Head of City’s Academy, Mark Allen, reflects on a magnificent season but is determined to make next year even better...
In the past 12 months, City’s youth sides have gathered numerous cups and national titles in what has been perhaps the most successful year yet for the Academy.
With the bar raised yet again, Allen is now looking to top those achievements by ensuring the various age groups come back stronger and more determined to top their collective successes.
“It has been an outstanding season right across the Academy,” said Allen.
“It all started with the under-12s who won their National Championship and were then selected by the Premier League to go and represent the UK in the Belgium Truce Tournament just before Christmas. They gave a fantastic account of themselves both on and off the pitch and really put us on the map for the season.
“That was quickly followed by the under-13s who got to the national final and unfortunately lost theirs on penalties.
“The u-14s won their title convincingly and the under-15s went to Bulgaria and won a tournament and the under-11s beat Ajax, Cardiff, Arsenal, Fulham and then Chelsea to claim another trophy - it’s been an absolutely fantastic year.”
The achievements of City’s stylish under-18s have been well-documented, as a young side displaying attacking vibrancy and tactical nous stormed to the Northern Division Premier League title.
A second half comeback in the play-off semi-final against West Ham earned the chance to become National Champions, and although Jason Wilcox’s men lost by the narrowest of margins at Goodison Park, Allen was delighted with the team’s overall progress.
“The Under-18s winning the league was a great reward and a bit of justice for how well I think the team has played this year, “he said.
“But I think the most significant highlight was listening to one of our under-11s stand up and speak in in front of a packed audience in Belgium when we were paying tribute to people who lost their lives in WWII. It was a fantastic moment to see how developed and advanced our under-11s are.”
Allen is passionate about developing strong characters throughout the Academy, believing that attitude and personality is an essential part of the make-up of a professional footballer.
While the under-18s did enjoy an outstanding season, he is quick to point to particular moments when the boy Blues showed the mental capabilities to respond to difficult challenges.
During the regular league season, Wilcox’s charges were 2-1 down to Liverpool in the 90th minute when two extra time goals from Angelino and Jorge Intima earned a crucial three points from what appeared a losing situation.
More recently, mere days after suffering the disappointment of a play-off final loss to Everton, a selection of the under-18s travelled across the world to finish the season as Hong Kong Sevens Champions – winning the tournament as the youngest team in the competition.
“The players were desperately disappointed to lose to Everton but were determined to end the season on a winning note,” said Allen. “I think it speaks volumes in terms of the characters we are building and the mental resilience which is going to be required at the next level.”
City’s ground-breaking partnership with St Bede’s is also beginning to bear fruit, as youngsters are given the chance to benefit from daily football training alongside full-time education.
“The St Bede’s group continues to develop and the programme is as strong as ever. It gives us extra contact time but what it really provides for them is a really balanced programme of education and football, which we think is important.
“It sets the trend of being an academy that thinks holistically about everything in terms of education as well as football.”
Excellence at Club level has been matched by a record-breaking achievement at international level, when City became the first club to ever see seven boys capped at England under-16 level in a single season.
Cameron McCulloch, Joshua Murray, Elan Assiana, Sadou Diallo, Will Patching, Cameron Humphries and Lukas Nmecha created history by all featuring for England this term.
Humphries, who also represented England at under-17 level in the Nordic Tournament, was afforded the ultimate honour when he was selected to captain his country in a Victory Shield clash against Scotland.
“We were immensely proud that we were the club that broke that record and it is clear recognition that we are producing talent and we are producing British talent,” Allen declared.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the pride in playing for your country and we are very supportive of all our boys whatever nationality they are.
“But I think it resonates a little bit more when they are representing the home countries because they are our boys that we have put through the system from a very young age.
“Sometimes we can get a lot of press about where we bring players in from, but when you look closely a significant number of our players have been here since 8 or 9 years old.
“That says something about the programme and it says something about the person in terms of their commitment and their affinity to Manchester City.”
But while Allen is justifiably proud of the many milestones the youth system has reached in the 2013-14 campaign, he is keen to emphasise that the whole Academy remains united in seeking increasingly higher standards and there is a ravenous hunger to ensure continuous progress.
He said: “So much has happened in this one year, but now we draw the line and aim to be even better next year. That’s the spirit of the academy and what drives us, we don’t rest on our laurels and we know we can be even better and I think that’s the aspirations of every single person here.
“This year was fantastic, let’s make next year even better.”
Allen looks ahead to next year’s challenges in the second part of this interview to be published on Wednesday.