RUBBING shoulders with the likes of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure has stood Greg Leigh in good stead for life in League One.

The ever-present left-back has been one of the most consistent performers in the side since joining Bury last summer.

And the 22-year-old has quickly become a fans’ favourite with his incredible work-rate, graceful wing play and glowing smile.

But his route into first-team football has not been straightforward.

Leigh was picked up by the Manchester City academy aged nine and spent 11 years at the club, progressing through the ranks during the Sheikh Mansour takeover in 2008.

Leigh recalls: “It was interesting to see the development of the club during the takeover. Obviously a lot of money got pumped in and things started to change quite gradually.

“They upgraded the facilities and a lot of foreign players began to join the club. For a lot of the lads it became more apparent that the opportunities were not going to be there. They were not interested in lads from the academy as much.

“It’s something that everyone wants to happen (break into the first team) but it becomes unrealistic.”

Leigh had initially joined City as a striker but was converted to left-back and went on to make four appearances for England Under-19s.

During his time with City’s development squad he was coached by French World Cup winner Patrick Vieira, a man Leigh says had a big impact on his career.

“He is a very good manager. In that year I was under him I learned a lot,” said Leigh. “I owe it all to him really because educationally he is so meticulous.”

However, the new scouting system abroad left homegrown talent facing fiercer competition.

“I was supposed to be on the bench for a Capital One Cup game against Sheffield Wednesday, but hours before kick-off I was told I wasn’t picked,” Leigh said.

“(Aleksander) Kolarov was meant to be injured but he came in during the pre-match meal and the manager (Manuel Pellegrini) took us into a meeting and told us the team and I wasn’t in it.

“Kolarov started so (Gael) Clichy was on the bench.

“That’s when it hit home I had to think about where I wanted to be. I needed to get out on loan – I didn’t want to play under-21s football for three years in a row.”

The pacey full-back spent a year at Crewe, where he made 42 appearances in League One, before joining Bradford on a free transfer.

Game time was still at a premium so when Bury came calling the 22-year-old took the gamble to move back to home town Sale and went on to make 51 appearances last season, more than any other player.

“It is teaching me a lot about myself as a player. Before I joined Bury I’d never really played regular football,” he revealed.

“When I was at Crewe it was a young side but there are lots of players here I can learn from. Last year I really learned how to keep myself fit, keep myself strong and I feel I got a hold of that.”

After a well-deserved rest, Leigh came back to 19 new faces at the training ground.

But he says spirits are high and the squad is really clicking off the pitch.

“It’s definitely been a big change. I think the manager felt it was needed because of the way it went last year (securing League One safety on the final day).

“It was a scary time and I don’t think it’s something the club wants to repeat.

“The lads that have come in are really nice people. They are easy to get along with. Some of them I’m really good friends with already and the morale is looking good.”

The Shakers made a bright start to the season, beating Walsall on the opening day.

But disappointing results against Wigan and Bristol Rovers have left supporters and players frustrated.

“Everyone is disappointed,” he said, ahead of Saturday’s trip to Rochdale. “As a collective, we want to turn it around as soon as possible. We have too many good players to be losing games in the fashion that we’re doing. But we have the chance to put it right on Saturday.”