Man City path for Pep Guardiola’s ‘next Phil Foden’ is clear after triple transfer failure – Alex Brotherton


Manchester City may be dominating on the pitch at present, but you can be sure that behind the scenes they are planning for the future.

Pep Guardiola’s side sit nine points clear at the top of the Premier League and have the Champions League knockout stages to look forward to.

However, with a number of key players into the final 18-months of their contracts, now is the time to start looking two steps ahead.

The promotion of academy talents to the first team is one way to do that, as evidenced by the rise of Phil Foden and Cole Palmer. Yet when it comes to City’s youngsters, there is still a debate over the best path they can take.

Right now, James McAtee finds himself at the centre of this.

The 19-year-old midfielder is reportedly keen to leave the club on loan before deadline day in order to gain more first-team minutes, but City and Guardiola in particular are reluctant to let him do so.

According to The Athletic, Guardiola has told McAtee that he wants him to stay at the club and follow the blueprint laid out by Foden.

Plenty of clubs were after Foden when he started appearing in Guardiola’s squad in 2018, with numerous pundits urging the club to let him go on loan.

James McAtee is keen on a loan move this month

But Guardiola was convinced that Foden should stay and it turned out to be the right decision. Gradually, he started seeing more minutes at the top level, all the while training with the first-team squad and learning the ins and outs of Pep’s systems and tactics. He learned more than he ever would have done out on loan and is now one of City and England’s best players.

Yet, if McAtee signs a new contract, City might have to meet him halfway and let him experience life elsewhere on loan for the next stage of his development. Rangers, Swansea and Girona are all potential landing spots.

So, the familiar question raises its head: are City’s top young talents best served by staying at City or seeking regular minutes elsewhere?

The fortunes of three of McAtee’s Elite Development Squad teammates suggests the former.

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Tommy Doyle, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Morgan Rogers all played alongside McAtee for City’s Under-23s in 2020/21, but all were sent out on loan this term.

While none are quite as highly regarded as McAtee, they were dispatched to clubs that play in a similar way to City so that they could return and potentially integrate into Guardiola’s plans. Yet none of the moves really worked out.

Doyle, a highly rated midfielder whose grandfathers Mike Doyle and Glyn Pardoe both played for City, struggled for minutes at German side Hamburg. He has now been farmed out to Cardiff City, where he impressed with an assist on his Championship debut against Bristol City last weekend.

Harwood-Bellis was an occasional fixture on City’s bench over the past two seasons before impressing at Blackburn Rovers in the opening months of 2021. This season he went to Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht but fell out of favour around the festive period. This month he has swapped the Belgian top flight for Stoke.

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Rogers spent much of 2020/21 at Lincoln City in League One, his performances convincing Bournemouth to take him this season with a buy option. However, the winger has started just one game this season and City are reportedly considering a recall.

The trio’s struggles have further vindicated City and Guardiola’s handling of Foden, and to some extent Palmer. McAtee now faces a tough decision, one which could determine whether he makes it at City or not.

Based on the evidence, he could be wise to listen to Guardiola and park his ambitions for week-in week-out minutes in favour of long-term development.

Do you think James McAtee should stay at City or go out on loan? Follow our City Is Ours writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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