EDS & Academy

Big interview: Marwood explains academy philosophy

YOUNG BLOOD: Brian Marwood has provided an insight into the Club's approach to youth development.
Unsurprisingly, development is a word used repeatedly by Brian Marwood when discussing the aims and philosophy of the City Football Group’s academies.

What is fascinating is how the boss of City Football Services judges the success of that development. Hint: the answer does not always lie in the win and loss columns of the youth teams.

Now Managing Director of CFS, things have changed considerably in the nine years since Marwood's arrival.

He has been at the forefront of the City Football Group's growth and has overseen the ongoing progression of its youth development.

The current approach to the talent honing their skills at the City Football Academy began in earnest in 2010, laid out in a presentation to the Club’s hierarchy that included a goal from a 10-year-old Phil Foden.

Fast forward seven years and the Stockport-born playmaker is training with Pep Guardiola’s first team.

And that is why Marwood will tell you youth development cannot just be about results.

“Winning is getting the boys into the first team squad, whether that’s in Manchester, New York, Melbourne, Girona or Yokohama” he explains. “That’s the ideal.

“If we can’t do that, it’s to give them careers in the game at the appropriate level for their ability.

“We have many clubs in the City Football Group now, so there is a pathway for all our young players, which we feel is quite unique because most coming through the academy system will generally only have the outcome of the club they’re at.

“Our model gives opportunities elsewhere.”

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To find their appropriate level, young players need to be moved out of their comfort zone, asserts the man who turned out for Arsenal, Hull and both Sheffield clubs during his playing career.

Such is the talent in the Academy, finding that limit can prove challenging.

City U18s, for example, sit unbeaten at the top of the U18 Premier League, despite a squad comprised of first year scholars (U17s) and schoolboys.

It is the age range just beyond that, between 18 and 22, that has been identified as crucial in development terms and seen as the vital last step before first team football.

That’s why you’ll find more than 30 Blues on loan and why the average age of Simon Davies’ Elite Development Squad (EDS) is, more often than not, 17.

Playing in the U23 Premier League 2 tests these teenagers in a multitude of ways and so, whilst they’re not topping the table, the challenges they face are far more valuable than a winning record.

“We have to remember this is a development phase,” says Marwood. “Winning is part of that, but so is losing. 

“Manchester City are winning a large percentage of their games at academy level. That’s nice, but at times it means our players aren’t getting the feeling of having to fight for a result or having to respond to a loss.

“We believe the Premier League 2 environment is better served by testing our really young ones to their limits to see if they can cope.

“So, it really can’t be about the result. We have to see beyond three points.”

Working in tandem with the efforts of staff at the City Football Academy is the Club’s approach to the loan system.

A quintet of Blues are spending a season at NAC Breda in the Eredivisie, while there are four more plying their trade at Girona.

There’s a clear desire to expose young players to a first team environment and Marwood explains the stats prove that’s vital if you’re to produce footballers who’ll succeed at the top level.

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“We did some research last year and discovered that in the last 10 years 83% of players who featured in the quarter-final stage of the Champions League had all played first team football at 17.

“Seventeen of our loanees could play in our EDS. However, a decision was made to have them playing first team football somewhere and I believe it’s the right thing.

“Recently, we've had some great recent examples of development.

"The five with Breda played in front of 50 thousand at Feyenoord. Pablo Maffeo man marked Lionel Messi and Douglas Luiz played really well against some of the best players in the world against Barcelona. 

“We’ve also seen New York’s Jack Harrison called into the England U21s, while Aaron Mooy’s story has been well documented over the last 12 months.

“All our players will have different journeys because they need different experiences and it’s important for us to decide at what point they need testing beyond what we can offer them here in Manchester or any of our teams within the City Football Group.

“We have to combine the two to create a finished article so, if they are needed, our Head Coaches like Pep or Patrick can feel comfortable that they can cope in the Nou Camp in a Champions League semi-final, or an MLS play-off final.”

For all the 57-year-old talks of development, he admits the UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup remain targets for the City’s U18 and U19 squads respectively, seeing both as good opportunities for benchmarking the talent the Academy is producing.

He also doesn’t deny that, ultimately, the youth policies of all the Group's clubs will be judged on the number of players graduating to their respective first teams and he acknowledges that task becomes tougher when chasing trophies.

“Success will always be based on how many become first team regulars,” he declared.

“In Manchester we need them to be at the level of Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and David Silva and that’s a big ask, but if the player is good enough he’ll get the opportunity.

“We are not ashamed to tell the whole world we want to win trophies at first team level. However, we also have a real passion and interest in developing young players. The two can work.

“The Chairman is fiercely passionate about the development of young players.

“Pep and Txiki both go to as many EDS and Academy games as they can and they are fully aware of the players coming through the system and both Patrick in New York and Warren Joyce in Melbourne are equally passionate about giving young players opportunities.

“We understand our responsibilities to both the clubs and the players and are working really hard every day to create many first team footballers.

"Unfortunately, people think we won’t play them so we’re not bothered but we don’t neglect our young players and no one can convince me we don’t do enough to develop them.”

Interestingly, that process is not merely confined to the football pitch.

When Marwood speaks of City’s Academy approach, he talks of a holistic one in which a well-rounded individual is nurtured.

“We have a responsibility to all of our players to do everything we can to provide them a career in the professional game.

“We always talk about their technical development but their personal development is also quite crucial as well. 

“I believe this is more than just a group of clubs. For our young players it’s almost a university, so if they don’t make it I’d like to think we can find them employment at our clubs because if we’re producing good people we want them in our business.

“Maybe in years to come, we won’t just see footballers. We could see the next commercial manager or the next head of talent management.

“There’s no reason why that can’t happen.”

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