ABU DHABI // Expensive shopping trips and acquisitions aside, Manchester City's youth system remains top of manager Mark Hughes's priorities. City's reverred production line, which in recent years has seen Micah Richards, Nedum Onuha, Daniel Sturridge, Shawn Wright-Phillips and Stephen Ireland become first-team graduates, is the envy of England. "Our academy is strong," said the City boss. "We are proud of our academy, we cherish it and want to protect it. The owners understand the importance of developing young talent and we receive unprecedented support from our owners to continue the excellent work our coaches are already doing."
In an era of extensive foreign imports, academy graduates breathe life into clubs, and in an era when the British Isles' players are chronically over-valued, many a side have made a healthy profit by selling their home-grown players. City themselves are destined for healthy compensation following Sturridge's defection to Chelsea. Indeed, most clubs' successful - and cost effective - team strategies dovetail exotic recruits with developed juniors. Ireland, City's Player of the Year last season, is living proof of that.
With 13 goals last term, Ireland linked with new-boy Robinho as if he was the Brazilian. "I've been at the club for eight years and every year it's got better and bigger," he said. Still just 22, Ireland acknowledges City's progress will increase squad competition. "I'm looking forward to the first game of the season. To be playing with players like these is a dream come true," he said. "It's great to have a squad like this and I have to worry about my place in the team. It's going to make me work harder."
Ireland's penchant for graft - one of the reasons behind his "best player" accolade - are attributes honed in City's academy, his development a delight to Hughes and Manchester City's money-men. firstname.lastname@example.org