Since billionaire Emirati politician Sheikh Mansour's takeover of Manchester City was announced in September 2008, things have changed dramatically over in the blue half of Manchester. The club has gone from being a faltering mid-table Premier League side to a worldwide juggernaut with multiple league titles and domestic trophies under its belt, and a squad that boasts some of the greatest players on the planet. While it's undeniable that none of this success would have been achieved without the investment of staggering sums of cash, it's also true that the club's directors have channeled the funds smartly, investing in all the right areas to ensure sustainable, long-term success at the highest level.
Soon after the takeover was completed, it became clear that the new owners weren't just interested in spending money on bolstering the squad (although early statement signings like Robinho, Nigel de Jong, and Craig Bellamy certainly announced their ambitions to the rest of the Premier League). Another vital area of expenditure was the training ground — back in 2008, the site at Carrington was "a dump", according to City legend Vincent Kompany, and this was something that needed changing.
Hence the kickstarting of one of the biggest training ground building projects the UK has ever seen. In this article, we're going to be exploring the result. We'll walk you through the facilities, size, and dimensions of the Manchester City training ground, and we'll outline the work that has been put in to produce this world-class coaching site. As well as comparing the centre to other Premier League facilities, we'll ultimately answer the question: how has the Man City training ground spurred on the team's recent success?
When you walk into the gates of the Manchester City training ground, one of the first things you'll see is an emblazoned quote from owner Sheikh Mansour that reads: "We are building a structure for the future, not just a team of all-stars". Taking in the various facilities on offer, it's hard to argue with that claim. Built over the road from the Etihad Stadium (the club's home since 2003), the new site links up the club's training and matchday operations — there's even a bridge across Alan Turing Way that connects it to the ground.
This brand-new training ground is called the Etihad Campus. It takes its name from the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, Etihad, who have also sponsored Manchester City's stadium and shirts since signing a whopping deal back in 2011. The use of the word 'Campus' in the centre's title reflects the ambition at the core of the project: to bring everything in-house, allowing players from the men's and women's first team, as well as the vastly-expanded Academy, to all train on one huge site that's connected to the club's 53,000-capacity home ground.
That being said, when City's training ground was officially opened in 2014, it didn't look exactly like it does now (although it was still a drastic improvement on their previous Carrington Training Ground, which they then started leasing to then-League Two side Bury FC). Let's spend some time exploring the major changes that have taken place on this site in the last few years.
After acquiring a large area of former industrial land in East Manchester, the Blues announced in July 2011 that their new training ground and its adjoining site would be called the Etihad Campus. This was during the pre-season before a defining campaign in the club's history; in May 2012, Sergio Aguero's dramatic stoppage-time winner against QPR secured the club its first league title in 44 years. In the decade or so since, the club's progress has been remarkable.
The £100 million-plus Etihad Campus project has been a major area of investment, with the key focus being the intertwining of men's, women's, and Academy operations. Everything's under one roof here, with the development of an impressive 7000-seater Academy stadium, a vast main building housing state-of-the-art equipment, and a pitch construction project that's put emphasis on creating new young talent, all underlining the transformation that's taken place since building began over a decade ago. To really dig into the detail, let's expand on the facilities, size, and dimensions of this site.
A lot of research went into the building of the Etihad Campus, with City studying 70 different facilities across various sports in Europe, the USA, and Australia. After running through 19 different designs, they eventually settled on a pretty stunning creation.
The Etihad Campus site is around 80 acres, with this land housing 16.5 outdoor football pitches in total (the half pitch is designed for goalkeeper training). Across the campus, there are several different surfaces designed to allow players to tailor their training sessions to match their opponents' pitches for away games — for example, the three full-size pitches used by the first team consist of Desso, RouteZone, and the more heavily sanded GrassMaster surfaces. The grass pitches are watered by an 8.1million-litre underground tank that collects and recycles rain, while 2,000 mature trees planted around the site help improve secrecy and wildlife. There's also a ‘secluded’ pitch surrounded by buildings that enables the players to work on set-pieces without being hindered by windy conditions or watched by any nosey outsiders.
This range of pitches offers more than enough room for a top-level Premier League side to train, alongside the club's Women's Super League side, and its youth teams, which in recent seasons have produced first-team graduates like Rico Lewis and Cole Palmer. There's space for around 400 players in the Academy facility, with 12 of the 16.5 pitches on the campus designed for players between the ages of 8-21, a testament to the focus that's planted on youth development (there's also accommodation available for youth players). Producing the next generation is talent is absolutely crucial to the club's current aims.
On that note, one of the most impressive aspects of the site is the 7000-capacity Manchester City Academy Stadium, which offers youth players a first-class home ground that replicates the types of arena they'll be playing in when they graduate. This ground is also the home of the club's women's team, who have built a reputation as one of the strongest sides in Europe, with top players like Lauren Hemp, Alex Greenwood, and Bunny Shaw competing for Gareth Taylor's WSL team.
The main training ground building is pretty vast. The first floor contains three gyms – strength and conditioning, pilates and technical skills – as well as a hypoxic chamber of treadmills where players can run at altitude or in extreme temperatures, and rooms dedicated to cryotherapy and ultra-sound treatment. There's a hydrotherapy area designed to treat injuries, which includes a cold plunge pool and a hot pool, and a Player Care department that distributes advice to players on matters such as tax, mental health, drinking, drugs and social media. The player's needs were also taken into account in the design of the first team dressing room, which is circular to promote inclusion, and the large, comfy players' lounge for post-training relaxation. Also on site are the club's clerical and media facilities, with offices and a dedicated media centre providing space for a range of different professionals to complete their daily work.
It would be remiss not to also mention the 56-seat TV auditorium used for reviewing clips for training and matches, which we all saw in the famous 'All Or Nothing' series on Pep Guardiola's 'Centurions' squad. Detailed matchday prep is also aided by the selection of bedrooms on the third floor, where players can stay on the night before home games to ensure a good night's sleep. Yep, they've thought of everything!
Having heard that list of state-of-the-art features, you won't be surprised to learn that the Etihad Campus is easily one of the best football training facilities in the world. It was built to aid City's search for supremacy in European football, and everything is set to not only fine tune and perfect the preparation of the first team, but also develop the next generation of talent.
The quality of the site was laid bare by former stalwart defender Pablo Zabaleta, who signed for City the day before the 2008 takeover and when asked about the new training ground, said "I've never seen anything like this. Top players always want to train at good facilities… they have to see that City is one of the top clubs in the world." With big-name stars like Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish, and Raheem Sterling signing for the club in recent seasons, the Etihad Campus certainly seems to do the trick.
It's worth adding that unlike training grounds like Chelsea's Cobham Centre or Arsenal's London Colney site, which are situated out in the countryside to maximise training space, City's training ground is on the outskirts of Manchester, and as we've discussed, is just a short walk away from the stadium. As a result, there's not quite as much space here as at those aforementioned sites (the campus is around 80 acres, in comparison with those sites' 140 acres). However, this is still a substantial area, with more than enough room for everything City require from their training location — plus, the club views their proximity to the home ground as a huge advantage.
Despite the massive amount of work that has gone into creating this state-of-the-art campus housing all things Manchester City, the club isn't done yet. They recently announced plans to renovate and expand parts of the Etihad Campus, creating a year-round entertainment and leisure destination that will include the building of Co-op Live, a £365 million construction project set to have the largest maximum capacity of any indoor arena in the UK (it should open later in 2023).
They're also planning to boost the Etihad Stadium capacity to over 60,000, and to support those extra fans, there will be a new covered City Square fan zone and entertainment space designed to house up to 3,000 people, plus a concessions area, a club shop, a museum and a hotel. The whole project is likely to take at least three years, and it'll build on over £700 million of spending on the Etihad Campus in the past decade.
Clearly, City's Dubai-based ownership isn't ready to stop investing any time soon. As a result, the club's global image has been rapidly transformed, and Pep Guardiola's team has pioneered a style of play that has revolutionised English football, blowing teams away with a combination of dominant possession, intricate positional play, and intense pressing. The training ground work done across the Etihad Campus is absolutely crucial to this success.
Would you like to learn about how other Premier League clubs have benefited from the development of advanced training ground set ups? Take a look at our article on Liverpool's AXA Training Centre for a guide to one of the teams that have consistently battled with City at the top of the table.