From Paris with love
As Manchester City unveil lavish plans to build a state-of-the-art youth academy and training ground we profile the blossoming starlet that got away. Adrien Rabiot, still just 17, has this season made a splash in the Paris St Germain first team but has a past in Manchester.
By Jonathan Johnson - @Jon_LeGossip
Last Updated: 14/09/12 12:08pm
They may already have a squad littered with world-class talent but have Manchester City unknowingly let go of one of Europe's next football superstars?
Now with money to burn and the ability to attract megastar signings from all over the globe, Manchester City could be accused of having overlooked their youth academy in recent years. It's certainly an issue the club are addressing with plans to build a lavish new training ground and academy complex.
Like Paris Saint-Germain did in their pomp during the golden era of the mid 1990's, City appear to have taken their eye off the ball in terms of development from within. Manchester, like Paris, is a hotbed of football potential and City are guilty of having failed to recognise a brilliant talent on their doorstep.
Man City have not had many youth academy graduates make an impact on the first team in recent years, in fact the last of real note to make the breakthrough was Stephen Ireland and his career has taken a nosedive since leaving Eastlands. Michael Johnson showed glimpses of talent but has eventually fallen by the wayside and the club now rely on their considerable spending power to pick up the best domestic talent.
PSG did that once before and managed to lose out on a generation of talented youngsters like Thierry Henry, William Gallas and more recently Hatem Ben Arfa, but the capital club learnt their lesson and have now placed added emphasis on youth in recent years.
Stefan Savic, the much-heralded Montenegro youngster who arrived at Eastlands amidst much fanfare a year ago, was recently shipped off to Fiorentina in exchange for another promising defender of Balkan origin in Matija Nastasic, illustrating just how little chance youth is being given by Roberto Mancini's men.
Whilst a mega-rich club investing in youth is a romantic ideal, £6million Savic is an unsurprising example of how a lack of nurture results in a struggle for the fresh faces who are sometimes thrown in to replace big names like Vincent Kompany, when and if injuries occur. Put simply: there is no room for sentiment and traditional footballing values if you want your club to win at all costs.
Before the arrival of Abu Dhabi United Group in August 2008, Manchester City had a potential gem in their youth academy who was cast out and never fully accommodated after signing for the club in 2005.
Now seven years later, with City's youth academy failing to produce any talent capable of making it into the first team, Adrien Rabiot, one of their former protégées, is making a name for himself in Paris as part of Carlo Ancelotti's star studded XI despite still only being 17.
It is ironic that PSG, another cash-rich club owned by foreign investors, have snapped up a young talent like Rabiot and are now bleeding him into their first team whilst around him the club are spending money like it is going out of fashion thanks to their wealthy benefactors, Qatar Sports Investment. In fact, their President Nasser Al-Khelaifi, has made bold claims that the club will have spent "in excess of €500million" by the time the regime has been in place for five years.
PSG may have the money to throw around at megastars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic without concerning themselves about the consequences, but they are also making a concerted effort to utilise their French contingent.
Youngsters like Rabiot, Clement Chantome and Mamadou Sakho in particular have already featured heavily this season and for France's recent World Cup qualifying double-header with Finland and Belarus, PSG were the best represented team in the camp with four players called up by Didier Deschamps.
Perhaps not as technically gifted as Chantome or as blindingly strong as Sakho, it took longer for Rabiot's talent to be recognised. But he is enjoying the fruits of a long, laboured development having discovered his shortcomings early on and learning to offset them on the pitch by altering his playing style. It would appear that his inability to make an impact during his time at Eastlands has spurred him on to succeed.
Who is Adrien Rabiot?
Rabiot was discovered playing for US Creteil Lusitanos in the suburbs of Paris after being deemed not good enough for the famed Clairefontaine academy which has produced the bulk of France's footballing talent since the 1990s.
Rabiot's passing, awareness and composure was recognised by Manchester City who offered him a place in their youth academy.
Having signed a long-term deal with the club in 2005 before they were taken over by their own moneymen from the United Arab Emirates, Rabiot was part of a strong formation programme at Eastlands but found it difficult to make much of an impression. In fact, he left Manchester after only six months finding it hard to adjust to English life and struggling to communicate with his team-mates and coaching staff.
After returning to his homeland Rabiot was scouted by PSG, his childhood club and that of his now terminally ill father Michel, who incorporated him into their youth setup. Rising through the ranks at a rapid pace, Rabiot made his breakthrough at U19 level thanks to a desire to succeed possibly borne out of the failure of his time in Manchester.
Popular amongst his team-mates and the club's coaching staff, he got his chance in the first team this summer during pre-season and seized it with both hands.
At the tender age of just 17, Rabiot's waif-like physique is similar to that of Javier Pastore, the gifted Argentine playmaker at the heart of the Parc des Princes midfield. His height makes him a threat in the air but he often shies away from physical confrontation. Instead, Rabiot's positioning and excellent control of the ball keep him out of danger and away from conflict.
A holding midfielder now but also capable of playing out wide, Rabiot is competition to new arrival Marco Verratti for the deep-lying playmaker role made fashionable by Andrea Pirlo. Perhaps there is only one midfield berth available right now but in the future, it could be a formidable pairing.
Having featured from the start in the capital club's prestigious pre-season friendly with Spanish giants Barcelona, Rabiot has featured twice in PSG's opening four Ligue 1 fixtures. A late substitute in the recent 2-1 win over Lille, the 17-year old started in the 0-0 draw with Bordeaux in week three.
Played in a more advanced role against les Girondins, Ancelotti recognises the youngster's playmaking qualities and has attempted a few times to move him further up the pitch. Given his tendency to avoid physical confrontation, a role in the attacking third will suit Rabiot who can now learn from Nene, Pastore, Jeremy Menez and Ezequiel Lavezzi, some of Europe's most proficient creators.
Ancelotti has implemented a policy of favouring French talent where possible in an effort to retain some of the club's identity, which detractors including Michel Platini have accused the new regime of overlooking.
Some of PSG's more hardened fans have also championed the causes of some of the club's youth products and Rabiot is the latest in a long conveyor belt of talent.
City's loss was most certainly PSG's gain.