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Manchester City

Meet the Man City academy coach charged with finding more Fodens

08:00 BST 09/09/2021
Brian Barry-Murphy Phil Foden Cole Palmer Manchester City GFX
Former Rochdale boss Brian Barry-Murphy tells Goal why he is so excited about the next generation of players coming through at the Etihad Campus

Graduates of Manchester City’s Academy played more than 12,500 minutes in the Premier League last season.

However, just over 16 per cent were for the Premier League champions, with the vast majority of those made by Phil Foden, as he finally established himself as a regular in Pep Guardiola’s side.

Those numbers could be further skewered this season with the arrival of former winger Jadon Sancho at Manchester United, while defender Eric Garcia left on a free transfer to return to Barcelona.

Getting players from the Academy into the first team has always been the main aim at City, with chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak stating that the dream is to have one or two players making the step up every year, but so far it has proved difficult to meet that goal.

Becoming a first-team regular in a squad with up to 20 internationals competing for a starting place is never going to be easy. Foden is the only player to successfully make it, with the 21-year-old now with more than 100 appearances for the club.

Despite the competition, new Elite Development Squad coach Brian Barry-Murphy believes that there are players that can follow in Foden's footsteps and establish themselves in the senior squad.

“I don't think he’s a once-in-a-lifetime player,” Barry-Murphy tells Goal. “There are other guys who are in the academy or on loan with other clubs who can make that progression. It can happen.

“We're going to see it more and more of that in English football as the level of players coming through the academies is outstanding.”

Certainly, Gareth Southgate’s current England squad, which reached the final of Euro 2020, is now packed with exciting young players.

In addition, many Academy matches are teeming with continental scouts hoping to sign up any potential superstar willing to make the move overseas in order to boost their prospects of first-team football.

Of course, there's also the fact that many of those that don’t make it at City can have good careers elsewhere and selling players has helped to finance the club's youth sector.

But homegrown players making the grade at the Etihad Stadium remains the biggest focus and a raft of exciting talent, including Cole Palmer, Liam Delap, Romeo Lavia, James McAtee and Luke Mbete, will be spending much of this season with the first team.

While Guardiola has plenty of expensive options, he showed during his time at Barcelona with players such as Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Pedro that he isn’t afraid to give chances to young players if he thinks they are good enough.

“The players don't see him as being this untouchable figure who's far off in the distance," Barry-Murphy explains. "They see him very much as a coach they can work under and, I suppose, strive be in his presence.

“You can feel his presence all over the club, in a very positive sense. He has this aura that everybody wants to learn from him and see what he's doing.

“It was very interesting for me to witness the way the young players view him in terms of different things that they've picked up from watching him or learning from him.

“You can see it dripping down from the likes of Cole or James, who have spent a lot of time with him. That passing on of information from that environment into the academy is a very natural and a brilliant process.”

Guardiola’s playing strategy of possession-based football runs through the age groups at the Academy, with youngsters taught a philosophy that can set them up for a successful career. But it’s not a rigid copy-and-paste format and each team has their own style built on their individual strengths.

That’s why the arrival of Barry-Murphy is such an exciting addition to the Academy set-up, after he built a reputation as one of the smartest young managers in the Football League.

The former Republic of Ireland international was in charge of Rochdale for two years and their attractive football won plenty of admirers.

However, after deciding to leave Spotland Stadium, he's now excited by the potential of what he can achieve in his new role.

“Within the club there's a clear identity and a way of doing things,” he says. “What I've seen, which has been really exciting for me, is that there's real encouragement for the coaches to be creative and to try innovate themselves, and not just replicate what they see on any given day.

“Whenever we're doing something, we have to have a clear reason why we're doing it for the players. We’re not just going to imitate something because we've seen it elsewhere and think that will be fashionable or fancy.

“Obviously, we see clear principles from the very top that we can implement in our own environments. But it's very much about everybody having their own flavour on how to bring the best out of our players so that when they go into the first team environments they can adapt.”

His predecessor, Enzo Maresca, left to become the manager of Parma after a successful season winning Premier League Two, while City also lifted the Under-18s title.

With the UEFA Youth League restarting this season as well as the Papa John’s Trophy, where they face League One and League Two opponents having already won 3-0 away at Scunthorpe, there is plenty of silverware on offer.

Barry-Murphy sees the range of different styles of opponents helping with development and, while trophies are not the most important thing, players have a natural desire for success.

“Premier League Two has been viewed as sometimes not as competitive but my early impressions are that the level of player I've witnessed has been very high quality,” the 43-year-old adds.

“The Papa John's Trophy provides a unique situation, then obviously we have our first UEFA game. It gives us a totally different challenge within each one, which is priceless, and I think it covers all different areas of development that these clubs value so highly.

“The longer we can stay in competitions ties in with the players' natural instinct: they want to win games anyway. It's ingrained in them from a very early age but it's important for us as staff to bear in mind that it's not an obsession at the cost of development.”