Former Town starlet Ben Knight named in Man City's squad for pre-season tour of Asia
PUBLISHED: 17:07 16 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:07 16 July 2019
Former Ipswich Town starlet Ben Knight has been named in Manchester City's squad for their pre-season tour of Asia.
The versatile attacking midfielder - who only turned 17 last month - played a key role as City reached the FA Youth Cup Final for the fourth time in five years last season, scoring twice in the semi-finals.
He will now rub shoulders with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and new signings Rodri and Angelino in China/Japan as City prepare to defend their Premier League title.
As well as 14 senior players, boss Pep Guardiola named 13 youngsters in his initial 27-man touring party, with Phil Foden also set to join up with the squad further down the line following his involvement with England at the European U21 Championships.
Born in Cambridge, Knight - whose uncle is former England cricketer Nick Knight - joined Town's academy at the age of seven.
There had long been a buzz about his development at Playford Road before Town reluctantly negotiated a £1m deal last summer following two years of interest from City.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News in April, Knight - who has constantly been praised for his confident, but grounded mentality - said: "The quality of players I'm playing with is so much better. It's harder because at Ipswich I was one of the big players, but there are so many big players here that you have to up it even more to stand out.
"That's the challenge I wanted to take. I always try to be the best player on the pitch. I don't care who's there, I always try to be the best. (The biggest thing I've learned is that) I'm a big player.
"I'm just staying grounded and don't think I've done anything yet. It's about being level headed and always wanting to be better than you were.
"I don't want to be a player that goes through the 18s system into the 23s, I want to be the one that goes above stages, that jumps stages. That's what I want to do."
Blues academy supremo Bryan Klug referenced an unnamed player who could 'potentially be the best I have ever worked with' at the 2017 Supporters' Club AGM - that player believed to be Knight - while former homegrown Town star Kieron Dyer (33 caps for England) has said Knight could have a better career than his own, comparing his style of play to that of Lionel Messi.
Knight was due to start a two-year scholarship at Ipswich when City came calling.
Town could potentially have played hardball over the valuation, but would have then risked the move going to a tribunal, where they would almost certainly have received a lower figure, or Knight moving to a foreign club for nothing.
Ultimately the Elite Player Performance Plan system means they were powerless to stop him moving on.
Blues owner Marcus Evans - who has also seen talented youngsters Harry Clarke (Arsenal), Charlie Brown (Chelsea) and Marcelo Flores (Arsenal) poached in similar circumstances in recent years - said: "My problem is with the rules, not the clubs. I want to make that clear.
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"It is frustrating to be put in a position where we invest in a young player from the age of nine for several years and then are forced to lose him for a fee well below what I would consider to be a true valuation of that potential.
"We fully respect that at the age of 15 a person can't be bound to a club based solely on their location and if the player wants to move on for valid personal reasons, so be it.
"However, more often than not, these decisions are influenced by money and if it's about money then the club that has developed the player should be fairly rewarded, as the club taking the player is doing so for their own financial advantage.
"This is where the current rules break down and we have accepted figures that were, in effect, forced upon us based on the most likely outcome of a compensation fee tribunal.
"We had no choice but to agree a fee of £600,000 with a Premier League club for one of our young players with a possible additional £900,000, but only if he played 100 games for that club in the Premier League.
"If he played 100 games in the Premier League, at current values he'd probably be worth £30m plus.
"The figures just don't add up and this is against a background of the league stipulating we must have an academy budget of £2.5 million per annum and we are seeing on average only one in 20 scholars making it to even Championship level and an even smaller percentage to the Premier League.
"This will drop substantially if we lose the best talent before they become scholars."
He continued: "Ipswich Town and others, including some Premier League clubs, are losing their best young talent before they even join the full-time academy ranks on leaving school and with it, in our case, one of the channels to assist us to progress to the Premier League.
"I know from talking to other owners, particularly those in the larger cities, that they are questioning the value of paying for an academy.
"A few have already closed and I would suggest that a dangerous tipping point maybe reached when several clubs follow each other if they keep losing their best players for next to nothing."
Town's pre-season touring squad included 13 academy graduates in Germany last week, with manager Paul Lambert insisting he will not bring in loan players to block the pathway of homegrown talent as the club prepares for League One football.
Evans says Town's Category Two academy remains at the heart of his long-term plan for the club. Speaking in an exclusive interview with the EADT and Ipswich Star back in January, he said: "We have to sell ourselves on providing great care for the kids in terms of their development, both physiologically and psychology. We have to show that we provide a pathway to first team football quickly, which some of the bigger clubs, in reality, never do.
"We have to bear in mind that not everybody wants their kids at 15/16 to move 300 miles away. There aren't any really close options to being at the Ipswich academy, so our geography helps us there.
"We have to work on all the things that are our positives.
"On the negative side, if one of the big Premier League clubs come calling... I don't know what Ben Knight is getting paid, but if Man City want to pay him, at 16/17 years of age, more than our top paid player then they will do so. They've probably got kids who are paid more than anybody in the Championship.
"We get young players offered to us on loan by the big clubs and you would be terrified by some of the wages they are on at 18/19 years old.
"So yes, the lure of a Man City, a club like that, the money they pay and the fact you think you've already made it, which is not the case, does make it hard for us.
"But I do think we have got some unique selling points that put us in a position to still make the academy work."
Having flown to China on Sunday, City will play in the Premier League Asia Trophy, facing West Ham and then either Newcastle or Wolves, and then will have further friendlies against Kitchee FC (in Hong Kong) and Yokohama F Marinos (in Japan).