It’s not every year that a team racks up 100 Premier League points, scoring more than a hundred goals in the progress. In fact, before last season it had never been done before. There were plenty of theories about how Manchester City managed to create such history, ranging from the brilliance of manager Pep Guardiola, the unity of their squad, or the £448 million spent assembling it over the past two years. After spending a day at Manchester City’s Etihad campus, being trained by their coaches, one thing is clear – it’s all of the above, and a whole lot more.
Arriving at the Etihad isn’t like arriving at just another top-level arena. Easily accessible by metro, the stadium stands front and centre, spiked supports stretching high into the air. This is a fortress in the football cliché, and resembles one from the outside. Inside is as clean and crisp as the modern game dictates – electronic gates bar entry, premium carpets under feet and a corporate area where you can stand with the players pre-game.
The home changing room is impeccable. Seating is laid out around the curve of a semi-circle, facing a club badge emblazoned large on the floor. It feels special even when empty; the pride to enter as part of a title-challenging unit must be motivating in the least.
Stepping down toward the pitch, the size and pedigree of the club is immediate – passing numerous more crests and an extensive trophy list surely intends to remind players of who they are, where they stand, and what it means to be a part of this club.
This pre-game journey compounds the experience players will have had in the weeks, months and years prior to match day. Hearing from Andy Smith and Alan Dixon, City international coaches, it is obvious that nothing is left to chance. Manchester City have a philosophy distilled from the top down.
The first team’s drills, mentality and lifestyle are diluted down for their youth teams, and again when coaches like Alan and Andy take them to younger age groups or to potential talent overseas. Each hopeful child who trains as part of the City football academy learns techniques similar to those the first team are perfecting, and for the talent brought over from abroad, also things like “football English”.
This replication of first team activities stretches to the outer reaches of football life. Signs litter the canteen, displaying the correct portioning of food for match-day fueling. (1/2 plate of impact carbs, ¼ root vegetables, ¼ protein.) Players are encouraged to ask themselves if their day has been active enough or if they’ve drunk enough water. Around the frame of the communal bathroom reads a message to parents, encouraging them to think about their children’s on-pitch behaviour.
Manchester City’s approach is holistic, and it is built to show on the pitch. In our training session with the coaches, drills revolved around the same set of skills: being comfortable on the ball, creating space, exploiting 1-on-1 situations. Progressing from small-scale rondos to 1-on-1 matches scaled up the application of these skills, clearly transitioning the moves practiced to in-game relevance, even for we who could only dream.
And it’s all working. Manchester City stand as runaway favourites for another Premier League trophy, as well as looking the most likely usurper of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s Champions League domination. They have youth team prospects pushing to start ahead of their superstars and their connections with clubs in growing leagues look to be building a future abundant with prosperity. Guessing what will happen from here is no science, but if last season and their present state is anything to go by, other clubs may have a hard time keeping up with City’s all-in approach.
Written by Jake Wilson
All or Nothing: Manchester City is available on Prime Video from Friday 17th August