Son of a Thai boxing champion, Man City’s new wonderkid Rico Lewis certainly packs a punch… swapping the classroom for the Champions League brought his first senior goal – but a January loan move looks the next step in 17-year-old’s development
- Rico Lewis scored his first Manchester City goal on his debut against Sevilla
- German giants Bayern Munich have been watching the 17-year old intently
- Other Bundesliga clubs were interested in loan deal before Wednesday’s match
- To those around City’s academy, Lewis’ trajectory is no real surprise
Rico Lewis was straight back to the grind on Thursday morning, with his head in books as part of Manchester City’s education programme for their scholars.
He could be forgiven for gazing out of the classroom window because life changed a few hours earlier. Not only a first professional start – in the Champions League no less – but a first senior goal as well. A prolonged standing ovation when substituted, effusive praise from Pep Guardiola. There have been worse nights.
To those around City’s academy, this trajectory – even at just 17 – is no real surprise. He has captained teams throughout his journey, beginning when choosing City over Bolton Wanderers at Under-9 level after standing out with Prestwich Pythons near home in Radcliffe.
Rico Lewis scored his first Manchester City goal on his debut against Sevilla on Wednesday
So perhaps it should be expected that Lewis looks every bit the City full back – he has been taught the nuances of what Guardiola expects ever since the Catalan took over in 2016, absorbing them all maturely. Lewis now moves like a Guardiola clone, shifting into central midfield exactly when required and recycling possession effortlessly.
It is little wonder that Bayern Munich have been watching intently, or that other Bundesliga clubs were already interested in a January loan deal before his performance against Sevilla.
City will begin discussing a new contract over the coming months and Guardiola, who had not seen him play before the summer tour of America, is already talking about how an impressive reliability.
‘He’s versatile. He suits Pep and the academy had him playing as a winger or holding midfielder too,’ a City source said. ‘Honestly this gets said about lot of youngsters, but this lad really wants to be a player. There is this mentality to him.’
Lewis has been taught the nuances of what Guardiola expects ever since the Catalan took over
Kevin De Bruyne noticed just that in 2019. The Belgian funds an Under-15 tournament in his name every summer in Drongen and, three years ago, spotted a diminutive defender in City blue.
Lewis had missed a penalty in a match against Club Brugge before stepping up to convert during the subsequent shootout.
De Bruyne later pulled a member of City staff aside in approval, saying: ‘Look at his character.’
That was partially built in the Phoenix Muay Thai gym in Whitefield, owned by his father Rick Lewis, a two-time British Thai boxing champion.
The defender spent plenty of time around that environment and those close to him believe that his agility and low centre of gravity can be traced back to the boxing background. Similar can be said of his sister, Sacha, a winger who has just signed with City’s academy.
Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne noticed Lewis’ quality during a tournament in 2019
People around the club talk of a grounded family. His mother, Steph, accompanied Lewis to tournaments abroad and remains a respected parent around the training ground among relatives of other players. Rick was recently invited to give a talk to Under-9 parents about managing expectations of their children and the support required to see them through the academy system.
‘My dad didn’t force me towards things but pushed me in (certain) directions to get myself out there,’ Lewis said.
‘He showed me a lot of a Muhammad Ali clips. He showed me his story and I took quite a lot from him.’
Lewis might appear slight, quick in tight spaces, but is also deceptively strong, hitting the pads with Rick to work on extra robustness from a young age. It has been noted around City’s first team that Lewis can more than hold his own in challenges, despite his size. He has no qualms in going through anybody in a tackle.
Lewis is now a mainstay in first-team sessions and doesn’t play for the Under 23s anymore
‘Defensively he is aggressive enough. He will make mistakes, he has a lot of margin to improve but he is so good,’ Guardiola said.
‘He is proving every day that he can be with us. Sometimes you think you have to buy but we have someone to be a back-up for Kyle (Walker) and Joao (Cancelo) who we can rely on. It’s a dream come true and good for the economics.’
The transition up to Guardiola’s group – Lewis is now a mainstay in sessions, on the team photograph and doesn’t play for the Under 23s anymore – has been seamless. Phil Foden has offered significant guidance and support, with the pair sitting alongside each other in the dressing room and on the team coach.
Foden knows the importance of a senior player’s help during the first few months with the superstars. It is premature to suggest another one might have arrived, but Lewis has made a strong start.
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