'Ipswich did so much for me' - Knight excited for Town return with Crewe after dream Manchester City move
- Credit: PA/Archant
Ben Knight grew up dreaming of his first senior appearance at Portman Road.
His ambitions may be a little more lofty these days, but stepping out at the home of Ipswich Town this weekend will still provide a real buzz for the former academy youngster.
Knight was a player the Blues had real hopes for before he left for Manchester City in 2018, with Bryan Klug once intimating he was the ‘potentially the best young player I’ve worked with’. Kieron Dyer likened the teenager’s style to that of Lionel Messi, while insisting the youngster could go on and have a better career than his own, which of course yielded 33 England caps.
That’s still a long way off right now, but Knight has made excellent progress at the Etihad and is now taking his first senior steps at loan club Crewe, with the move giving him the opportunity to fulfil one of his early football dreams this Sunday.
“I’m so grateful for everything Ipswich did for me,” said Knight, who joined Town while still at primary school and left aged 16. “I was so young but was given so many opportunities to go and play. It’s a great club, I loved it there and it made me the person I am today. I was looked after really well and anything I or my family needed, there was always someone there to help.
“I played in the FA Youth Cup games at Portman Road and that was really cool, so I was hoping before I left, with everything going on with Mick McCarthy, that I might have had a little run-out with the first-team. But that didn’t come round. I was very young.
“I’m excited to come back and play at Portman Road. I don’t know as many people at the club as I did before, but it will be nice to see some familiar faces.
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“I played with Idris (El Mizouni) and Bailey (Clements) and know some of the staff too, like Bryan (Klug, head of academy coaching) and Adem (Atay, Under 18s boss). There are so many people who did so much for me like Liam (Manning) and Hoggy (Chris Hogg) who used to coach at Ipswich and are at MK Dons now, as well as people like Jason Dozzell, Titus (Bramble) and Kieron Dyer. People like Chambo (Luke Chambers) looked after me when I was younger. They were all so helpful."
Knight was courted by a string of top clubs before his move to City, which is thought to have netted the Blues around £1million. The move frustrated former owner Marcus Evans, as another young prospect was enticed to a Premier League academy for relatively little return.
But for Knight, the truth was there was no way he could let a chance to rub shoulders with the world’s best slip by.
“My dream was to play for Ipswich but things change and opportunities came up that I couldn’t say no to,” he said.
“I weighed up all the options, with some other teams interested, but I couldn’t say no to Manchester City and everything they presented. What I’ve experienced so far has been amazing.
“It was a difficult move at first, going somewhere new, away from home and everything like that. But I trained with the first-team within my first two weeks, having just turned 16, so something like that I’d never have got at Ipswich. It was unbelievable.”
The move has seen Knight nurtured by some of the world’s top coaches and under the watchful eye of Pep Guardiola, who was so impressed with what he saw he gave the youngster a significant role in the club’s most recent pre-season. That culminated in an appearance in the Community Shield at Wembley.
“He’s the best coach in the world,” Knight said of Guardiola.
“I went back to City a couple of weeks ago and he came over and asked me how I was getting on. He really looks after his players and he’s been brilliant for me.
“I have trained with the first-team quite a few times. Playing with people like (Jack) Grealish and (Riyad) Mahrez is amazing. It’s a privilege.
“I went on tour with the first-team (to Asia) when I was 17 and then I did well in pre-season this year, which was amazing. I played in a lot of the summer friendlies and trained with the first-team. Pep was happy with me and kept on playing me and then I played in the Community Shield, which was unbelievable.
“I’ve had to work hard for it but lots of footballers work hard and aren’t lucky enough to get to do what I’ve done so far, so I’m lucky. I feel like I’ve earnt it in some ways, though.
“They offered me a new contract that’s given me so much security. It’s helped me settle on my football and I’m really excited for the future.”
Knight recently extended his City contract to the summer of 2025, a sign of how highly the Premier League giants regard the 19-year-old.
But, right now, his focus is on helping Crewe move away from the bottom of League One.
An ankle injury has hampered his progress this season, restricting him to eight appearances and just one goal, but he’s on the comeback trail now and is likely to feature this weekend.
“I had options abroad, in League One and League Two, as well as some options in the Championship at clubs where I wouldn’t necessarily have played,” he said of his move to Gresty Road. “I wanted to go somewhere and play, though.
“Crewe felt right for me. There was one option in Holland, at a club who are obviously a really good footballing team, but that didn’t feel right with Covid at the moment. I’m the type of lad who needs people around me, so if I was to go abroad then I wouldn’t have been able to give my best because I couldn’t see my family.
“It started off really well here, playing games and getting used to League One. When I first played, I very quickly worked out how different it is.
“I’ve had an ankle injury, which has kept me out for a couple of months, so I’m only now getting back and trying to get fit. Hopefully I get some minutes on Sunday. I want to play games and get some goals to help the team, because we’re obviously struggling at the minute.
“We just need to keep going.”