Manchester City’s wonderkids from back in 2012 include a future La Liga champion, an Arsenal flop, and a man fresh off a huge goal in the Bundesliga relegation play-off
Back in 2012, when Manchester City were winning their first ever Premier League title, there were high hopes for those coming through the ranks.
Sergio Aguero’s dramatic late winner gave Roberto Mancini’s men the title that season, but the squad contained plenty of players in their late twenties or early thirties. There was hope that a new generation of stars could change that, though.
City have made use of plenty of young stars in Pep Guardiola’s time in charge. Phil Foden is the stand-out example, while Oleksandr Zinchenko made his debut for the club at the age of 20 and Raheem Sterling was the same age when he joined from Liverpool during Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure.
City failed to retain their title under Mancini in 2013, but were back on top 12 months after that with Pellegrini at the helm. As for the highly-rated youngsters, though, it was a rather different story.
The coming years will see City hope to get the most out of other youngsters including the likes of Kayky, James McAtee and Cole Palmer. However, as we can see from the seven City youngsters named among Football Manager’s 100 top wonderkids back in 2012, high potential is no guarantee of high achievement.
Back in 2011, City fought off competition from other big hitters to clinch a deal for 16-year-old Dutch starlet Rekik. The defender joined from Feyenoord, with City paying a reported £700,000 in compensation, with his younger brother Omar also added to the ranks.
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A left-sided centre-back or full-back, Rekik had won the under-17 Euros with the Netherlands alongside the likes of future City defender Nathan Ake and one-time Manchester United man Memphis Depay. However, he made just three appearances for the first team, only one of them in the Premier League, and eventually left for Marseille in 2015.
Now 27, he is playing his club football for Sevilla and featured in the Champions League and Europa League this season. His brother Omar is on the books of Arsenal, and switched his international allegiances to Tunisia before the last Africa Cup of Nations.
One of the more prominent among the seven at the time the FM list was compiled, Savic had a Premier League winner’s medal after 11 appearances in the 2011-12 season. However, he would subsequently be sold to Fiorentina as part of the deal which brought Matija Nastasic to Manchester.
The Montenegrin international impressed in Serie A, earning him a move to Atletico Madrid. And, in seven years in the Spanish capital, he has given a good account of himself.
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Savic played in the final of the 2016 Champions League, with Atleti losing on penalties, and was on the bench for the 2018 Europa League final victory over Marseille. When he took on City this season in Europe, he did so as a La Liga champion, having played 33 times as Diego Simeone’s side took top honours in 2020-21.
Another centre-back, Boyata had gone out on loan for the 2011-12 season, suffering relegation with Boilton Wanderers. Another loan followed in 2012-13, and a player who had made his City debut in 2010 would play just three more times in the Premier League before leaving for good in 2015.
The Belgian made his international debut early on in his City career, and did enough after a permanent move to Celtic to earn a spot in his country’s 2018 World Cup squad. He played all three group games in Russia, including a start in a 1-0 victory over Gareth Southgate’s England.
At club level, Boyata traded Celtic for Hertha Berlin in 2019. It hasn’t been the best of times for the German side, who flirted with Bundesliga relegation in each of the last two seasons, but the defender scored a vital goal in this year’s promotion/relegation play-off to help Felix Magath’s side get the better of Hamburg.
The Manchester City which Greg Cunningham joined in 2007 was very different to the one he left five years later. At the time of the Irish youngster’s arrival, the current owners were yet to arrive and the club had yet to suffer their humbling 8-1 defeat at Middlesbrough under Sven-Goran Eriksson.
A defender who could slot in on the left or in the middle, he did at least get Premier League minutes. Admittedly, not many of them, with both of his top-flight appearances coming from the bench in the 2009-10 season.
While Cunningham would get more Premier League experience years later, turning out for Cardiff in the 2018-19 season, he has mostly been a Championship player. He’s currently in his second stint at Preston North End, and played 26 times in all competitions last season.
Suarez, like Rekik, was another who City fought hard to sign. He moved to Manchester from Celta Vigo as a 17-year-old, despite strong interest from elsewhere in England and Spain, and was on the club’s books when he helped Spain’s under-19s to European glory in 2012 alongside the likes of future Premier League men Kepa Arrizabalaga and Gerard Deulofeu.
The midfielder played twice for City – two cup games under Mancini – before returning to La Liga when Barcelona came calling. A belated Premier League opportunity would arise in 2019, but his loan spell at Arsenal proved to be a damp squib with just six appearances and no goals to his name.
He’s now back where it all began, having rejoined Celta after Unai Emery’s Gunners opted against a permanent move. Now 28, he has been a regular for Eduardo Coudet’s side and helped them finish 11th in their most recent season.
Balotelli was undoubtedly the biggest star at the time the FM list was made. However, a decade on, his stock might not quite be as high as all of his peers.
The Italian had joined from Inter Milan on his 20th birthday, and spent three seasons in City’s first team, scoring 30 goals. He impressed at international level as well, thriving for Italy at Euro 2012 after providing the assist for Aguero’s title-winning goal shortly before the tournament.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing since then, though, with Balotelli’s last Italy cap coming back in 2018. He has rediscovered his scoring touch, finding the net five times on the final day of the Turkish Super Lig season for Adana Demirspor to finish the campaign with 18 in 30 league games.
Guidetti is a little younger than Balotelli, but his exploits at youth level ensured his reputation was sky-high even before his City debut. He had spent the 2011-12 season on loan at Feyenoord, scoring 20 times for the Eredivisie runners-up, but would only make one appearance for his parent club.
That appearance had already been and gone before his Dutch travails. After more loans brought slightly less success – a failure to score a Premier League goal for Stoke City was hardly helpful for his progress – he moved to Celta Vigo in 2015.
The Swedish international has stayed in Spain ever since, with the exception of a loan in Germany, with a run to the Europa League semi-finals in 2017 seeing him go up against eventual champions Manchester United. The 30-year-old was on the fringes for Alaves this season as they finished bottom of La Liga, and is out of contract this summer.