15 Manchester City Academy Prospects Who Never Stepped Up
Before Sheikh Mansour's takeover of Manchester City in 2008, the club were well-known for their ability to produce homegrown talent through their excellent academy setup.
The conveyor belt has halted in recent years after the first team raised their standards and made it increasingly difficult for players to make the grade, something the club are hoping will change with the launch of the Etihad Campus this summer.
The campus is an 80-acre site that will be home to every single player on the club's books, from the very youngest right through to the first team, with state-of-the-art medical, training and educational facilities that will be the envy of many clubs.
Some City youth products, such as Micah Richards and Shaun Wright-Phillips, had great City careers. However, some never really fulfilled their promise. Here, we gather together a list of 15 academy graduates who failed to be successful at City.
1. Tyrone Mears
Like a few on this list, Tyrone Mears has gone on to have a decent career in the game but failed to make the grade at City before his departure.
Mears was well thought of as a youngster. He was quick and full of energy, yet he only made one substitute appearance for the club—back in 2002—before leaving for Preston North End. He has since played for West Ham, Derby, Burnley and now Bolton, and he even had a loan spell at Marseille in what was one of the strangest transfers of recent times.
2. Stephen Jordan
Stephan Jordan's lack of pace was always going to be his undoing at the top level, and so it proved to be so.
In terms of hard work and professionalism, Jordan is one of the best academy graduates the club has produced, but he found the speed of the Premier League too much to deal with. He was too easily beaten during his 62 appearances for the club and left for Burnley in 2007. At 32, he now plays for Fleetwood, having had stints at Sheffield United, Huddersfield, Rochdale and Dunfermline after leaving City.
3. Willo Flood
Whereas Jordan struggled with the pace of top-level football, Willo Flood's problems stemmed from his lack of strength. He was small and lightweight, too easy to brush off the ball, and as a result he failed to make an impact.
He made 18 appearances and scored two goals for City, but after loan spells at Rochdale and Coventry, he eventually signed for Cardiff before making a move north of the border to Scotland, where he has spent the majority of his playing career.
4. Glenn Whelan
Glenn Whelan is a regular in the Premier League with Stoke and can be considered one of the more talented players on this list, but he ultimately failed to make the grade at City and was released after making just one appearance for the club as a substitute in a UEFA Cup match against TNS during Kevin Keegan's time in charge of the club.
Whelan is a decent passer who is capable of controlling the game. However, he lacks a defining feature, an element to his game that sets him apart.
A good spell at Sheffield Wednesday saw him join Stoke in 2008 and he's been there ever since. He also has 52 caps for the Republic of Ireland.
5. Bradley Wright-Phillips
Whereas Shaun Wright-Phillips is considered one of City's finest academy graduates ever, brother Bradley never quite followed in his footsteps.
Wright-Phillips the younger was clumsy on the ball and struggled to score goals at the highest level—a significant handicap for a striker.
He now plays for New York Red Bulls alongside Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry, but he made just 40 appearances for City, the vast majority of which were from the bench. He left to join Southampton in 2006, having managed just two goals in a Blues shirt.
6. Kasper Schmeichel
Kasper Schmeichel was once preferred to Joe Hart in the City goal, but the direction their careers took ended up being rather different.
While Hart is still at City and firmly the club's No. 1, Schmeichel is at Championship side Leicester, where he has impressed. They currently lead the table by nine points and have already secured promotion, with Schmeichel ever-present this season throughout the campaign. We should see much more of him next season as he returns to the top flight.
He made just 10 appearances for City before a move to Notts County in 2009.
7. Terry Dunfield
Terry Dunfield made just one appearance for City, against Chelsea in 2002, with his progress at the club blocked by the array of midfield talent assembled by Kevin Keegan.
Dunfield was a tidy passer and enjoyed a tackle, but after a loan spell at Bury, where he was made to feel a part of the first-team setup, he asked Keegan for permission to join them permanently and he did.
8. Lee Croft
Lee Croft made 32 appearances for City after representing England at every level up to the under-20 side. The club had high hopes for him, but his development stagnated and he was eventually allowed to leave to join Norwich in 2006.
Often used as a substitute intended to inject some pace into the City side, Croft struggled to break through and establish himself in the first XI. He now plays for St. Johnstone, where he's made 18 appearances this season.
9. Ched Evans
Ched Evans lacked any discernible qualities that were going to see him excel at the highest level, and after making 16 league appearances for City and scoring just one goal, he left the club to join Sheffield United.
Evans was scoring goals for the Blades—42 league goals in 77 starts—but he was sent to prison in 2012 after being convicted of rape. He is still serving his sentence.
10. Stephen Elliott
Stephen Elliott's post-City career took him to Sunderland, Wolves, Preston, Norwich, Hearts and Coventry and saw him make nine appearances for Ireland, but it was clear very quickly that he didn't have the tools to make it as a City striker.
Elliott lacked pace and made just two substitute appearances for the Blues. He's currently unattached after being released by Coventry in the summer.
11. Ishmael Miller
The 27-year-old made 20 appearances for City and failed to score a goal before his 2008 move to West Brom. He had a significant physical presence, but his technique and understanding of the game weren't good enough to see him succeed.
12. Chris Killen
New Zealand forward Chris Killen made just three substitute appearances for City before being shown the exit door. He played for Wrexham and Port Vale on loan, before joining Oldham permanently.
13. Dickson Etuhu
Dickson Etuhu was considered one of City's finest prospects when he emerged from the club's academy back in 2000, but 13 first-team appearances later and he was gone.
He eventually ended up at Fulham, where he performed very well during their best Premier League campaigns, and he is now at Blackburn.
He's a tough-tackling defensive midfielder, full of power and pace, but technically he's deficient, and that has prevented him for reaching the top of the game.
14. Vladimir Weiss
Vladimir Weiss only made five appearances for City despite being touted as a potential star, and eventually left the club to join Pescara after loan spells at Bolton, Rangers and Espanyol.
A tricky winger capable of ghosting past full-backs with ease, Weiss scored in the FA Youth Cup final win over Chelsea in 2008, two games that suggested he had a big future. He played for Slovakia in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but was barely given an opportunity to impress at City. He left permanently in 2012.
15. Michael Johnson
In terms of natural ability, Michael Johnson stands out as City's best academy graduate of the last 20 years. Johnson had everything: a great touch, wonderful passing, superb vision and the ability to score goals. He looked set to play regularly for City and England for years to come.
In 2007/08 under Sven-Goran Eriksson, Johnson was City's best player, eclipsing the array of new signings the Swede had assembled from all corners of the globe. Johnson made 25 appearances that season and was touted as the heir to Colin Bell's throne.
He was wonderful to watch, full of a natural feel for the game. He was a box-to-box player capable of starting and finishing attacks.
However, mental health issues led to him becoming embroiled in controversy, including drink-driving offences and many sightings of him across Manchester behaving unprofessionally. He retired from football last season aged just 24.