City follow critic's signature design to create vision of an 'intimate hub'

Wenger's Colney dream inspires grand plan to build new training facilities

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The Independent Football

On the flatlands of east Manchester, they have grown accustomed to the money running out. The area surrounding the River Medlock was on its knees by the end of the last century, by which time 100,000 jobs vanished, along with the old Manchester coalfield and the steel, iron and chemical works. The engine of the city stopped running.

Yesterday, came evidence that they've struck oil instead. However cynical the football world might be about football's wealthiest arrivistes, City's effect on its neighbourhood puts other Premier League clubs to shame. Witness the desolation surrounding Anfield, in particular. And though the cynics might characterise the club's plans for an extraordinary new 80-acre training facility as a structure on which to pin the name of Abu Dhabi's airline, thus justifying the £400m sponsorship deal which will help the club meet Uefa Financial Fair Play rules, the three years of work on the project makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that City have yearned for a sustainable model of growing their players, rather than blowing £30m of petrodollars on each one.

Ironically, the man from whom City have taken most ideas for their new home is Arsène Wenger, the manager who has had most distaste for City's new money and who has questioned the honesty of the Etihad deal. Other Premier League clubs boast grander facilities than Wenger's at London Colney – Chelsea's are far more lavish – but the sheer logistical precision of the Arsenal manager's, for whom Colney has been a personal project, surpasses pretty much any other, as far as City are concerned. While Chelsea's players can be hard to locate across three floors of Cobham and Manchester United reconfigured Carrington when they found their players were having to go up flights of stairs for treatment, Colney is a place of ultimate functionality. City want something similar – an "intimate hub" where no player, whether relaxing, training or receiving treatment is more than a few minutes away from the rest. In the modern jargon, it creates a "no excuses environment".

Wenger does not conform to City's notion of one vast campus where trainees are inspired by the sight of the stadium, which will be a short walk away over a sweeping bridge. The Arsenal manager has taken many of his own ideas about the best training environments from Japan and thus wants "calm". To him, Colney is a player's place of work, nothing more, which is why he wants his club's administration out of the way at the Emirates, and why there are none of the loud, inspirational messages which are all the rage at City.

But City, who have also taken the best of the LA Lakers, Nike and New York Giants among others, depart from him, in that respect. Gone will be the inconvenient trek across Manchester from Platt Lane, though the naming of an approach route as "Maine Road" will be a reminder of the days in south Manchester. The Abu Dhabis demonstrated when they built the Yas Marina race track that their ambition has no limit. The new facility has echoes, planned down to such details as three of the 15 pitches being laid with turf mimicking that of specific Premier League clubs. There is a 7,000-capacity stadium for youth matches, "so young players will get the chance to experience the big match atmosphere," said the head of City's academy Mark Allen.

A new academy, to be located alongside the senior squad facilities, will include a classroom and on-site accommodation for 40 academy students to enable the club – already the first in Britain to gain permission for the "deregistering" of some of their academy trainees from school – to undertake all their education.

Surgeons, sports scientists and nutritionists have all been consulted to ensure players get the ultimate recovery time and rehabilitation. Players canvassed at 30 leading sports facilities have concluded that a café/restaurant is preferable to the traditional player canteen, which City will probably be the first club to dispense with. For local people, there is expected to be a college, swimming pool and more on a five-acre site set aside for community facilities. There is also access to the 7,000-seat stadium.

Barcelona's model of developing a philosophy adhered to at every level, from children to first team, is certainly one City are holding on to. Chief football operations officer, Brian Marwood, described yesterday how, when Barcelona's under-19s played City's last week, "you could close your eyes and see a young Iniesta or a young Xavi. In the last Champions League final they had eight players that were home-grown, which is an incredible statistic. They've done it right."

And yet what struck the City delegation who visited the fabled La Masia was the distinct lack of opulence about a facility which, in some respects, was fairly basic. It was simply the players' desire to belong and succeed there which marked them out, City felt. Manchester United's players possess something very similar.

City, who will not disclose the size of investment, will know by 22 December if they have planning approval to build the complex, within about four years. At least once success is a near formality.

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