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Making the grade

By Chris Bevan

Manchester City's players celebrate their Youth Cup final triumph
Manchester City's players celebrate their Youth Cup final triumph


Even by his own high standards, April was a month to remember for Manchester City's academy director, Jim Cassell.

His under-18 side won the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 1986 and another of his graduates, Sam Williamson, made his first-team debut against Portsmouth.

Left-back Williamson is the 26th City player to go from the youth ranks to the senior team since Cassell arrived at the club in 1997.

The progress of the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards, Joey Barton, Michael Johnson and Stephen Ireland is well known.

But the path from youth star to first-team player is not always so straightforward, making that statistic even more impressive.

Curtis Obeng
Obeng has been a regular in the England Under-19 side

Curtis Obeng, who played in the side that lost the 2006 FA Youth Cup final to Liverpool, is attempting to follow the likes of Richards and Johnson into the Premier League.

The Stretford-born 19-year-old was given a two-year deal when he signed his first professional contract in the summer of 2007.

Obeng is an England Under-19 international right-back but he is still waiting for his first-team debut and admits the step-up to senior pro is not an easy one.

He told BBC Sport: "The age of 18 to 20 is a key time for any footballer - you are starting from scratch in so many ways.

"Next year will be make or break for me in terms of my future here. I know I have to earn a new contract, be pushing for the first team and hopefully be playing Premier League football.

"That is easier said than done though. But I know I have just got to be patient and it is up to the manager at the end of the day."

Of the 18 players that played alongside Obeng in City's run to the 2006 Youth Cup final, seven - Richards, Johnson, Williamson, Daniel Sturridge, Shaleum Logan, Kelvin Etuhu and Ched Evans - have all played for the first team.

But four - Laurence Matthewson, Ashley Williams, David Vadon and Scott Young - have already been released and a fifth, Garry Breen, has been told he will not get a new deal this summer.

606: DEBATE
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Williamson is also out of contract at the end of the season along with Christian Mouritsen and Michael Daly, who are all waiting to learn their fate.

So, of those still waiting for their senior debuts, only Obeng and midfielders Karl Moore and Paul Marshall know they will be at the club next season.

Unsurprisingly for a player who has been with City over 10 years, Obeng remains determined to prove himself at Eastlands.

"I know it is going to be tough to make it here," he added. "But that is my dream. I have got a real affinity to the club and I would hate to leave.

"People like Micah and Michael are great role models to help you carry on making progress.

"When you see the success that people you grew up playing with have had it just encourages you to keep going and gives you belief you can get something out of the game.

"To be selected for England at any level is such an honour too and it has definitely helped my confidence to know that people are looking at me and thinking I am good enough to play at different levels."

The first hurdle for any player coming out of the academy is adjusting to life as a full-time player, something Obeng says takes time.

"I loved my time at the academy - I was playing with my mates and you are very close because you have all come through together," he explained.

"It is very different when you move up to become a senior player. For a start you are very much left to your own devices.

I definitely feel as though I am improving and the coaching is all about keeping you heading in the right direction

Curtis Obeng

"Obviously you train in the morning from 10am until 12 noon but then everything else you want to do is up to you.

"Down in the academy, you have double sessions and you are told what training you need to do and which weights you need to do.

"As a senior player, it is largely up to you if you want to stay behind and do extra stuff yourself."

Establishing yourself at a club, especially given the influx of foreign players into English football, is harder than ever for young English prospects, but Obeng remains optimistic about his chances.

"When you sign as a professional you become a smaller fish in a bigger pond," he stated.

"But you are playing with better players who are in and around the first team and that just pushes you on.

"I definitely feel as though I am improving and the coaching is all about keeping you heading in the right direction."




see also
Man City triumph in FA Youth Cup
16 Apr 08 |  Football
Schmeichel set for Man City exit
16 Apr 08 |  Man City
Micah Richards column
16 Apr 08 |  Football
Micah Richards column
27 Sep 07 |  Football
West Brom sign Man City striker
15 Aug 07 |  West Bromwich Albion
Miller aims to prove himself
16 May 07 |  Man City
Stability 'key' to youth success
08 Feb 07 |  Football
Football factory or money pit?
08 Feb 07 |  Football


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