Manchester City won the FA Youth Cup in 2008 and a talented crop of youngsters looked to have long futures in sky-blue. Then came the money and Mancini ...
The name Alex Nimely-Tchuimeni won’t trip off the tongue of many a football fan out there, it’s the sort of name to give Sky Sports News presenters palpitations a plenty, or it should be but someone has kindly decided to shorten it to just Nimely. Anyway, Middlesborough manager Tony Mowbray apparently knows all there is to know about Alex and has signed the promising 20 year old on a three month loan deal from Manchester City. Nimely joins a literally huge list of talent shown a temporary exit door from the Etihad Stadium lately, some high profile names who get all the press plus a few who don’t, but the significance of their departures is not lost on this lifelong supporter.
On an April night in 2008 we gathered at Eastlands to witness the next generation of City stars take on the might of Chelsea’s academy in the FA Youth Cup final second leg. Nimely watched from the subs bench as the home team warmed the cockles of our hearts with a 3-1 triumph and 4-2 on aggregate. We all celebrated a new dawn or so it seemed then as Captain Ben Mee lifted the trophy. It was a notable achievement as at the time the opposition were adopting the same aggressive approach to their youth system as they were to the first team, Chelsea, boasting the likes of Gael Kakuta and Miroslav Stoch within their ranks were a bit tasty. The future sure looked rosy for our lads who boasted 8 English qualified players in the starting line up.
However we all know what happened to Manchester City very soon after that proud evening. Thai money became Arab mega dollars and a dramatic transformation began that leapt the club from mid-table also rans to title and Champions league contenders. Exciting times they are for the City fans at the Etihad at present, but what exactly has the revolution done for the class of 08? I think we all know the answer to that question but there is an interesting comparison to mention first.
Season 1985-86 and City, a newly promoted outfit were back in the old Division One under Billy McNeill. The campaign was a difficult one as a cash strapped City struggled to re-establish itself among the elite. The club actively pursued a successful youth system in those days, it had to, any money for buying players had long been squandered in the reckless days around the turn of the decade. The new policy came to fruition in fine style as City’s kids won the FA Youth Cup in 86 beating their favourite rivals Utd 3-1 on aggregate.
Those boys were soon to find themselves in the front line, a new fresh faced City emerged the following season, one that was to ultimately end in another relegation, but it was hardly the fault of the kids who were backed to the hilt by a proud audience who took great pride in watching their local lads develop week in week out. Seven of our 1986 team would go on to play for the first team and between them they played around 1,000 games. Two, Andy Hinchcliffe and David White played for England and the finest of them all Paul Lake, as cultured a midfielder as I’ve ever seen at Maine Road would have won many caps had it not been for the cruel knee injury that put an end to his career in 1990.
Despite the fact that these young players appeared for City during difficult years and played much of their football in the old Division Two they were good times and eventually their talents and our loyalty were to be rewarded on a memorable Saturday afternoon in 1989 as five of them formed the bedrock of the side that hammered United 5-1 in a famous Derby encounter.
So will the likes of Ben Mee, Vladimir Weiss, Keiran Trippier, Ryan McGivern and Dedryck Boyata form the bedrock of the team to take on Utd again on October 23rd in a derby sure to be hyped up as a potential title decider? Errr no, not quite, the class of 08 have unsurprisingly found their first team opportunities limited, so much so that none of their boots at present occupy any of the lockers in the Carrington changing rooms. Are they any less standard of player than the 1986 team were? Probably not but drastically changing times in the game have led Mee and Trippier to Burnley for the rest of this season. Weiss, after flirting with the first team picture at City now plys his trade in Spain with Espanyol. McGivern, now a full international for Northern Ireland did make a brief 20 minute appearance for the first team, and a promising one at that, now he’s at Bristol City for the season, his 5th loan club. Boyata did better than that making a handful of appearances and representing his country, Belgium, he’s moved to Bolton for 2011-12.
Perhaps the biggest irony is that there is one success story amongst the class of 08, he was injured for the second leg yet Daniel Sturridge played a vital road on the road to the final for City. He was always earmarked for the top and probable England honours, now after becoming frustrated with life and a lack of playing time under Mark Hughes he’s well on his way, playing for Chelsea for whom none of their final side has ever quite made it to their first team, funny old game.
Of course the class of 08 minus Mr Sturridge are still Man City players and may one day make the grade, but cynics will argue that their parent club are merely hanging on to them long enough so they can command decent transfer fees. Football romantics such as myself though will hope that isn’t the case and that two or three of them will eventually perform leading roles in a successful team alongside the current ‘galacticos’ of Manchester. I do hope so and especially in the case of Alex Nimely-Tchuimeni, simply because not only are City fans some of the most loyal supporters out there, they are also some of the most imaginative. If anyone can make an amusing chant up about a name like that, its more likely to be heard ringing around the Etihad Stadium than anywhere else.