Owen Hargreaves is in line to make his Manchester City debut against Birmingham City tomorrow -- three years to the day since the injury-ravaged midfielder last completed 90 minutes in a competitive fixture.
City, who yesterday submitted a planning application for a £100m, 80-acre youth development and training centre next to the Etihad Stadium, face the Carling Cup holders in a third-round tie at Eastlands.
And Hargreaves has been told by Roberto Mancini he will make a decision following training today as to whether to hand the 30-year-old former England player his first outing in a City shirt. Hargreaves completed a surprise move to City last month after being released by Manchester United at the end of last season following a series of injury problems.
A £19m buy from Bayern Munich in May 2007, Hargreaves made just 39 appearances in four years for United, with his last full outing proving to be the 1-1 draw at Chelsea on September 21, 2008.
Subsequent double knee surgery and countless setbacks restricted Hargreaves to just six minutes of first-team action, and a 45-minute run-out for the reserves, for United following that appearance against Chelsea.
But Mancini has been impressed by Hargreaves' performances in training since his arrival and, despite omitting the two-time European Cup winner from City's Champions League squad, believes he is now close to a senior debut.
Mancini revealed Hargreaves was forced to rest last Friday after an hour-long training session 24 hours earlier, but if he emerges unscathed from training today, the Italian is ready to name the player in his squad for the Birmingham game.
Meanwhile, City will discover on December 22 whether their application to build a state-of-the-art training complex in East Manchester has been successful.
The facility will boast 15 football pitches, a 7,000-seat stadium for youth matches and also house the club's academy players, with the first-team squad relocating from the current Carrington base to the proposed new complex.
Project managers have spent two years finalising plans for the training centre, including visits to the LA Lakers, Australian Institute of Sport, Nike, New York Giants and even Manchester United's Carrington training ground, before submitting their planning application.
But the man from whom City have taken most ideas for their new home is Arsene Wenger, the manager who has had most distaste for City's new money and who has questioned the honesty of the Etihad deal.
Other Premier League clubs boast grander facilities than Wenger's at London Colney -- Chelsea's are far more lavish -- but the sheer logistical precision of the Arsenal manager, for whom Colney has been a personal project, surpasses pretty much any other, as far as City are concerned.
While Chelsea's players can be hard to locate across three floors of Cobham and Manchester United reconfigured Carrington when they found their players were having go up a flight of stairs for treatment, Colney is a place of ultimate functionality.
City want something similar -- an 'intimate hub' where no player, whether relaxing, training or receiving treatment is more than a few minutes away from the rest. In modern jargon, a "no excuses environment".
Barcelona, with their model of developing a philosophy adhered to at every level, from children to first team, is certainly one City are holding on to. Chief football operations officer Brian Marwood described yesterday how, when Barcelona's Under-19s played City's last week, "you could close your eyes and see a young Iniesta or a young Xavi."
"In the last Champions League final they had eight players that were home-grown, which is an incredible statistic. They've done it right," he said.
And yet what struck the City delegation who visited the fabled La Masia was the distinct lack of opulence about a facility which, in some respects, was fairly basic. It was simply the players' desire to belong and succeed there which marked them out, City felt. Manchester United's players possess something very similar.
"It's one thing building with bricks and mortar, it's another to being able to develop young players and I find it incredible that we've only had one Mancunian player in Nedum Onuoha who's come through from the age or 10 or 11," said Marwood. "I find that a damning statistic.
"Then there is the example of Ryan Giggs, who was at City as a schoolboy, but ended up at Manchester United." (© Daily Telegraph, London)