When an announcement was made that Dutch second tier side NAC Breda had ‘formed a unique partnership with the City Football Group’, it seemed like a perfect arrangement for that ambitious club and Manchester City.
City would have a ‘farm’ team, similar to Chelsea’s agreement with Vitesse, to send young prospects to, where they could develop, while NAC would benefit from exciting young talents joining on loan and the extensive resources of the CFG. For example, when Shane O’Neill joined NAC on loan from Apollon Limassol, it was by recommendation of the CFG’s scouting network.
Enes Ünal and Divine Naah were the first two to head to NAC, prior to the agreement being formally announced, with Turkish youngster Ünal scoring 9 goals in 14 appearances, leading to his step-up to top-flight club FC Twente this season.
With the relationship officially in place, City sent a host of new youngsters to the Rat Verlegh Stadion at the beginning of the 2016-17 season, namely Brandon Barker, Ashley Smith-Brown, Thomas Agyepong and David Faupala. They were joined by former City academy player, Fisayo Adarabioyo, brother of Tosin, who joined on a free transfer – no doubt influenced by the CFG connection.
Unfortunately, most of the loans didn’t go to plan in the first half of the season, and David Faupala, the least successful of the group, had his deal terminated in January. City would then send reinforcements in the form of the highly-rated Spanish playmaker, Manu García, and local boy James Horsfield.
However, the entire agreement isn’t working out as planned for NAC, and according to BN DeStem, manager Stijn Vreven has realised that most of the City kids are not bringing enough to the team.
BN DeStem reports that only 20-year-old Brandon Barker and 19-year-old Manu García add something to the team, while James Horsfield, Thomas Agyepong and Ashley Smith-Brown are considered ‘dime a dozen’ players. Fans are grumbling about NAC fielding youngsters that do not belong to the club and aren’t particularly improving a side that sits in 8th place and is unlikely to win promotion to the Netherlands’ top division.
The argument from within the club is that the deal with City is about much more than loan players, coming with additional benefits, and the youngsters have the full backing of people at corporate level inside NAC.
City’s hope will be that NAC Breda enter the Eredivisie, Holland’s top flight, giving them a partner club in a better league (much like Girona FC in Spain, who are well on course for promotion to La Liga) to send young prospects to. But the view of some at NAC, including many fans, is that the majority of players supplied just aren’t good enough.
A big problem for NAC is the fact they are not yet in the Eredivisie – the second tier in the Netherlands currently sees the second and third place spots occupied by Ajax and PSV’s reserve/youth teams, an indication that the standard is not great. BN DeStem claims that NAC wanted three of City’s best young players at the start of the season to lift the team to a higher level, but that didn’t happen. Several in City’s youth system didn’t want to go to the club, perhaps thinking the level was too low to benefit their development.
After NAC’s most recent game, only Barker and García are sure to play regularly – just two of the five City players on the books. NAC have a dilemma with the board wanting this arrangement to continue, citing benefits beyond loan deals, and manager Stijn Vreven starting to believe that many of City’s on-loan youngsters are hindering NAC rather than helping them.