The important Irish influence at Manchester City's academy

At one time many players progressed, now coaches are serving a role

BY Raf Diallo 18:26 Wednesday 8 March 2017, 18:26 8 Mar 2017

Manchester City's Willo Flood (l) and Stephen Ireland. Picture by Chris Young PA Archive/PA Images

Before the big money arrived at Manchester City, the club's academy had a habit of providing a good base for Irish players.

Stephen Ireland, Stephen Elliott, Glenn Whelan, Greg Cunningham, Willo Flood all left these shores to join the youth ranks at the Sky Blues in the not so distant past.

More recently, Jack Byrne and goalkeeper Ian Lawlor (now of Wigan Athletic and Doncaster Rovers respectively) have also emerged from the youth ranks, although changing circumstances in regards to City's status and wealth mean players of their ilk didn't get the same opportunities as their predecessors. The loan system was instead primarily used to develop them rather than through the first team.

Coincidentally enough, a couple of those earlier players are now on the books at Wednesday night's Premier League opponents Stoke City with Whelan a regular in midfield. Stephen Ireland conversely had faded from the first team and is currently out injured.

But of all of that first generation of Irishmen in the 2000s, Ireland got the best opportunity at the club in terms of game-time.

Jack Byrne

The Cork man made over 150 first team appearances for the club and seemed to be emerging as a potential leading Premier League midfielder in the 2008-09 campaign when he scored nine league goals and established himself firmly in a first team where fellow Ireland defender Richard Dunne (a graduate of Everton's ranks) was coming off the back of four seasons in a row in which he was voted City Player of the Year.

Willo Flood also breached double figures for Man City first team appearances in the mid-2000s. Whelan on the other hand only made a single UEFA Cup appearance in 2003-04 before departing but striker Stephen Elliott who was scouted after a brilliant showing for Stella Maris in Dublin got a couple of first team opportunities after going on trial.

Speaking to us on Newstalk's Team 33 recently, he said: "It was Kevin Keegan who introduced me to training in the first team there. Keegan said he wanted to keep me. I got the impression that Keegan fancied me as a player because he was always complimentary of me and had me travelling to all the first team games. So that obviously gave my confidence a big boost because he was a big legend in the game."

Two league appearances would follow before Elliott would sign for Sunderland in 2004-05.

Like Elliott, Greg Cunningham also found a manager who had faith in him, in the shape of Roberto Mancini, when he first emerged as a promising teenager.

Speaking to Off The Ball recently, the Preston North End left back and native of Galway said: "Mancini was great, really showed great confidence in me, gave me my debut and a few appearances and obviously would have been a factor in getting me into the Ireland setup." 

A leg break while on loan at Leicester City in 2011 would curtail his development at a time when he was just beginning to make waves at club and international level.

Off the pitch, the coaching side has become increasingly Irish in terms of its influence with two ex-Ireland midfielders helping to shape the next generation.

One of those is Mark Kennedy, who was recently interviewed by Kevin Kilbane. He left Ipswich Town to take on a role in the City academy.

And the manager of the academy setup is none other than ex-Ireland and Everton midfielder Lee Carsley.

It's a role that could well have an influence on the development of Pep Guardiola's team in the future as the current City manager could look into the youth ranks to supplement his first team.

Answering a recent question about the premium cost of signing English players, Guardiola hinted as much, saying: "That is why the club has worked for a long period with the academy, thinking about the next years. "With me or without me - hopefully with me - I would like to enjoy these four or five guys who are growing, and play with them."

But as youth grades become as internationally focused as Premier League first teams, the only Irish player in the Academy team is Tyreke Wilson.

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