City winger Lee Croft this afternoon gave everyone a little peek into life inside the country's most successful footballer factory – the Platt Lane HQ of Jim Cassell's Manchester City Academy.
Two of Cassell's products were on duty at Wembley last night as full-back Micah Richards and Shaun Wright-Phillips helped the nation kiss good-bye to Euro2008 qualification with that woeful home defeat to Croatia.
Another four will be featuring this weekend at the top end of the Premiership as Sven Goran Eriksson's charges look to continue their bright start to the new season through such home-grown talents as Richards, Michael Johnson, Stephen Ireland, Nedum Onuoha and keeper Joe Hart.
And, of course, two more will be on duty at Carrow Road on Saturday where 22-year-old Croft could find himself slinging in crosses to the Canaries' latest loan arrival, 18-year-old Eastlands prospect Ched Evans.
“They have got a very good record of bringing young players through – I don't know what the secret is,” said Croft, who came under Cassell's charge when he was 12-years-old.
The facilities on offer at Platt Lane were one of the big attractions as the blue half of Manchester throw all their resources in growing their own as opposed to the global shopping spree their near-neighbours indulge in.
Certainly there would appear to be a shift in power – that the days of the Giggs', Scholes', Nevilles, Beckhams and Butts coming up through the Old Trafford ranks are long gone. Now the best and brightest kids are emerging at Eastlands.
On-loan Baggies striker Ishmael Miller and Newcastle United's lively midfielder Joey Barton are another two to roll off the production line. Willo Flood and Croft's big pal Bradley Wright-Phillips two more. Dickson Etuhu's kid brother Kelvin is also in the system.
“They've got a lot of good coaches there and they've got a great set-up,” said Croft. “And in both Stuart Pearce and Sven Goran Eriksson, City have had managers that are willing to give youth a chance.”
It was the facilities on offer in the heart of Manchester's Moss Side that swayed a 12-year-old Croft and – presumeably – worked its magic on the young Evans four years further down the line.
“At that time I could have gone to any of the clubs in the North-West, but it was the facilities they've got there that helped me to decide where I should go,” said Croft, who would gain a host of England Youth honours under Cassell's coaching team.
“Frank Bunn has now moved on, but both Alex Gibson and Paul Power are both really good coaches – and they do pick good kids to start with,” said Croft, with Cassell quoted this summer as saying that his latest Under-Nine intake were up their with the best.
Some, however, still stand out. Like the strapping youngster from the wrong side of Leeds.
“Micah (Richards) was always a bit special,” said Croft. “But then there's Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips, so they have done really well – there's a lot of quality coming through the system.”
One of whom, ideally, is Master Evans after the 18-year-old – with all of 11 minutes of senior action to his name – became Glenn Roeder's fourth loan signing when he arrived in Norfolk yesterday fresh from bagging a hat-trick in the Welsh Under-21 success over France at Ninian Park on Tuesday night.
“To be honest with you I don't kow anything about him – he's a lot younger than me so I've never seen him play,” said Croft. “And we've been off today so I haven't even seen him in training.”
Simply throwing a fresh face or four into battle does, says Croft, give everyone a lift ahead of the long and difficult road ahead. In every likelihood, Norwich could find themselves slugging it out in the bottom six right through to the spring.
If not, for that matter, beyond.
As Roeder himself has been keen to stress, given the depth of Norwich's predicament there isn't any quick or easy fix. Three points against Coventry City would be a start, but no more than that – a start.
“It does give the boys a lift seeing any player that adds extra quality coming in,” said the City winger.
Roeder – who had earlier postponed this morning's traditional pre-match Press conference to keep on the trail of a fifth loan signing – looked to have been thwarted in his efforts as the five o'clock loan deadline came and went without no sign of fresh movement.
From now through to January 1, therefore, the Canaries will have to go with what they have got – including a teenage keeper on the bench unless the new City chief can pull a free agent out of the bag to deputise for the injured Matthew Gilks.
No fresh loan signing would at least ensure that on-loan Chelsea youngster Jimmy Smith would – as the fifth loan face after Messrs Taylor, Pattison, Camara and Evens – be able to figure in any 16.
Roeder suggested in tonight's Evening News that getting hold of No5 was proving very tricky. Particularly if No5 was of the senior player variety and had the Waitrose shopping run to consider.
“It's proving very difficult to try to secure senior players. Managers don't want to let senior players out, even if they are down the pecking order, because of injuries,” Roeder told the Evening News.
“They try to keep as many as possible around. If they do let them out, you come up against the problem I mentioned before – they don't always want to come here on loan because they're sitting too comfortably.”