When Sergio Aguero scored that goal to give Manchester City a last-gasp Premier League title in 2012, they rewrote history.
Now, as I walk through the gates, on what happens to be a beautiful sunny day in Manchester, of their new £200m City Football Academy (CFA), it is clear that they are determined to do it again.
As you enter the main City HQ, there is a striking message on the wall from the club’s owner, Sheikh Mansour. It states: “We are building a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars.”
In recent seasons, the Cityzens have become synonymous with spending big on transfers and wages, but the campus shows that while they want success in the short-term, there are also some meticulous plans for the future and a legacy to be created.
From the lobby area you get a sneak preview of the fabulous 7,000-capacity academy stadium, which is primarily used for youth matches and the women’s side’s home games. With the Etihad Stadium clearly visible beyond one of the open corners, there is a real sense that the new complex has created a close-knit community at the club.
In total, there are 16.5 pitches, of which 12.5 are dedicated to youth development. That means that two-thirds of the facility is dedicated to the youngsters, and shows the importance to the club of producing their own players. And they want them to be local too. 75% of the players in the academy have been taken from the Greater Manchester area.
The half-pitch mentioned is especially for goalkeeper training, and there is also a pitch designated exclusively for the first-team to work on set-pieces. The incredible attention to detail is again highlighted by the fact that there are three different types of grass pitches, allowing the first-team to prepare for the conditions of specific grounds and surfaces they might be playing on.
More than 450 individuals train at the facility every week, from the Under-6s to the first-team, and from speaking to some of the youth players, you get a real sense of the togetherness and inspiration that this helps bring.
As we enter The Performance Centre, this closeness is emphasised as some of the academy and youth players are using the multi-use gym alongside the ladies’ side, which includes England captain and past Shoot cover star Steph Houghton.
As I am shown around the various top-of-the-range parts of the centre, I start to get an understanding at how this is a facility that, arguably, may be the best in the world. Some of the high-tech features have to be seen to be believed.
But it is not just the football that the club focuses on. Education is vital and 78 of the academy players are also studying at St Bede’s College or Connell Sixth Form College, to help give them a career outside of football, should they need it, in the future.
The facility is modern and state of the art, and that is shown through the furniture exhibited throughout the complex. Shelves contain books and footballs – a nice metaphor for how important education is alongside the beautiful game. The CFA is not just a workplace though, and you almost get the feeling that it has been made to feel homely for the developing youth prospects too. For example, there are also areas where you can chill out – we see a room complete with sofas, a giant TV screen and games consoles – a vital area for the youngsters in what can be such a stress-driven and high-pressure sport.
The Media Zone is based in the City HQ, providing a 110-seater conference centre, including translation booths and media studio space. Looking out onto the Academy Stadium, this is where Manuel Pellegrini and the City players deliver their pre-match press conferences.
My tour finishes with an opportunity to look at the community pitch, which is cleverly tailored to the club by having an artificial sky blue turf. Local children from schools, colleges and the community can use it during the week, allowing them to also be part of this incredible journey.
As I depart, I can’t help but get enticed into the ambitious ethos that Manchester City have created with the CFA, and there is no doubt that we will see the positive impacts of it sooner rather than later.