Whenever someone opines that Manchester City do not have a striker on their books, young Liam Delap would be well within his rights to take umbridge.
Injuries and illness have combined to remove the 18-year-old’s name from the lips of Premier League commentators but the teenager is still very much in the plans of the one person that counts the most — Pep Guardiola.
A cluster of Championship managers spent most of the summer falling over one another in their attempts to chisel the bustling hitman Delap away from the Etihad Stadium on loan but City had no intention of letting him out — and they still don’t.
Guardiola wants the teenager where he can see him and where he and his coaches can develop the striking talents that earned Delap universal praise and a new three-year contract signed last August.
Now that he is nearing full fitness again, the champions and league leaders figure it would be more beneficial for the youngster to try to get the better of Ruben Dias, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte in training than secure a temporary move to a lower level.
Delap, who joined City in 2019 from Derby County, made a huge and immediate impact. He scored nine goals in 15 games in his debut season with the Under-18s and marked his first-team debut with a goal in a 2-1 win over Bournemouth in the League Cup. He made his Premier League debut as a substitute against Leicester a few days later and also appeared for the first team in the FA Cup.
The striker starred as City won the delayed 2020 FA Youth Cup final, 3-2 over Chelsea, and he played a crucial role in the second team’s Premier League 2 title triumph scoring three hat-tricks and 20 goals in 24 games. He further alerted all those eager Championship scouts when he scored three times in two games as City faced senior opposition in the 2020-21 EFL Trophy.
Delap was elevated to train with the first team in the 2021-22 pre-season and earmarked for a significant role as the European Championships delayed the return of many of the star names, but right ankle ligament damage picked up in training ruled him out for months and then he did the same to his left ankle when he returned.
It was a frustrating time for Delap as he has spent rehab watching close mates from the youth ranks Cole Palmer and James McAtee make headlines at first team level and he admits that he wants another taste of life at City’s top table.
“It’s been a tough four months,” he admitted. “It isn’t so bad midweek but when the games come around it’s so frustrating. I just want to be out there.
“I’ve managed to focus and work hard and importantly not rush things. I am still so young and had to make sure the injuries healed properly so there are no issues later in my career. Patience has obviously been key. You get so well looked after at City that the rehab doesn’t feel like a chore.
“It has been a lot of fun watching James and Cole break through and get minutes in first team games. We are all great mates from the youth team and it would be great to one day play alongside them in the Premier League. I am sure the fans would love that too. Phil Foden has really set the bar high for current academy players graduating.”
Delap has heard the noise surrounding possible loan moves but is more than happy staying put and showcasing his talent in front of Guardioala.
“I’m training with the first team every day and it can’t get better than that. We have some of the world’s best players and they are right up there because of their attitude in training,” he said.
“They are all winners, they don’t like losing a tackle, never mind a game. They know what they do on the training pitch goes towards the manager’s selection for games and the intensity in training at City is something else.
“To be part of that is amazing and every day you are learning from the way the players apply themselves and from listening to them. It’s a great environment for a young player to be part of. The great thing is that they treat you as equals too. It’s very competitive but there’s no looking down on the young players
“I am so happy here it feels like I have been here forever. I just love the place and all the people. I can’t wait to do even more.”
Guardiola is still hopeful that the young Englishman can contribute in the second half of this season and then challenge fully next term when there will likely be stiffer competition for the striking roles.
“Football is all about healthy competition and driving up your own standards and those of the team,” he said.
“Everyone has to work so hard to get a place in this City side. We all know how tough it is and how rewarding it is when your name is in that squad which is one of the best there has ever been. So I will just do my best, work as hard as I can and see where that takes me.
“I’d say my biggest strengths are pace, power and finishing. I like to use my strength and size. I’m not what you would call a nimble, technical player but I’m very competitive.”
Delap aims to be back on the pitch — or at least involved in a match day — on February 7 when City’s second string travel to play his former club Derby County in the Premier League 2. If he gets some minutes it will make his 19th birthday — the day after — all the more pleasurable and the possibility of more first team minutes one step closer.