In recent years Chelsea have become famous, or infamous – depending on how you see things – for their ‘stockpiling’ of talent in an attempt to profit on them via sales or loan fees. Chelsea have been successful in this respect, selling many players for big profits – a number of them, such as Kevin De Bruyne, prematurely.
Manchester City were not really known to follow the same model, but more recently have walked a similar path, and like Chelsea, it is working pretty well. The best example is Aaron Mooy, the Australian international who was granted a seamless pathway into Europe by City from City Football Group partner club Melbourne City. Acquired at no cost by City, Mooy was quickly loaned to Huddersfield and had an outstanding season before making the move permanent in an £8million deal.
Others, such as Florian Lejeune – now of Newcastle – and Rubén Sobrino, were signed for modest fees and sold on for profits without ever having a single training session with Pep Guardiola’s first team squad.
The morality of this practice has been questioned by some, but in an era when the suspiciously protectionist UEFA has tried everything to preserve the established elite, the so-called nouveau riche have had to find ways to make up for their lesser commercial income compared to the historic giants, and this has been an effective model.
The growth of the City Football Group has helped Manchester City, with more eyes and ears now in place around the globe, scouting talent for teams within the network, and a growing collection of clubs across the world to place these players at. We recently interviewed James Poole, a former City player, who now works in scouting for Manchester City, New York City FC, Melbourne City and Yokohama F. Marinos.
Many players are signed by Manchester City, technically speaking, because the City Football Group cannot register players or it would infringe on third-party ownership rules, with the CFG not being a club itself. City have no intention of ever playing a number of these and simply house them, while others may have a certain level of potential that gives them the chance of some day breaking through.
Oleksandr Zinchenko is a good example of the latter case. A low-profile signing who was brought in from FC Ufa for a mere £1.7million, he was another, like Mooy, who was hurriedly dispatched on loan. Despite his reputation of being one of the Ukraine’s top young talents, there seemed little prospect of the attacking midfielder ever breaking into Pep Guardiola’s first-team plans. Guardiola, though, is always thinking outside the box and Zinchenko has played a significant part in the current record-breaking side.
Will Zinchenko stay the course at City in his left-back role, with Benjamin Mendy on the way back and Fabian Delph also on the books? He may, he may not, but City have now boosted his transfer value to probably ten times what they paid, and ensured if he does move on, he now has a bright career ahead in a big league.
Not all are as fortunate as Zinchenko. There are players in their 20s, who many City fans will not have heard of, and of course many youngsters from the academy, on loan across the world. Patrick Roberts is one everyone knows about, but who are some of the lesser known talents? This article profiles a handful of them, explaining who these Manchester City players are, what they’re doing, and what may lie ahead.
Anthony Cáceres (25, on loan at Al-Wasl)
Who is he and when did he move to City?
Anthony Cáceres is a 25-year-old Australian who spent his entire career in the land down under before Manchester City signed him from Central Coast Mariners in January 2016 for around AUS$300,000 (£150,000). The move was quite controversial and seen as a way of the City Football Group circumventing A-League rules, which do not allow transfer fees between two clubs. The Premier League giants, therefore, acted as a middle man, signing the talented midfielder in order to strengthen Melbourne City. It was a pure CFG signing, using one club to strengthen another, and in the long-term perhaps make a profit on the player.
Cáceres fared quite well at Melbourne City, making 42 appearances in one-and-a-half years on loan at Manchester City’s sister club. Then last summer, City loaned him out to Al-Wasl Sports Club in the UAE Gulf League with the club having an option to buy him. It was the player’s first real move out of Australia, and Al-Wasl coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena, who like Caceres has Uruguayan heritage, personally phoned him to convince him.
The uncapped Aussie has been a regular for Al-Wasl, making 19 appearances in the UAE Gulf League this season and a further four in the AFC Champions League, scoring a single goal and registering a couple of assists. No player in Al-Wasl’s entire squad has made more total appearances than Cáceres this season, with Brazilian attacker Fábio Lima two appearances behind him.
Cáceres’ next step depends on if the Emirati club use their option to buy. Given that Arruabarrena has used him more than any other player, there seems a good chance that the purchase option will be triggered, although the stipulated fee hasn’t been reported. You’d expect that City will make a profit on the £150,000 invested in him if he is bought outright, with Transfermarkt listing his current value at £450,000.
Erik Palmer-Brown (20, on loan at KV Kortrijk)
Who is he and when did he move to City?
Erik Palmer-Brown is considered one of the best defensive prospects in American soccer, having captained the United States Men’s National Team at under-20 level. Having been on the books of Sporting Kansas City before his recent transfer to Manchester City, Palmer-Brown isn’t a stranger to Europe, having enjoyed a loan spell at FC Porto B in 2016 and helping them to the LigaPro title.
With his SKC contract expiring, Palmer-Brown signed a pre-contract with Manchester City and officially joined in January 2018. Was this to deliver him to Patrick Vieira at New York City FC in another CFG-to-CFG move? Not at all. Palmer-Brown was instead loaned to Belgian top-flight club KV Kortrijk after speculation that he’d be heading to PSV Eindhoven.
While the reasons aren’t known to us, Palmer-Brown has thus far struggled for game time in Belgium, with just one appearance in the Jupiler Pro League when he played the full 90 minutes against Club Brugge in early March. A week after that defeat, he was again an unused substitute as Kortrijk beat RSC Charleroi at the Guldensporenstadion.
Is it a case of Palmer-Brown not impressing boss Glen De Boeck or are they slowly bedding him into life in Europe? Either way, interim USA coach Dave Sarachan has not been put off, calling Palmer-Brown up to the senior squad for the first time in the March international break. The youngster has work to do, but has potential and has even been shown a path to the City first-team should his development go well.
Like so many players of his profile, Palmer-Brown will most likely be loaned out again next season, irrespective of how his loan spell at Kortrijk goes. CFG partner club NAC Breda seems like a logical destination, particularly as he was rumoured to be joining Dutch giants PSV once he switched to City. A number of City’s loanees at NAC, including Angeliño and Thierry Ambrose, may move on to higher profile clubs when their loan spells expire, meaning there will be opportunities for a new batch of City talents to develop under the tutelage of Stijn Vreven.
Ivan and Luka Ilić (17 and 18, on loan at Red Star Belgrade)
Who are they and when did they move to City?
The Ilić brothers are considered two of Serbia’s most promising players and were signed to zero publicity outside of their homeland by Manchester City last summer. They are products of the once-famous Red Star Belgrade youth system, which helped create a European Cup-winning team in 1991 that included the likes of Dejan Savićević and Robert Prosinečki. Ivan Ilić, 17, and Luka Ilić, 18, are both central midfielders and Serbian youth internationals. Luka, the older of the two, made his Serbia under-21 debut in November, scoring in a 3-1 win over Austria.
City reportedly invested €5.5million (£4.86million) in the brothers last summer, a considerable amount, but well below their potential market value. Red Star didn’t want to sell either, with their new strategy being to build up youth talents from the academy, but decided to in order to to reduce their debt to Univerzal Bank below €20million.
Ivan and Luka were immediately loaned back to Red Star Belgrade to continue their development as part of the agreement. With both being so young, game time with the first team is still difficult to come by, and Ivan in particular hasn’t played much. Luka, however, has made 7 appearances in the SuperLiga this season and one in the Europa League qualifiers. His most recent appearance was a 4 minute cameo against Macva Sabac on 18 March.
Being so young and with so little known about the two teenage midfielders, it’s difficult to know City’s blueprint for the Ilić brothers. What one of the brothers did reveal in an interview last year, is that they will leave Red Star at the end of the season to properly begin their careers at City.
Serbia is not currently part of the European Union, so work permits for either may prove impossible. That suggests that the two, possibly in tandem, will be loaned out somewhere next season in order to continue their development. Time will tell if City’s €5.5million investment in Ivan and Luka proves to be a shrewd bit of business.
Uriel Antuna (20, on loan at FC Groningen)
Who is he and when did he move to City?
Liga MX club Santos Laguna announced in July 2017 that they had sold Uriel Antuna to the City Football Group, which of course isn’t an actual club, and indeed a day later he underwent a medical at the CFA and signed a Manchester City contract. No fee was disclosed and the Mexico under-20 international was sent to FC Groningen in the Netherlands on a two-year loan deal.
Antuna was undoubtedly another recommendation of the CFG’s extensive scouting network, and had made just one first-team appearance for Santos Laguna before his move to Europe. A move to Major League Soccer in the USA might have seemed logical for the 20-year-old right winger, but City decided he would continue his development in the Eredivisie.
Antuna has struggled to make an impact in Groningen’s first team, making 10 appearances totaling just 356 minutes. His only 90 minute appearance was back in October, a 2-1 defeat on the road to Sparta Rotterdam, and otherwise he’s mostly been used as a substitute by Groningen boss Ernest Faber.
With game time for the seniors hard to come by, Antuna is regularly featuring for Jong FC Groningen in Holland’s Derde Divisie, the fourth tier, and he played 90 minutes in their 2-1 defeat to Spakenburg on 17 March. He has found the net for Groningen’s second team, back in February against ASWH. Antuna has recently been called up to Mexico’s senior side, and made the bench against Poland last November, but remains uncapped.
Unless his two-year stint with FC Groningen is cut short, which is a possibility given the shortage of minutes he’s receiving, his immediate future remains at the Noordlease Stadion. City may consider terminating that loan and relocating him to NAC Breda with the guarantee of more game time. Long-term. Antuna will almost certainly be a pure CFG investment and they will look to sell him on for profit in the next few years.
Yangel Herrera (20, on loan at New York City FC)
Who is he and when did he move to City?
A 20-year-old midfielder from La Guaira, Yangel Herrera joined Manchester City on the last day of the January 2017 transfer window from Atlético Venezuela, one of the lesser known affiliates of the City Football Group. A very talented defensive midfielder, Herrera cost a reported £1.7million and City saw off rival interest from Benfica for him.
In February 2017, Herrera joined CFG club New York City FC on a two-season loan and has since been learning his craft under former Man City EDS boss Patrick Vieira in the Big Apple.
Herrera continues to play at the Yankee Stadium and has been an ever-present in Vieira’s side, making 20 appearance in last year’s MLS and playing every minute of NYCFC’s opening four games of the new campaign. He has been in excellent form and picked up an assist in the 2-2 draw with New England Revolution several days ago. It’s safe to say, Yangel has adapted to life in America very well and is developing nicely as a footballer.
Yangel debuted for the Venezuelan national team in 2016, but five of his six caps have come since his move to Manchester City and subsequent loan to New York City. He is viewed as one of his country’s greatest young talents and Ligue 1 side Lyon have already made an attempt to sign him from Manchester City, but club chairman Jean-Michel Aulas later admitted that City had knocked them back.
Herrera looks to have a bright future in the game and it’s only a matter of time before he heads to Europe. The big question is, does he have a shot of making it at Manchester City? That is one for the scouts and Pep Guardiola to answer, but he appears to be another good investment by the CFG, and worth much more than the £1.7million invested in him.
Lyon’s interest suggests Herrera has a future in a top five European league, and if City decide to sell him on in future, perhaps after a European loan, they can expect to make a significant profit on the South American.
So, not including academy players shipped out on loan, which other obscure figures are out there representing Manchester City? Quite a few in fact, including a score of African players, which has been the norm ever since an agreement with Ghana’s Right to Dream Academy was struck years ago. None have come close to the City first team, but have gone on to forge careers around the world, with one example being Mohammed Abu, capped six times by Ghana and now playing for MLS side Columbus Crew.
Africans still on the books at City include Yaw Yeboah, currently in Spain at Segunda División side Real Oviedo after a spell at FC Twente. Divine Naah recently went to Belgian second tier side AFC Tubize on loan until the end of the season, while Chidiebere Nwakali is getting regular football on loan up north with Aberdeen in Scotland. Thomas Agyepong, who won his first Ghana cap last year, is one of six City loanees at NAC Breda.
City’s Australian affiliation doesn’t end with Anthony Caceres, with Hull-born Luke Brattan on the books, another player signed to strengthen Melbourne City, where he is currently on loan at following a spell with Bolton.
Another interesting recruit at NAC Breda is Pablo Marí, who at the age of 24, is a little older than the usual CFG signing, but has worn the captain’s armband at NAC this season and has been attracting Premier League interest.
One of the most surprising signings of the January transfer window saw USA international Mix Diskerud join City, with Mix signing a 4 ½ year deal after leaving partner club New York City FC, before returning on loan to IFK Göteborg in Sweden. At 27, City may look to cash in on Diskerud quickly or else this would seem one of their more puzzling buys.
Joining City soon will be Dutch youth international Philippe Sandler, who could prove to be a coup at the reported €3million (£2.6million). He is expected to be loaned to a top club in the Netherlands, but like Zinchenko, could be one of those with a chance of breaking into the star-studded City side in future.