Wednesday 30 August 2017

Introducing... Esme Morgan

It’s been an unforgettable ten days for 16-year-old Esme Morgan.

Within the space of seven days, the teenager has made her first-team debut for her beloved football club, having travelled abroad to two different countries as part of City’s pre-season tour, and received outstanding GCSE results.

Her first appearance for Nick Cushing’s side last weekend – a composed display in Frankfurt – impressed the manager enough for him to immediately add her (and fellow Development Squad starlet Beth O’Donnell) to Tuesday’s trip to France for the Toulouse International Ladies Cup, where they would face Montpellier and Champions League winners Lyon.

The TILC adventure heralded the return of City’s international stars to Club duty, following their European Championship exploits, meaning Morgan and O’Donnell would be training and playing alongside their idols – but unfortunately it also meant Morgan would not be available to collect her exam results in person on Thursday.

Alternative arrangements were made quickly, as Esme’s father stepped in and revealed the joyous news that his daughter had earned a total of eight A*s, one A and one B.

The defender barely had time to reflect on her amazing results though as she would make her second appearance for the senior squad against a strong Montpellier side the following day.

Again, she produced a solid and fearless performance, staking a claim for a starting spot against the reigning European champions two days later.

Morgan and O’Donnell have settled in quickly to the squad – both on the pitch and off it. Eager to learn, they accept advice from their teammates and have remained grounded throughout.

In fact, Esme has been pinching herself all week, delighted to be representing the team she’s always supported.

“It’s been crazy,” she laughed. “I still can’t believe it!

“I came to City at Under-15s level. I’d trialled for the Club because I was a fan and then I moved up to the U16s Regional Talent Squad.

“Last Christmas, I was moved up to the Development Squad at 16 and I was signed again for them this summer. Now, I’m travelling away with the first-team!

“It just shows that City are willing to give people chances if they think they’re good enough. It reassures you that there is an opportunity here.”

Ever-smiling, she describes herself as relaxed, sociable and cheerful – that certainly suits Cushing’s recruitment policy of ensuring his players are positive, friendly individuals, which he deems as crucial as their footballing ability.

On the pitch, she is comfortable in possession, calm and assured. She likes to venture forward and actually started out as a striker, before City realised her potential in a defensive role. She was then employed at centre-back but has also operated as a defensive midfielder. In France, she occupied the right-back position.

She insists she has no preference for a spot though, as long as she’s involved.

“Switching positions was a bit weird at first,” she admitted, “but I’ve really enjoyed it. I quite like being able to see everything in front of me and I’ve developed a lot.

“The game against Montpellier was the first time I’d ever played at right-back but I enjoyed it. I just love being on the pitch – wherever it is.”

Her efforts in training and against the French side were rewarded and the teenager was selected to line up against some of Europe’s best players in a thrilling encounter against Lyon, which saw City snatch a dramatic 3-2 triumph.

There are not many 16-year-olds who can say they have faced the likes of Eugenie Le Sommer, Dzsenifer Maroszan, Saki Kumagai et al…

Sheffield born in the millennium year, Morgan has lived in Yorkshire but gains her love of City through her Mancunian parents.

Esme jokes she would only attend long walks with her family if they took along a football and often played sport in the garden with her brother. (He’s better at badminton, apparently!)

She began her football career, aged four, with Ecclesall Rangers boys’ team. She remained at the club to Under-16s level, whilst also representing Worsbrough Bridge girls for a year alongside.

Although she received some criticism in the early years, Morgan was unfazed and earned the respect of her peers through her talent and passion for the beautiful game.

“I was the only girl in the division,” she recollects. “During the first couple of seasons, there were a few comments but I didn’t really notice as I was young.

“By the end of it, they respected me as a player because they realised I was good enough to be playing with them.

“I always wanted to play with the boys and they kept extending the age group so I could. I was just carrying on – I didn’t really think about anything else.”

Now learning under a manager who has led City to success in every domestic trophy and the Champions League semi-finals, and playing alongside experienced international stars such as England captain Steph Houghton, Morgan is hungrier than ever to absorb all she can to aid her development.

“Nick has been really positive,” she added. “He told us not to worry about any mistakes – it’s important to learn from them and try to progress and improve. City are going to help me do that.

“The squad have all been really helpful. Steph was talking to me about relaxing and playing my own game – not worrying about other things.

“During the matches, she was guiding me through, giving me advice on when I should go forward and come back. It was really helpful to have someone with so much experience next to me.

“The team have really welcomed us into the squad. Of course, I know ‘Bod’ (O’Donnell) from the Development Squad and I also get on well with the other young players – Ella Toone, Ellie Roebuck and Georgia Stanway. Everyone’s been really helpful, especially Steph and Jill Scott.

“I’m hoping to get more chances to train with the first-team. Hopefully, if I impress, you never know… I might get some chances to be part of the matchday squad too.

“Now I’ve had a taste of it, I want to play with them every week!”

Intelligent, mature and humble, Morgan is focusing on her short-term ambitions but the youngster also has experience on the international stage and hopes to follow in the footsteps of her City teammates, representing her country at senior level in years to come.

“I played for England U17s last year,” she explained. “We went to the Euros but I definitely want to push on through the age groups and get to the seniors one day.

“When I first went away, I don’t think I was at a good enough standard but from training with City and England, I’ve progressed a lot.”

One of manager Cushing’s passions is developing talent. City have a squad which boasts a mixture of youth and experience, with a clear pathway for budding female footballers to follow.

Awarded Tier 1 status by the FA, the Blues have a Regional Talent Club at the City Football Academy and welcomed 800 trialists this summer. Training at the same facility as their heroines, with the Academy Stadium – the 7,000-seater home of the domestic treble winners – a beacon of inspiration, what better motivation could there be?

Should she continue her rate of progression over the next few months, the City faithful may see and hear a lot more of Esme Morgan: the lifelong Blue who’s living the dream…

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