Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola heaped lavish praise on Rico Lewis following his star turn in Wednesday night's Champions League victory over RB Leipzig, describing the teenager as one of the best players he has ever trained.
Lewis, 18, broke into the City first-team squad last season playing predominantly in his natural right-back role, but he was deployed alongside fellow Academy graduate Phil Foden in central midfield against Leipzig.
City won the match at the Red Bull Arena 3-1 as late goals from Julian Alvarez and Jeremy Doku secured victory after Foden's first-half opener was cancelled out by Lois Openda early in the second half.
However, it was the performance of Lewis that most caught the eye of Guardiola, and the City manager insisted the youngster will be getting plenty more opportunities this season.
“What a player. What a player,” Guardiola said. "Eighteen years old. I have been a manager for 14, 15 years training unbelievable players.
“To find a player like him playing in the pockets, how he has to move in holding midfield, full-back coming inside moving in the spaces - he is one of the best I ever trained by far.
“He is a humble guy, doesn't talk much, but has the appreciation of all his mates.
“He didn't play much this season. Last season he was a key point and helped us understand what we should do in our build-up. Today was proof again. This season he hasn't played as much but he is going to play a lot.”
Lewis made his first impression on Guardiola during the 2022/23 pre-season after the Spaniard was made aware of his talents by coach Carlos Vicens. After impressing in a friendly against Bayern Munich, Lewis was integrated into the senior squad and went on to make 23 appearances in all competitions last season.
Opportunities have been harder to come by so far this season, with Wednesday's match at Leipzig only his third start having played the full 90 minutes in the opening Premier League game at Burnley and against Newcastle United in the League Cup third round.
“His composure from day one is always surprising. I didn't even consider bringing him on pre-season the previous one,” Guardiola said.
“Carlos Vicens said ‘maybe you can bring Rico’. Because he can play right-back, left-back, I didn’t know him.
“Then he played against Bayern Munich at right-back and I thought this guy is good! Then he started training with us and I said ‘oh this guy is good!’
“When you play inside, you have to be 360 and you have passes coming from everywhere, that is the most difficult position to play. As a central defender, all you see is in front of you," Guardiola added.
“He is a big talent and to find that is not easy, to come from the Academy, he always trained so good.
“I’m very pleased for him. He deserves all the praise from ourselves and the media - he deserves it.”
Lewis' long-term importance to City was demonstrated in August when he signed a new five-year contract, and Guardiola said the youngster already has the trust of his teammates.
“He is a member of the squad in ability. Most important thing for a player is when you gain the respect of your teammates,” Guardiola said.
“When your mates can rely on you on the pitch, you are in heaven. This is the most important thing by far.
“The players are not stupid. They smell everything on the pitch. They know who they can rely on on the pitch - and they can rely on him.”