The 18-year-old has already impressed in his handful of appearances for Pep Guardiola’s side and is set to make a further step up in 2019-20
Eric Garcia could soon have some very big shoes to fill at Manchester City.
The Premier League champions and domestic treble winners are looking to get even better next season, but they will most likely end the summer with just three senior centre-backs. And that could mean a big break for 18-year-old Garcia, who in March was named in Goal’s NxGn list of the best 50 teenage footballers on the planet.
City’s transfer plans are more complex than usual, and despite Vincent Kompany’s departure they are not rushing to sign a replacement, with concerns about Harry Maguire’s price tag and Matthijs De Ligt’s agent, Mino Raiola. Nicolas Otamendi wants to leave, too, but if City do not sign a Kompany replacement, the Argentine could be tempted to stay.
Whatever happens, the most likely outcome is that they will need a fourth option to come into the defence on several occasions next season.
Fernandinho will be one candidate, as long as City sign a new midfielder, and there are suddenly some doubts around Rodri’s arrival from Atletico Madrid.
The other candidate is Garcia, who has been at City for two years now, and has seemingly improved and impressed every single day.
“He has good vision, a good pass,” Pep Guardiola said in December, after Garcia’s competitive senior City debut at Leicester in the Carabao Cup. “It’s incredible, I’m very pleased. He didn’t make one mistake and with the ball, he played with huge personality.”
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That personality has stood out throughout his early career. Until he moved to Manchester at the age of 16 the centre-back had been at Barcelona from the age of seven, where he captained every youth team he had been in, despite playing in older age groups.
That maturity has been evident to everybody involved in City’s youth teams over the past two years, and it was no surprise to them when the then 17-year-old began barking orders at his senior team-mates during his first appearances with Guardiola’s squad in pre-season last summer.
“Eric Garcia is 17 or 18 and played like he is 24 or 25,” the Catalan coach said after City faced Borussia Dortmund last July, and he was so impressed by what he saw he brought it up again six months later.
“He has a lot of personality,” Guardiola said at the King Power Stadium. “In pre-season in the States he was incredible, commanding the line against Bayern Munich and Liverpool. He’s a guy that has a lot of sense of the position. He’s so smart, he’s not the strongest in the air or the fastest one but few times the opposition win one position, he’s able to guide the line and has a lot of personality to play.”
Garcia does stand at only 5’9″, though he still got involved in the physical battles against Burton Albion in later rounds of the Carabao Cup. The fact that his height is probably the only lingering concern around him featuring in the City first team next season speaks volumes for how well he has done everything else asked of him thus far.
At Leicester he commanded the line, as he did last summer, by bossing around senior internationals like Otamendi and Kyle Walker. Asked about it afterwards, Garcia spoke as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
“I always say when we are on the pitch we are all the same team,” he told Goal. “I think if we speak to each other it is better for the team, because you try to help your team-mates and at the end that’s the most important thing. Obviously with the age there’s a lot of difference, but I just feel that I need to do it.”
The lack of pace that Guardiola mentioned is unlikely to be much of a problem due to his positioning and understanding of the City boss’ playing style, especially when you consider that Kompany, Otamendi and even John Stones are not particularly quick either.
The rest is all there, and will be simply a question of improving over time. There is versatility, too; Guardiola actually planned to use Garcia at right-back at Leicester until an hour before kick-off, and last summer he even considered using him at the base of midfield.
Barcelona knew they had a gem on their hands, and were aghast at losing him. Carles Puyol was one of his agents at the time of the City move, and Barca were so unhappy with their former defender’s role in Garcia’s exit, and other aspects of his being a player representative, that he called time on his new career altogether last year.
Garcia has appeared to be the man for the bigger occasions, too. He has not always played well in City’s youth ranks, but has generally thrived in the bigger games, certainly while with the first team, and he was the best player on the pitch when Spain’s Under-19s beat the Netherlands in an U19 European Championships clash back in March.
Based on his development so far, it is inconceivable that he would not keep improving, especially if he is promoted to the first team next season, as expected.
“I think that he helps me a lot every day,” Garcia has said of his time training with Guardiola. “Every day is like if you go to school because you learn something different, so it’s good.”
Whether or not Garcia is called upon to replace Kompany, Otamendi or fill in wherever else City may need him in the next 12 months, it will not be too long before the cultured centre-back is making a name for himself.