Winger Shaun Wright-Philips admires his former club, Chelsea, but says contrasts extend beyond mere money.
City engineer an organic element
The comparisons are as inevitable as they are frequent. Equipped with endless ambition and limitless funds, they are portrayed as the twin arriviste challengers to the established elite.
Yet, according to a man capable of giving a unique insight into both Manchester City and Chelsea, such depictions are incorrect. "Apart from the fact there's money, there's a lot different," said Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose time at Stamford Bridge was sandwiched by two spells at Eastlands. "The clubs are always going to be structured in different ways." They meet tomorrow with proof of their disparities very clear. The accusation is that Chelsea have bought success something while City, if it is measured in silverware, are yet to achieve it. But there is also an organic element to City's development that Wright-Phillips, who came through the ranks at Maine Road, is convinced will continue.
While the obvious question is when his current club can reach the level his former employers are at, the winger counsels caution. "We have the players and the potential but I just don't think it's something that happens overnight," Wright-Phillips said. "It's taken them four or five years to get in that position where they are strongly challenging for the title every year. We need time to achieve those goals."
The fact remains, however, that City secured home and away wins over the champions last season. A positive gameplan accounted for their triumphs, Wright-Phillips believes. "We just went for it rather than waiting for them to come at us," he said. "We had them on the back foot a bit so I think that they are taking notice of us and will be more prepared. That's why we have to be on red alert." Indeed, the 28-year-old is an ardent admirer of Chelsea who, he thinks, are a much-changed team since he left London two years ago. "Carlo Ancelotti has got them playing great football and playing his way," Wright-Phillips added. "I've been very impressed, especially with Michael Essien and the way Ashley [Cole] and [Didier] Drogba and [Florent] Malouda have been playing."
Ancelotti's attacking blueprint has deflected criticism of Chelsea yet the fact remains that since John Terry established himself in the side a decade ago, no homegrown player has followed suit. The contrast with City is clear. While Wednesday's Carling Cup defeat to West Bromwich Albion was a setback, it also marked the debuts of Javan Vidal, Ben Mee and John Guidetti. They take the number of Academy graduates to 34 - Wright-Phillips himself was the pioneer - to have figured in the first team over the past dozen years.
"It's nice to see the work that got put in when I was younger by [coaches] Jim Cassell, Frankie Bunn, Alex Gibson and Paul Power continuing," he said. "It's important not only for the club but also for the country. We need young English players of the highest standard coming through." When the arrival of foreign owners was followed by an imported manager, Roberto Mancini, there was some scepticism about the future of the club's youth products. Instead there are indications of a renewed commitment, with Mancini's presence at reserve-team matches a sign of his willingness to give them a chance. "You have to take an interest because there's something you don't want to miss in the current years," reasons Wright-Phillips. "Dedryck Boyata, Greg Cunningham, Alex Nimely, until he got injured, and Abdisalam [Ibrahim] are training with us more and don't look out of place. It's really good to see that and hopefully the next batch will follow them." His own future is less certain. His contract expires in 2012 and, as Wright-Phillips explained: "I would like to stay for the long term but obviously nothing's been sorted out. The main thing is I'm enjoying my time here." That enjoyment will be all the greater should City claim the scalp the whole division covets and defeat Chelsea. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Third round results involving Premier League teams West Brom 2 Man City 1 Aston Villa 3 Blackburn 1 Chelsea 3 Newcastle 4 Liverpool 2 Northampton 2* * Northampton won on pens Scunthorpe 2 Man Utd 5 Wigan 2 Preston 1 Birmingham 3 MK Dons 1 Brentford 1 Everton 1 * Brentford won on pens Burnley 1 Bolton 0 Sunderland 1 West Ham 2 Tottenham 1 Arsenal 4 Wolves 4 Notts C'ty 2 ? The 4th round draw takes place tomorrow at 3.15pm