By Keith Weir
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Having vaulted swiftly to the top of English football thanks to huge sums of cash from Abu Dhabi, Manchester City are now investing in youth development to try to maintain their elevated status.
The Premier League champions are building a new football academy at a reported cost of more than 100 million pounds on land adjacent to their Etihad Stadium in the northern English city.
Scheduled to open for the start of the 2014-15 season, it will allow City to train up to 400 young players alongside a squad of first team professionals assembled at great cost from around the globe.
Classrooms and accommodation blocks will be built to educate and house some of the youngsters, while a 7,000-seater stadium will help them to get used to playing in front of crowds.
City's rapid rise over the past five years has been funded by owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, part of Abu Dhabi's ruling family.
They must now fall into line with new rules requiring clubs to move towards breakeven or face exclusion from European competition. However, spending on youth development is excluded from the calculations, making it a doubly valuable investment.
Impressive though the City plans are, it will require a change in mindset as well as shiny new buildings to reverse English soccer's failure to produce enough top quality young players, says Patrick Vieira, the former French international who is City's football development executive.
"With the number of people who play the game and the number of kids who love and play the game, I believe there is not enough talent compared to what football is about in this country," Vieira told Reuters in an interview.
"It's just a disappointment because I have been here for years and I love this country, I love the passion from the fans and the people," added Vieira, who played for Arsenal for nine seasons.
Vieira, 36, began his playing career in France and also played in Italy, giving him exposure to coaching methods across Europe.
He speaks of the need for patience with young players, saying an over-emphasis on results can stunt the development of talented teenagers.
"It's not about winning or losing, it's about how you can improve, how you progress year after year," he said.
Growing up in France, he said the emphasis was on encouraging budding professionals to develop awareness on the field, learning to look for the next pass and to make the right decisions when on the ball.
"Just enjoy yourself, don't be afraid to play, don't be afraid to make a mistake because we all make mistakes," said Vieira, explaining what teenagers should be told. "What is important is to learn from the mistakes you are making."
The English Premier League, the richest in the world, has recently changed its rules to allow the clubs with the top ranked academies to take players full time from the age of 12 and recruit from all over the country.
"The big difference if you compare the English, the Spanish or the French or the Dutch kids, I think overseas the kids are spending more time on the training field than the English boy," Vieira said.
"The rules changing I think has really improved the quality of the players and I think it's important as well that a club like City can get a young boy from London."
The changes put more emphasis on clubs like City to ensure youngsters get a full education on and off the field.
City have a partnership with a local fee-paying school that allows teenagers to combine education and training.
"The education part of it is really quite important, as a football club we want these players to be a good human being, the person who can answer all the difficulties he will find in life," Vieira said.
City realise they have some catching up to do compared with more established European powers when it comes to nurturing their own talent.
"Barcelona have been doing it for the last 35 years and we have just been doing it for a few years and we are a long, long way behind," Vieira said.
"But in the next four to five years I hope that we will have young players who will come through the academy and play for the first team because we have some really good young players."
(Editing by Sonia Oxley)