Where are they now? Former Manchester City youngster Willo Flood

Though Manchester City now boast the riches to form one of the most exciting academies in world football, it’s not too long ago that the club were forced to scout talent a lot closer to home.

Today marks the birthday of a man who progressed through the youth system in the era that dawned just before the one that propelled City into the European elite, a certain Willo Flood. Now into his fourth spell with Scottish Championship side Dundee United, it’s been quite the journey for a man who preaches the importance of actually playing football, rather than enjoying the financial rewards.

Once touted for big things in Manchester, it’s time to take a look at exactly what happened to the Irishman.

Signed from Dublin-based Irish association football club Cherry Orchard in 2002, diminutive midfielder Flood has the Sky Blues to thank for affording him a career in football. Having picked up a painful-sounding dislocated patella injury at the age of 14, he was unable to finish his club’s efforts in the U14 All-Ireland Final, though was handed a winners’ medal regardless.

In fact, Flood’s career could have been over before it began on that fateful day. Amazingly, the medical team at the game failed to realise the extent of his injury and he’d continue playing the final until he was taken to hospital.

“I was 14 and I dislocated my patella after 15 minutes. It was a sore one. I was on the ground and looked down – my knee was one way and the kneecap was the other.

“When they straightened it out, it popped back in. The guys from the St John’s Ambulance said I would be back playing after seven days. Hopefully they got sacked after that game.

As a result of his strong performances for his youth side, the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Celtic are thought to have cast keen eyes over his situation in the Irish capital, though he would eventually move to Maine Road and would later thank City for helping him through his injury.

Still, his time with the club wouldn’t be an overly happy one. Despite impressing former manager Kevin Keegan enough to earn a new contract, Flood spent most of his time on loan with Rochdale and Coventry City, making just 14 appearances for the Citizens.

Clearly a talented midfielder, the presence of big players such as Steve McMannaman, Trevor Sinclair and Shaun Wright-Phillips made it difficult for him to truly impose himself upon first-team proceedings. While life on the pitch may have proved frustrating for the midfielder, life of off it was about to take a rather dark turn indeed.

At the age of 19, he was burgled at knifepoint while watching television at his home in Wythenshawe, by a 29-year-old man wearing a Manchester City top. Having broken into the home he recently bought, just south of Manchester, the man would then take a knife out of Flood’s own kitchen and instruct him to take his plasma screen down off the wall.

For twenty minutes, the midfielder was frogmarched around his home by Paul Forden and forced to give up cash, a stereo and a games console.

Following the man’s orders with a knife pointed towards his back, his robber instructed him not to take it ‘personally’, before Flood threw the TV onto the floor and ran off.

“I was watching TV and a boy walks in with a big knife. It wasn’t his own knife, it was a knife he took from my kitchen!

“I jumped up, and I was like, you’ve gotta run for him. Then I thought, nah, nah, don’t be doing that, Willo.”

“I remember carrying it outside and the knife was to the back of me. As soon as I got to the front door I threw it on the floor. There was one house lit up down the end of the road – I’ve never ran so fast in my life.”

Recounting his ordeal to the BBC, Flood made relative light of it, though at the time, it must have been a harrowing experience. In fact, the Manchester Evening News would report in 2006 that the Dublin-born midfielder was the subject of recurring nightmares and became unable to live alone after the experience.

Not long after, Flood would join Cardiff City for a nominal fee in 2006 and failed to really get going for the Bluebirds, but would start the most important relationship of his career while on their books. With former boss Dave Jones eager to see how he could develop, Flood was sent out on loan to Dundee United.

Though he now has a strong connection to all that revolves around Tannadice, he was actually sent off on his debut for the Tangerines during the 2007/08 season, but would later win the 2007/08 Scottish Premier League Goal of the Season Award with a fine strike against St. Mirren.

After impressing for United, it wasn’t long until SPFL giants Celtic cast keen eyes over his situation in the Welsh capital. A Dublin boy donning the iconic green and white of the Hoops should have been a dream come true, though it was largely an unhappy marriage.

With so much speculation leading up to his move, the Parkhead faithful would quite openly vent their disappointment with the signing, believing he wasn’t good enough for the club at the time. Interestingly enough, his move to Paradise would teach him something that seems to be forgotten in modern day football.

”People say, the green and white hoops, it’s great for a Dublin boy, but I absolutely hated it. I just wanted out.”

“If I could give any advice to anybody I’d say, ‘Who cares about the money? Just go and play games.”

A move to Middlesbrough saw him return south of the border though he picked up a serious injury and was ruled out for six months, before rejoining Dundee United in 2011. Describing his previous loan stint at the club as the ‘best time of his career’, Flood would enjoy another two years on the banks of the River Tay before Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes would identify him as the ideal man to lead his rebuild at Pittodrie.

During his time with the Dons, Flood would win the first trophy since the All-Ireland final all those years ago in the shape of the Scottish League Cup, before returning to Dundee United for his third spell as part of Ray McKinnon attempts to lead them out of the Scottish Championship.

While the prospect of facing another season in the second tier of Scottish football looks like it’s on the cards, Flood has set one final goal in a career that has seen him travel around the United Kingdom.

“Get the club back where it belongs and I’d retire a happy man.”

 


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