Manchester City’s academy had a disastrous start to their pre-season when they were forced to abandon a Loughborough training camp following a Covid outbreak and, after trying to continue at the club training ground, ended up shutting part of the City Football Academy ahead of Pep Guardiola’s return. Already short of the bulk of his squad owing to Euro 2020 involvement, the City boss could not try out all of the young talent he wanted to because they were forced to isolate.
But if it was a frustrating few weeks for many at the academy, for young winger Carlos Borges it cost him more than half of his season. The 18-year-old suffered a broken metatarsal on the training camp – the painful injury made famous to the nation through David Beckham and Michael Owen ahead of failed World Cup attempts – that stopped his hopes of kicking on from a successful year with the Under -18s that included 13 goals and 19 assists from 22 games that included a goal and an assist in the national final against Fulham.
Any hopes of moving up to the Under-23s and testing himself at a new level had to be shelved, with Borges struggling even when he returned to the pitch as he battled back from the first major setback of his promising career. An injury that took seconds to happen took seven months to recover from.
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“I was out for four months, I did my metatarsal so it was tough,” he told MEN Sport. “It was unfortunate, but I had to get back on my feet and get back to work again. It was my first serious injury so at first it was not easy because I just wanted to get back to playing but I had the support of my family which made it easier.I put in the work and now I am back here.
“It was tough to adapt because every time I was on the pitch I wouldn’t do some of the stuff because I thought what if I hurt it again? I’d say it took two or three months after coming back before I felt 100 per cent with it. I came back in November-December and then it was around March when I felt good. ”
Borges has been in the City academy for eight years, being snapped up after his parents moved from Portugal for work. It is no surprise that a player hailing from the Sporting youth system idolises Cristiano Ronaldo, and the fact that he also looked to Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane at the Etihad gives you an idea of his playing style.
Having started off playing futsal, Borges has always been an exciting winger that loves to dribble and take players on and has developed those skills in Manchester. The teenager believes in setting personal targets for goals and assists every season, and has also been given targets to hit by City coaching staff.
And despite seeing most of his season wiped out for injury, Borges has been on a mission to make up for lost time ahead of Thursday’s national final for the Under-18s. He bagged a hat-trick in a crunch league game with United in March, two goals and an assist in the astonishing 13-0 win over Newcastle and then four goals and an assist in the 6-0 win over Sunderland to round off the league campaign; nine goals and two assists from three starts.
Southampton will have to be at their best to stop him from reaching his targets on Thursday, and if Borges is becoming increasingly known for his goal contributions he has also caught the eye for his celebrations. There has been no need to copy Ronaldo’s iconic pose because the left winger has his own.
“I think it’s important to have a target for the season so you know what you’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Mine this season has not been what I wanted because I’ve been injured but I think I’m not that far off it. I wanted 15 goals and 15 assists. I won’t get the assists but I think I’m on 12 goals.
“I love a celebration. Hopefully on Thursday I’m going to have one up my sleeve. I have it planned because it depends on how I feel but let’s say I have one in my head.”
Beating Southampton would complete a remarkable double for the academy, meaning the Under-18s and the Under-23s have won their leagues in consecutive years. With the first team also chasing back-to-back titles, those aiming to get into the first team have to embrace playing under the pressure of fighting for multiple trophies every year.
As well as feeling more of the sun on their backs at the training ground in recent weeks, there has also been the sense that everyone is closing in on achieving their aims together. Borges is hoping for an injury-free season next year that will give him a chance to thrive in the Under-23s, but before then there are more standards to set.
“Back-to-back is the mentality now that we’ve set for the other 18s groups and the 23s. We just try to stick to the process from the start, and listen to what the coaches tell us to do.
“Every time you come into the building, it’s a happy place. Everyone is happy, there are opportunities for trophies everywhere so we just try to push for more and keep playing.
“That’s how you get better. It’s important for us to build the joy of winning stuff and celebrating.”
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