Professor to help transform Manchester City academy

An emeritus professor at the University of Lincoln has landed a consultancy role at moneybags Premier League giants Manchester City.

Professor Ian Baguley, a specialist in mental health, was snapped up by City with the aim of helping to transform the club’s academy system by implementing a life skills programme for young footballers.

Professor Ian Baguley has worked with the Ministry of Health but is now transferring his knowledge into the Premier League world. Photo: Bradley King

Explaining the problems that talented teenage footballers face, Baguley said: “There is a problem inherent in football that you take kids out of their own environment—away from their social networks, away from their friends—and they’re put into something of a hothouse environment.

“So there was a lot of work that was done improving the technical skills, but in the past there is not a lot that has been done in helping them to deal with the potential stresses that come.”

That all changed in 2008 when the Abu Dhabi United Group took over at Eastlands. Armed with billions of pounds and even more ambition, the new owners were insistent on transforming the club from top to bottom, including the youth system.

Baguley said: “The new owners have had quite a lot of bad press but they’re excellent employers. They care and look after their workforce in a way British companies don’t usually do.

“They’ve done some astonishing things. They were prepared to invest in players, as everyone knows, and they have gone out and spent lots of money on some very, very good players. But one of the things they were first concerned about when they came in was the club’s ability to produce its own players.”

The academy at Manchester City was set up in 1998 and since then 30 of its graduates have gone on to play first team football at the club. But Baguley says that he hopes the latest changes to the syllabus in the youth system help the club to move onto the next level and produce some ‘top, top class players’ who are ‘Champions League quality’.

Baguley’s role in the new syllabus is to help players balance the stresses and strains of playing at the elite level of sport with problems in their personal life—something which he believes has been neglected by football clubs.

“The tradition in football is that if you shout at people louder then they will work harder. It’s something about the British culture that is wrapped up in that as well.”

To combat this Baguley and his colleagues have called in several different professions to help the teenagers deal with the struggles of everyday life. Bankers advise the players on how to look after their money, nutritionists give dietary advice and even journalists brief them on how to deal with the media. Everything combines to create, in theory, a more well-rounded and mentally stable individual.

Baguley continued: “If you think about what other kids go through, then there’s a number of key transitional moments—when you change school, when you leave school and go to university. They are really challenging times…Footballers go through that every year and it is an extremely stressful environment.

However the lifetime City supporter admits that it was tough to stay in his professional role when he first began working at the club: “There’s a part of me that is still a boy and you can’t help it. We have done some teaching sessions at Eastlands as well and I have been out on the pitch because you have to if you’re a fan. I had the chance to walk up the tunnel and walk out onto the pitch. You have to do it.

“I’ve sat in Carlos Tevez’s private box. I’ve done all the things that I would do if I was 12.”

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