Manchester // Manchester City's youth system is being overhauled in the hope of bringing more home-grown talent to the first team and discovering hidden gems worldwide, including in the UAE and Gulf region. And the team is pinning those hopes on the arrival of Jim Cassell, formerly director of the English Premier League club's academy in Manchester, who now has the task of establishing and running a similar academy in Abu Dhabi.
During his time in Manchester, he oversaw the rise of 27 youngsters from youth team to first-team level in 12 years. They include the England internationals Shaun Wright-Phillips and Micah Richards, as well as Stephen Ireland, who was the team's player of the year last season. Cassell said he was excited by the new challenge that awaited him and his team, which could include the former City captain Paul Power and Alex Gibson, a former England youth coach.
Although the Middle East is not a well-known hotbed of football talent, Cassell said he was heartened by how much the UAE had grown - particularly in sport - since he first visited in 1990. "I had a relation in Dubai and visited them," Cassell said. "When I see the growth from back then to now, it's amazing. It shows what you can build and achieve over time. It was so exciting when I heard Sheikh Mansour had taken over the club.
"I know the enthusiasm is there for sport, particularly football, in the UAE and if we can help the young players out there, then why not? "We have been out to Qatar in the past and these are very young countries in terms of sport. We have to put structures in place that will develop the whole process; walk before running. "But I believe it will come and I hope we can work with, and develop, talent in Abu Dhabi and other parts.
"There are promising players everywhere and it's about seeing how far they can go. This is an exciting project for us and I am looking forward to it." Lee Mitchell, a Uefa-qualified coach who played professionally in the UK before spending 10 years as a youth development director in the US, said the academy would be a welcome addition to Abu Dhabi's football scene. Mr Mitchell, who works at the American University in Sharjah as its director of wellness, said: "Youth development is very underutilised here.
"It's really overlooked, and by the time players do go to teams, they are turning up with a half-empty tool kit where an academy will fill in the gaps. "There is a lack of good scouting and coaching talent at a young age here. UAE players do love the game and they're very creative." How the Abu Dhabi academy will work with the one in Manchester has not been finalised, but more details are expected when the squad arrives for a training camp, and City will play a friendly against the UAE national team on November 12.
Cassell added: "It is great to be in on the ground floor of such an exciting project. We have the proverbial blank sheet of paper. We want to be part of the successful evolvement of this club and the best way to do that is being at the forefront of the creation of new plans. The attraction of the role I am about to undertake with the international academies is that I have to come out of my comfort zone and if you want to go into the top echelon of the game, that is what you have to do, whether you are player, a coach or an academy chief."
Andy Welsh, who has also worked at the Manchester United and Leeds academies, is expected to step into Cassell's former post. Maintaining the success of the Manchester academy has been one of the messages emphasised by the chairman, Khaldoon al Mubarak, since the buyout. Garry Cook, the club's chief executive, said: "The chairman has stated repeatedly his absolute commitment to both youth development and the Manchester community, with both being at the heart of everything that the club continues to do."
firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Melanie Swan