By Ed Attwood
Ex-England footballer Brian Marwood is one of the central cogs in the Manchester City machine
When I ask Brian Marwood what his predictions are for Manchester City's first season in the Champion's League, he smiles.
"It sounds daft, but the team's position isn't always at the top of my mind - it's more about the sustainability of this club for next year and the years to come," he says.
Sustainability - it might almost be City's buzzword. A former winger with Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal and England, Marwood is now chief football affairs officer at City, a role that he says involves all areas of football "capability". That extends from the academy to sports science, from coaching and development to player welfare and from the scouting network to player transfers. The latter, especially, has kept him busy over the last couple of years.
"We've spent a lot of money on the first team, but that's not sustainable," he adds. "What is sustainable is to have an academy development programme for players from the age of eight right through to the first team. Since the inception of the academy in 1997 we've had around 30 players coming through into the first team. What we've got to do new is to improve the quality and raise the bar."
To do that, Marwood is employing a strategy that is being used elsewhere by City. Travel extensively, check out best practices, and put in place a detailed strategy. Attention to detail is also key when buying new players. Marwood says that while talent is vital, a "full insight" into that player is needed; for each one signed, a 40-page dossier of on-field and off-field data is provided for the executive management team to consult and approve.
"Around the transfer window, both Sheikh Mansour and the chairman [Khaldoon Al Mubarak] are very involved with what's happening," says Marwood. "They guide, direct and challenge, and play a vital part in terms of that area. "They show as much passion for the development of our young players as they do in terms of the first team."
The expanded scouting network is also bearing fruit, with City having recently signed young players from clubs as diverse as Benfica, Feyenoord and Celta Vigo. Of course, attracting players is considerably easier now than it was three years ago, when the changes that the current management team were putting in place were still on the drawing board.
"We only had a dream to sell them, and that's why I have a huge amount of respect for some of the players that came in at that time," Marwood says. "Especially Gareth Barry - he was the first one we signed, and we didn't have anybody, really, other than Gareth. It wasn't easy to sell it back then, but he showed a huge amount of faith.
"But if you speak to Gareth now, two years on, he'll tell you that we have delivered on what we said we would do, but we have to keep building."