Manchester City yesterday tabled plans for the most ambitious training facility in world football, in the hope that it would prevent them from losing the next Ryan Giggs to Manchester United.
City, who have unearthed just one locally born prospect in the Premier League era, have spent three years examining 30 of the world's finest sporting facilities and have incorporated the best ideas into a spectacular facility on a reclaimed, 80-acre former factory site which will be linked to the Etihad Stadium by a bridge.
Having spent their way into Champions League football, City now face the far tougher challenge of persuading the best local youngsters to choose them over United. "It is one thing building with bricks and mortar, it is another being able to develop young players," said Brian Marwood, the club's chief football operations officer.
Though City's illustrious Platt Lane academy, which will be relocated to the new training facility, helped them clinch the FA Youth Cup in 2006, Marwood admitted the only local talent unearthed by the club in the last decade is Nedum Onuoha, born in Nigeria though raised locally, now on the fringes of the side. While City can look to Paul Lake as their best local talent in decades, United can now boast Danny Welbeck as the latest in a line of young Mancunians including Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Wes Brown. It was United's lustre which famously also persuaded a young Ryan Wilson – later Giggs – to sign for them, even though he had been spotted by City scout Dennis Schofield and signed for City's School of Excellence.
"I find it incredible, when I look at the size of Manchester and the outlying areas, that we've only had one player, in Nedum Ohuoha, who's come through from the age of 10 or 11. I find that a damning statistic in terms of developing young talent," Marwood said. "If you look at the surrounding areas, there is talent there. I think United have bought in talent as well. But there is the example of Ryan Giggs, who was at our academy and ended up at Manchester United, so there's something not quite right. What we hope to do is have a consistency of philosophy.
"If you look at what Howard Wilkinson tried to create when he was [technical director] at the FA, he talked about it being long-term so that it didn't change when managers changed. He talked about a culture which had to be developed. I just think that's something we're embarking on now with what we've learnt from the likes of Barcelona."
Despite City's threat to United's hegemony, the club were granted access to the Premier League champions' 108-acre Carrington training base and both Chelsea and Arsenal's facilties to develop their own base.
Marwood spoke publicly for the first time about City's departing chief executive, Garry Cook, at a presentation where it was announced that City would be seeking planning permission for the vast training complex. "Yes, I'm sad," admitted Marwood. "No, [it is not a good time to lose your chief executive] but we are all moving on and as the chairman [Khaldoon al-Mubarak] said last week, Garry has done a tremendous amount for this football club. I'm personally saddened because I think everyone is aware of the relationship I had with him but we have to move on. Yes, he was a big player in this project."
Without Cook, City must persuade Uefa that their £400m sponsorship deal with Abu Dhabi airline Etihad is not deliberately inflated, to enable City's losses to fall within financial fair play rules. Etihad sponsoring the new facility helps City argue that the size of the sponsorship deal is within market rates.
"Everybody's getting quite concerned about financial fair play, and rightly so," Marwood said. "But it's not just us... There are a lot of other clubs looking very carefully at their own situation."