“There’s a special feeling walking through the door,” says Manchester City ladies and England captain Steph Houghton. She’s not talking about Wembley.
On Monday City opened their new state-of-the-art £200million training ground in the presence of playing legends past and present.
It had been six years in the making and was worth the wait. But more importantly, it will help bridge a sizeable gap.
“The progress of women’s football over the last three or four years… when I first joined City it was important even then that the women got the same facilities as the men,” said the 26-year-old Houghton.
“There’s a special feeling walking through the door.”
The facility brings all levels of the club together, as the youth, women’s and men’s teams will all train there.
“It’s spectacular,” added Houghton. “It’s an amazing facility for everyone involved with this football club, and it’s a great opportunity to bring the whole club together under one roof.
“It’s an exciting time for Manchester City and it’s great that the women’s team are part of that. We feel very much part of the City family.”
The City Football Academy’s opening is the culmination of years of planning and construction by Sheikh Mansour’s Abu Dhabi United Group which owns the club.
City’s most decorated captain Tony Book, current captain Vincent Kompany, manager Manuel Pellegrini and even the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne were all on hand to christen the new facility.
The club’s chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: “This is not the end of the journey, rather an important staging point.
“Over the last six years our coaching teams have worked tirelessly to evolve the Academy systems and capabilities that are now housed here,” said Mubarak.
“They have sought out the very best youth talent at home and, where appropriate, abroad.”
Manchester itself is at the very heart of the CFA project: 75% of the 450 players are drawn from the Greater Manchester area and the majority of the workforce is local.
The contracts were awarded locally, the employees and workers were local, and the club even donated £3million to build public swimming facilities at Beswick Village.
The CFA is Manchester through and through.
“The cornerstone of the future, was a vision for youth development and sustainability: a vision to educate talented young footballers on and off the pitch,” added Mubarak.
The focus on education is clear throughout the CFA, from the land donated to Connell College to build a campus to the 78 academy players studying either at Connell or at St. Bede’s College.
The ethos of education on and off the field echoes of the great Barcelona or Ajax academies where players were expected to study football as well as play it.
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City’s head of the Elite Development Squad is former Arsenal and France midfielder, Patrick Vieira.
Where there once stood an imposing and fearless defensive midfielder in a red shirt, there is now a softly-spoken coach nurturing talent in a blue one, who understands the importance of this academy.
“We know how difficult it can be to make it, but we have to help these players fulfil their potential,” said Vieira.
“We want them not only to be good footballers but good human beings, so if they don’t make it as a player they will find something else to do.”
With a strong emphasis on Manchester-ness, it seems that eventually the Manchester City first team will be brimming with home-grown talent.
The current squad boasts five Englishmen, but Richard Wright is a token registration, Frank Lampard is on loan, and Scott Sinclair has become almost entirely anonymous.
“When I look at my team in the EDS, my captain is from just five minutes round the corner,” added Vieira.
“Fans like to identify themselves with the local players, but we want to attract all the best from Manchester, from the UK, and from all over the world.
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“When we talk about development it takes time. We’ve been playing some really good football, winning trophies, and we have a clear idea about how we want to develop these players.
“We have to be patient, keep working hard, and see when the next player breaks through, like Pozo or Angelino.”