‘Football’s Unsung Heroes’ – Manchester City’s Jim Cassell

Manchester City’s Youth Academy Director Jim Cassell is one of the last leading lights left in the Premier League whose record of producing young talented players at the City of Manchester Stadium is without reproach.

Players such as Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton, Stephen Ireland, Nedum Onuoha, Daniel Sturridge, Michael Johnson and Micah Richards are just some of the names that Cassell has nurtured through the youth ranks at Manchester City. Yet with the Eastlands club under the new ownership of Sheikh Mansour, doubt has been cast over the prospect of City’s youth players breaking into the first team with the oil rich owners wanting instant success with lavish transfer budgets bestowed. Yet even now Cassell is bucking the trend with the latest academy products Dedryck Boyata and Vladimir Weiss making first team appearances this season.

Cassell’s professional career spanned all of 2 matches for Bury in 1971 before having to retire due to a knee injury. Upon retirement Cassell worked for his local government authority for over 19 years whilst doing some scouting for local club Oldham. Upon Joe Royle leaving Oldham for Manchester City in 1997 he took Cassell with him to become the clubs chief scout and youth development officer. Thirteen years on and Joe Royle has long since gone but Cassell remains and has made Manchester City’s youth development academy one of the best in the country.

His crowning achievement came in 2008 when Man City won the Youth FA Cup final over the expensive kids of Chelsea with a 4-2 aggregate victory. The likes of Weiss, Sturridge and Boyata all played and whilst Sturridge has now joined Chelsea and Weiss is currently on loan at Bolton it shows Cassell knows how to produced Premier League players. One only needs to look at the success of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards and Stephen Ireland. All with international caps and an integral part of Manchester City’s side.

Cassell is of a dying breed in the Premier League. With numerous foreign owners and the pressure of instant success ever greater, cheaper foreign imports are the preferred method of purchase. An understanding of managers positions must take into account, if things are not going well after 6 months, then the sack is likely. Hence managers won’t take as much of a risk on younger players and nurture them through first team football. Arsene Wenger may be an exception to the rule, yet Cassell at Manchester City is showing it can be done. Sheikh Mansour should not cast aside such an asset, Tottenham are reportedly very keen in offering Cassell the position of Youth Academy Director at White Hart Lane and Mansour would do well to make sure Cassell feels not only wanted, but that his young players will get their chance.

Though seemingly meaningless now given City’s gargantuan riches, Cassell has saved the club millions in transfer fees. Players such as Onuoha who are good squad players and cover is not needed to be purchased. Furthermore Cassell has brought money into the club, the sale of Barton for example; Sturridge’s move to Chelsea all injected money into the coffers. Man City fans are particularly proud of their youth academy and so they should be, it’s producing some of the finest young talent in the country. Jim Cassell is ultimately responsible for this incredible turnover of players and should be saluted.