Adrien Rabiot and a short stay at Manchester City that ended suddenly | It will come off

ADrien Rabiot looks set to head to Manchester to sign for United. Had things gone differently, the Frenchman could have been the poster child for a new era across town, but he spent less than a year in City’s academy as a teenager.

In 2008, a City scout spotted a young Rabiot playing for Créteil in France. The city sent representatives to speak to the then 13-year-old Rabiot, who was about to join Paris Saint-Germain, and his mother, Veronique. Her desire to leave the country meant she was happy to be persuaded by City to move to Manchester and help her son achieve his dreams.

The young Frenchman, along with his brother, attended St James’ Catholic High School in Cheadle, where they were placed by the club. Rabiot enjoyed life in Manchester on and off the pitch, quickly learning English and impressing at City under Paul Power, whether playing on the left or in central midfield. City were optimistic that they had signed a great prospect who had the potential to play for their first team. Rabiot lacked self-confidence, however, and the City staff had to build him up and convince the player how good he was.

“We really liked it,” says former city academy director Jim Cassell. “It’s always a risk because we go back to 2008. City were coming out of their very low point of the early 2000s, we were making great progress. It was a new venture that attracted boys from further afield. He had a magnificent left foot. It’s unfair to compare him to Arnold Mühren but he was that type of player; He’s not the fastest, but a beautiful left foot, he could go short, he could go long.”

Adrien Rabiot spent 6 months in training at Manchester City in 2008 at the age of 13!
road @le_Parisien_PSG pic.twitter.com/sssHifDcVX

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City’s current owners were doing their due diligence in 2008 when looking to buy the club, and the Abu Dhabi entourage stopped by to watch a young Rabiot play a match for the under-14s at the training ground of the Carrington Club. They must be impressed by the club’s potential.

Although Rabiot was enjoying life at City, where the staff saw him as a humble and polite lad, his home life was less settled. Rabiot’s father was hospitalized in France after suffering a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome. City repeatedly spoke to Veronique, who was considered difficult to deal with. The club helped her pay the rent, the bills and even find a car, but they couldn’t convince her that Manchester and the club were the best place for their son to develop, and the Rabiot family left he went without saying a word.

Paris Saint-Germain's Adrien Rabiot tackles Manchester City's Fernandinho during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.
Adrien Rabiot in action for Paris Saint-Germain against Manchester City in 2016, the club where he spent a brief spell as a teenager. Photograph: Nigel French/PA

“It wasn’t a problem, he just loved football. They tried it and it wasn’t easy for him,” says Cassell. “She has a reputation for speaking her mind. In the end there was no animosity between City and the family – the club handled it very well because we weren’t the type to try to restrict anyone.

“Our goals in life were to encourage players to make a career in football and that’s what we did. We probably would have pushed him forward at 14 and tried to sign him as a scholar and professional, but it wasn’t to be. The fact that it has done so well shows that we have been involved in its development. They moved pretty quickly. If the family was not happy, it was a futile exercise. You have to be happy to develop, we tried as much as we could.”

Rabiot eventually joined PSG where he would progress through the ranks, making his first team debut four years after leaving England. City staff kept in touch with the youngster until he was 16 in the hope of persuading him to return when he was old enough to travel alone. He has won 29 caps for his country, won five Ligue 1 titles and a Serie A with Juventus in Italy, but has rarely been heralded as one of the best midfielders in Europe.

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“Its potential was exciting; being a left player I had a slight advantage because that gives you a balance within the team”, says Cassell. “It was great to have him around and it would have been really nice to see if he would have made it to the first team. We’ll never know.”

Rabiot finally looks set for a chance to show what he can do in the Premier League 14 years after his first English adventure, after United agreed a £15m deal with Juventus. If personal terms are agreed and the deal goes through, he will return to Carrington, just around the corner from United’s training facility. Rabiot always had the potential to be a Premier League player and it looks like he will get the chance to prove himself on these shores. United will only expect him to stay in Manchester for more than six months.


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