Growing up just a few miles from City’s Platt Lane Academy, Isaac Buckley hasn’t looked back since first entering its doors at the age of 13.
A striker possessing blistering pace and a composed finish, the 16-year-old was rewarded for a fantastic season last year with his u18s debut before leaving school.
Now, the Mancunian youngster has signed a two-year scholarship with the club and is relishing the chance to prove his worth in a large and competitive u18 squad under the guidance of his new coach, Jason Wilcox.
After an eye-catching pre-season, Isaac has made good on his promise and started every single league game so far.
“It’s a big squad this year, but it’s exciting because it’s a big challenge to show I’m good enough to be starting and get into the XI regularly,” Isaac declared. “There are a lot of good players in my position but it would be great to force my way into the u19 UEFA Youth League squad as well.”
No stranger to impressing when it counts against players older and more physically mature than himself, Isaac seized his opportunity when offered the chance of a head start in u18s football last May.
While some may have been intimidated by the task of replacing top scorer Thierry Ambrose up front, the striker caught the eye as part of a line-up containing the likes of Kean Bryan, Angelino and Jack Byrne who have since gone on to make their mark in the EDS.
Buckley remembered: “I was still playing for the u16s so when I heard I was going to play for Jason’s team I was so nervous. It felt like I was starting again and I was back on trial. But when I got on to the pitch all those feelings disappeared and I was just able to play my football as normal.
“I got good feedback from Jason. He just told me to focus and to carry on doing what I’m doing.”
He added: “When you play against people your own age, you’re used to playing against people of similar size, but when you play up an age group it’s a bigger challenge because people will try and shrug you off the ball.
“It really tests you and helps you improve faster.”
While that game may have been one of his biggest achievements in the Academy so far, the honour of his favourite ever game Isaac reserves for his very first in City colours – and his favourite ever goal even comes from the same match.
Thrust into the action after 45 minutes, the local boy’s talent in front of goal refused to go unnoticed even from a defensive position.
“In my first game for City they played me at right back,” he told mcfc.co.uk. “From right back I then went to the wing and eventually they started playing me at centre forward. I doubt I could do a job at right back now though!
“My debut was probably my favourite game for City so far. It was against Sunderland and I came on at half time. I bombed forward because I was quick and then scored my first goal for the club. The nerves just evaporated as soon as that goal went in – I think it’s my favourite of all the goals I’ve scored.”
Slight in stature, the youngster is deceptively strong and uses his technique and quick feet to get around defenders, while he can also hold his own in a wide role when necessary.
But the craft and guile honed in three years in an Academy that thrives on playing the same system through the age groups, added to the valuable experience gained all over the pitch gives Isaac the edge at a time when the role of the striker is constantly evolving – and size really doesn’t matter.
“It used to be that a striker would just hold off players and chest it down, so people would look for big, strong players but now the game is changing and you need to be more technical,” said Buckley.
“Now we have a different system and the striker starts our pressing from the front so you have to do a lot more work now than perhaps strikers used to. Size doesn’t matter - if you’re good enough, the physical aspects aren’t important.”
A popular member of the squad who is quick with a joke and has a natural gift for making people laugh, his footballing role models are all big names and big characters.
But the City starlet is quick to emphasise it’s the moves on the field he admires, and the trio demonstrate what the youngster already knows to be true – hard work makes the difference.
“I don’t think there are players I would describe myself as similar to, but the players I aspire to be like are Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he’s an amazing striker. Mario Balotelli too, although we’re quite different off the pitch!” Isaac laughed.
“I also admire Ronaldo, because he started off as quite a slim guy and no one really noticed him, but he worked so hard and now he’s one of the best in the world. It shows how much hard work can pay off.”