City surprised us all last week by naming a rather eclectic squad for their first team tour to Australia. With only seven regular first team internationals on the initial list, with some afforded extended breaks before joining next week, the rest of the travelling crew was made up of a mixture of returning loanees and EDS players looking to make a name for themselves. Obviously as someone with a keen interest in City's youth development this really piqued my interest. Make no mistake, this is a talented bunch of kids. Not all are there to simply make up the numbers, and I've got a feeling the vast majority of them would be there anyway even if the usual quota of first team players was available. There's a serious amount of talent out with Pellegrini and co, and many will feel like they've earned this shot to impress. Having said that, some of the inclusions even surprised me - Cameron Humphreys is an exceptionally promising youngster, but he's only sixteen still. Likewise Garcia is only a few months older at 17 and with a full quota of keepers named to participate in the friendlies, with Hart joining Caballero and Wright very soon, Gunn's inclusion is another that I didn't expect, even if it is vastly deserved.
Given the vast amount of players, seventeen in total, I've decided to break down this feature profiling all those involved into three parts. This being the first with the other two coming during the coming week. First up it's the turn of Angus Gunn, Cameron Humphreys, George Evans, Bruno Zuculini, Enas Unal and Marcos Lopes…
I touched on Gunn's potential in a recent article about potential loanees, and I can only really repeat what I said there. Angus Gunn is a simply fantastic young goalkeeper, one of the best in the world at his age. It's as simple as that. He's strikingly accomplished already. Composed, assured and never fazed, he's exactly the kind of player that defenders love to play in front of. Constantly vocal, barking orders at those in front of him, there's shades of Joe Hart's approach, but one thing he has over his senior colleague is his ease with the ball at his feet. Keepers these days are expected to be able to pass the ball well, launching attacks from deep and maintaing possession, and Gunn does this better than most. It's a trait clearly brought on by Neuer's and Valdes' influence on the game, and mainly their association with Guardiola's much admired possession based teams, but it's one thing asking a keeper to do it, and them actually being able to. He can. The comparisons don't end at Neuer and Valdes either - he reminds me of Courtois a little, both tall and imposing figures who make the game look easy, yet both relatively waif like in appearance. Standing at 6'5 naturally gives him an aerial advantage, and his reactions don't suffer for his size. He's an exceptionally good shot-stopper - his finest moment coming last season as he practically formed a one man wall on the way to City's Premier League International Cup victory over Porto. It was remarkable stuff, but then again he's a remarkable young keeper. A couple of good loans away from the club will see him quickly develop into a very real rival to Hart by the time he's 21. It'll happen.
Twice last year George Evans stole the show during friendlies with the first team. Firstly during the mid-season friendly at Hamburg, picking up a beautiful assist after a wonderfully drilled 50 yard pass straight to Jovetic's chest, and secondly in the post-season friendly against Toronto where he claimed the only goal of the game. A 35 yard curler, perfectly placed in the top corner beyond the keeper's reach. Yaya-esque. Evans is clearly a very talented player, though one at something of a crossroads in his City career. Some players excel around those of a higher quality, and he could be one such player. He did well at Scunthorpe while on loan, but cultured deep-lying playmakers can struggle to shine in the lower leagues where the game is a lot faster and a lot more direct. Playing football with David Silva is most likely, and I can only take a speclative guess here, a hell of a lot easier. There's a subtly to his game that would suit our style. Carrick comparisons don't seem misguided - he's cool, composed and comfortable in possession, at home keeping play ticking over and bringing others into the game. But he's seemingly capable of a lot more if those two friendlies were anything to go by. Perhaps taking a few more risks, as he did in those two games, is necessary at a club where you can't move for technically excellent footballers. Maybe finding a little edge, asserting himself on games will help him stand out a little more. He may go out on loan again somewhere, but i'd be all for him staying with the first team this year - he's a strong lad, a City fan too, and I get the feeling his game would grow in confidence around world class players. It's possible. Maybe another goal like his one in his last appearance in a blue shirt would convince the management too.
The youngest on tour and very much the baby of the group - literally less than half the age of some of the players out there, which speaks volumes for his talent. He won't turn seventeen for a month but his inclusion is just rewards for a season where he grew in confidence and stature with every game, eventually forcing his way into the EDS despite still being eligible for the u16s. It was during the u18s run to the FA Youth Cup Final that he really shone, building up a solid partnership alongside the equally talented Tosin Adarabioyo. Like his u18s partner, he's a composed, technical defender, equally capable of the tough, dirty work as he is stepping out of defence confidently and striding into midfield. A little like Demichelis at his best, actually, but considerably more athletic. It's his assuredness that has really stood out, and the swift progression into the u21s felt natural, evident in his performance against United for Patrick Vieira's men on the last day of the season. He was simply fantastic, physically imposing himself against players much older with a perfect balance of controlled aggression and confidence. He grabbed an assist too, calmly working himself into midfield before feeding the ball to Kelechi Iheanacho who did the rest with a moment of brilliance. It was a performance that turned heads, and the it probably earned him this trip ahead of his u18s parter, Adarabioyo, in all truth. He's still very young, and its easy to forget that given his effortless ability, so he'll spend the year with the EDS most likely, but with Jason Denayer signing a new contract, and Tosin Adarabioyo and Cameron both excelling at all levels, its becoming increasingly obvious that with a little bit of luck we might not have to sign a centre-back for a very long time.
Last season's biggest loan disappointment, unquestionably. It looked for all the world like we'd found ourselves a diamond in the rough when he joined for a relatively modest fee from Racing Club in Argentina. He was something of an unknown, a little mystery amongst our collection of world stars, and that felt a little exciting - just like his performances. He shone in pre-season, excelling as he buzzed about vibrantly, making a nuisance of himself throughout with incessantly energetic displays, showcasing an almost Lampard-like ability to get into goal-scoring positions. It was encouraging stuff - here was the energy and legs that we'd craved in midfield, and a bargain too. Perfect. Far from the finished article, clearly, but we had a young eager player brimming with promise. There was some calls for him to remain with the first team, and he could have stayed too, but the club's decision to send him out on loan for a further year's experience also felt understandable at the time. Sadly it didn't work out. To put it bluntly, it proved a disastrous decision. He endured two torrid spells in La Liga. The first resulted in barely 45 minutes of football with Valencia, before the City sent him to relegation threatened Cordoba. He made little impact there too, clocking up a few appearances as the club spiralled down the table. It was a genuine waste of a year. He's back at the club now, and time will tell if there's any lasting damage. Maybe he should have stayed with City last year, but that's with the benefit of hindsight and it would have been pretty hard to have guessed those circumstances. The loan market can be a cruel, cruel world. He'll get game time in these friendlies and it should go a little way to helping City assess his next steps.
Marcos Lopes is a tremendous prospect. Alongside Jason Denayer, he's one of poster boys for the club's academy and if he doesn't end up at very least a very competent and effect squad player for us then we've made a huge mistake somewhere. I've spoke before about how the academy doesn't necessarily have to produce world stars to be useful. Players like Navas and Milner aren't, and probably never will be, world-class, but they've both been valuable assets for City, working tirelessly for the cause complimenting players such as Aguero and Silva. Yet both were still extremely pricey. We should be producing these players ourselves, freeing up £15-£20m a time for the genuine A-listers. If we produce the odd Silva ourselves along the way (which I think we will either way) then great, but it isn't necessarily required. Lopes fits this example perfectly. He's a wonderfully bright young man, brimming with natural talent and genuine world-class potential. He should at very least reach the level of Navas, and he could easily go much further, capable of reaching the very top of the footballing ladder. He's a year older now with first team experience, having starred for Lille on last year. It didn't take long for him to quickly establish himself as their main attacking threat either, driving forward with pace, flair and a bullish, almost Sanchez-like fervour. Genuinely, we have someone who has all the tools of a superstar in the making. Admittedly, there's still the odd flaw to the game - he blows hot and cold like all talented young forwards tend to do and his decision making is still slightly erratic at times, but that's normal and the club will know that. Consistency comes with experience and all he needs is an opportunity. He's an almost dead cert to be given a chance at City at some point, most likely this year too. The preseason games will tell us a lot more.
Admittedly, this is where I come up a little short. I've never seen Enes Unal play and I won't pretend I have either. Youtube tells a promising story, but it only tells you so much. By all accounts though he's a talent. His goalscoring record speaks volumes - 182 goals in 110 games is an incredible record, regardless of the level. Youth football isn't the greatest barometer of a player's ability, no, but as someone who watches it week in week out, it isn't easy either and those stats require a serious level of footballing ability. He's already accumulated plenty of first team football too, acquitting himself well, seemingly possessing a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He has all the hallmarks of a classic number 9 going of what little i've seen - more or less good at everything you'd expect from a forward, but perhaps not exceptional in any single field. A good all around striker, basically. Perhaps a little Dzeko-like, actually, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dzeko at his best for City was a highly effective option, capable of scoring with both feet from more or less anywhere. With the Bosnian looking very likely to leave, a young eager forward with promise who's capable of grabbing a goal from the bench, and is also a little more willing to bide his time on the bench, could be just the trick with City. Especially considering the very minimal cost and his youth. I'd expect he'll spend a little bit of time with the EDS initially, but with Dzeko seemingly set for the exit and Bony and Aguero left as the senior strikers I wouldn't be surprised to see him and Iheanacho as the 3rd and 4th strikers this coming year. I'm looking forward to seeing him in action either way.
Another that requires first team experience, and yet another clever, intelligent footballer who plays the game the right way. He'll hope to impress on this tour after a good season in the EDS, and surely a loan beckons for the Manchester born City supporter. He's learned all he can now at this level - a composed, ball-playing midfielder, Glendon captained the u21s last season. He did it well too, excelling as they beat Porto to claim the Premier League International Cup. He's a strong passer, at his most comfortable spreading the player, bringing others into the game and rumours about to move to Holland made sense. Not too unlike George Evans, he clearly works best in teams that play a possession based game, and perhaps a move there would test him physically, while easing his way into the world of first team football. There was a few times last season where he was all too willing to keep the ball moving, passing it sideways compentently, but not always necessarily asserting himself on the game. On the occasions that he did, though, it was notable - he passed the ball forward more, quicker and more precisely too. It's that that will give him a greater chance of making a claim to force his way into the first team plans. Interestingly, and perhaps just a one off experiment, he started the behind closed doors friendly against Adelaide earlier this week at right-back where he apparently excelled, impressing with his energy and willingness to burst forward. Stranger things have happened, but it could be something to consider.
Part 2 with Pablo Maffeo, James Horsfield, Manu Garcia, Seko Fofana, Jose Pozo and Brandon Barker will follow soon.