With an unbelievable set of facilities available and seemingly now a pathway to the first team, there seems to be no better time and place to be a young player than now at Manchester City. Kelechi Iheanacho recently made his mark on the first-team with a winning goal against Crystal Palace. Josh Lawless takes a look at lightning winger Brandon Barker, who regularly trains with the first-team and could be in the fold very soon.
Who is Brandon Barker?
A Manchester lad, Brandon Barker has been at Manchester City since the age of eight and has been tipped for a bright future at the club. Barker has progressed through the ranks at City and has had quite the rise over the last few years.
The winger made the step up to the U18’s set up a couple of years back despite still qualifying to play for the U15 side. Under the tutelage of Jason Wilcox, Barker had a tremendous first season as a scholar and has maintained a similar level of performance in the last couple of seasons. City’s first-team ended the 2013/14 season with two trophies and a little further down the age categories Barker picked up an accolade of his own, winning the Academy Player’s Player of the Year award.
The following season is when he really began to catch the eye, turning out regularly for the EDS (U21) side as well as acting as a vital cog in Jason Wilcox’s U18 side which reached the FA Youth Cup final.
In the absence of the likes of Rony Lopes, Barker became a key member of Patrick Vieira’s side in domestic terms as well as excelling in the UEFA Youth League tournament. He has figured 11 times in the competition and has four goals to his name.
Such form clearly attracted attention from senior officials, with Barker joining a number of youth players in a mid-season friendly with Hamburg in December. The possibility of him making the squad for an FA Cup tie with Middlesbrough was mentioned, but the youngster narrowly missed out.
Still though, Barker ended the season strongly, helping the young Blues lift the inaugural Premier League International Cup. He destroyed a number of defenders in a plethora of competitions, finishing with 12 goals, second only to Thierry Ambrose in the goalscoring rankings.
City made a statement of their faith in Barker when he penned a new five-year deal with the club in the summer.
Style of play, Strengths, Weaknesses
Barker is a very direct player, predominantly playing on the left flank in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 – the primary system played by all age groups in the academy set-up. This system suits Barker perfectly, who is capable of going down the left or cutting in. Jason Wilcox, U18 coach, is one of Brandon’s biggest admirers and has spoken glowingly of the player’s one-on-one abilities.
He just loves taking on defenders and can do so in a number of ways. He has a lovely blend of skill and lightning pace. There is even the possibility of him playing in a central role, similarly to how Raheem Sterling did in Brendan Rodgers’ 2013/14 Liverpool side. With two great feet, a knack of exploding into life and an impressive record of goals and assists, it could be an interesting position for him.
But down the left is where we have seen him truly excel at academy level so far. So many times in 2014/15 Barker and full-back Angelino ripped teams apart with their powerful running and clever play. The two struck up a wonderful understanding and were a joy to watch.
Barker thrives when paired with another skilled, technical player who loves to maraud up the pitch. Aleksandar Kolarov could well bring him to new heights if the youngster was to get a run in the City side.
Able to explode outside or come infield and unleash one hell of a shot, it’s easy to see why right-backs have such difficulty dealing with him. He even had a little with fun with the Roma defenders in pre-season.
He does however have his flaws, but it’s more to do with his age rather than his way of playing. As a winger, he does not have the greatest work-rate and defensive contribution, but that’s understandable when you see the impact he has going forward. His decision making can be questioned on occasion but even the likes of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley still struggle with that part of their game. Playing with high-quality players should improve that aspect.
What does the future hold?
City have done brilliantly to tie down Barker to a long-term deal, demonstrating just how highly they rate him. The emphasis on youth within the club now means that many prospects will have to be moved on, evidence coming in the form of Rony Lopes and Jose Angel Pozo, who left the club this summer. The fact is that only the very best will make it at City. But with Kelechi Iheanacho laying down a real marker with the winning goal against Palace and a number of youngsters, including Barker, in and around first-team proceedings, the signs are positive.
I personally feel that the best thing for Barker is to get a loan move to bridge that gap between U21 football and the first team. Celtic and Leeds were rumoured to have enquired about his services in the summer but nothing materialised. If he does manage to get a loan move with regular first team action, I think Barker could really make an impression in the first-team fold in the future.
Written by Josh Lawless
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