The young defender, who has already played in the Premier League and Champions League, has a promising future at the Etihad Stadium. He is only 17 years old. When a team as well-run as Manchester City permits a player with Oleksandr Zinchenko‘s skills to leave the team, you just know it’s all a part of the broader picture. Replacements will be found or are already in place. The obvious approach is to find a successor, but doing so involves risk.
How will they adapt? Fit the system they’re in? Or, as it did in the summer of 2022, will the agreement even be finalized?
In the instance of Marc Cucurella, many believed he would be a member of City by the start of the 2022–23 season, but the Premier League champions balked at Brighton’s demands, and Cucurella ended up signing with Chelsea. However, there was no panic at City. They were aware that the squad’s shortfall might be addressed through other means, like their incredibly brilliant academy system.
Rico Lewis, a 17-year-old England youth international, entered Pep Guardiola’s plans as a result, and the early indications are positive that he will stay there for a significant amount of time.
How it all started for Lewis?
Lewis comes from Bury, a suburb of Greater Manchester, which has produced more athletes for England to compete in international competitions than any other place. He went straight to Manchester City, though, unlike fellow Bury native fullbacks Gary and Phil Neville, and has progressed through the ranks from the academy to the first team.
He told reporters that when I was around seven, my acquaintance helped set up a trial for me. At the beginning of Under-8s, they then signed me, and I have only played for City since. I’ve been a City supporter since I was around five or six, and my time in the academy has been excellent. The goal is to make it all the way through and arrive at this stage.
Since he was a small child and kicked a ball around his father’s gym, Lewis has credited his family as being the inspiration behind his profession. According to him, my father was the main cause behind my being prodded. Rather than pressuring me, he pushed me in the right ways so that I could get out there on my own. I made my debut in front of my family. The fact that I was able to meet them after I could see them in a box made me feel like, I worked hard for this and they worked just as hard for it. They are proud of me and I am proud of that.
Lewis spent some time working out with the first-team group while leading City to the Premier League U18s championship last year. But he started to get some attention when he received his first minutes in Guardiola’s side during their preseason tour of the United States in the summer of 2022.
With energetic cameos against Club America and Bayern Munich, he made an impression. After a driving run against the German champions, he hit the post. Additionally, the field was open for Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo’s back-ups to make their case after they let Zinchenko go for Arsenal in the summer and failed to secure their preferred replacement in Cucurella.
Lewis has still been able to make an impact despite City having added Spanish fullback Sergio Gomez from Anderlecht and youth standout Josh Wilson-Esbrand competing for opportunities. Since making his senior debut in August against Bournemouth, he has occasionally played off the bench, including in the Champions League victory against Copenhagen. Additionally, he appeared at ease in the recent famous exhibition match at Camp Nou against Barcelona as a starter.
For many youth players who aspire to break through at the Etihad, patience is the crucial word. When many wanted to force Foden into the first squad, he was treated with care and has become the face of the City’s successful system. Guardiola defied such requests, and the attacker from Stockport has now made nearly 200 appearances for his old team.
Lewis will therefore have opportunities; all he needs to do is make sure he seizes them. The full-backs for City are now well-established, but Walker will be 35 when his contract expires in 2025, and Lewis has the chance to solidify his position in the running to take Walker’s place as soon as he leaves.
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