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Romeo Lavia: Man City wonderkid aiming to follow in Fernandinho's footsteps

7:00 AM EDT 4/23/21
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City beat a host of their Premier League rivals to sign the 17-year-old in the summer of 2020, and he has enjoyed a superb first season in England

Pep Guardiola knows the importance of having a strong defensive midfielder at the heart of a winning team.

The No.6 role was one Guardiola thrived in himself during his playing career, and since moving into coaching he has tasked the likes of Sergio Busquets, Philipp Lahm and Fernandinho in following in his footsteps.

It is no coincidence that Manchester City made Rodri their second-most expensive signing of all time when they paid £64 million ($79m) to bring the Spain international to the Eithad Stadium from Atletico Madrid in 2019.

Guardiola requires a special player to perform the role to his liking.

In Romeo Lavia, City believe they have found a player who can be moulded into the ideal Guardiola player.

Lavia only joined City from Anderlecht in the summer of 2020, but he has already made a huge impression on academy staff having played a key role in the club's Under-23s winning the Premier League 2 title.

Aged just 16 when he moved to England, many expected Lavia to spend the majority of his first season representing the U18s, but by November he had made his first start for Enzo Maresca's reserve side and has gone onto be named in the XI for each of their 11 games in 2021.

The crowning moment for a team that includes other talented teenagers such as Liam Delap, Cole Palmer and James McAtee came in last week's 3-0 win over Manchester United, with the three points proving enough to wrap up the title with three matches to go.

Lavia took control of the City midfield and played a major role in keeping talented duo Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri - both of whom are currently training with the United first team - quiet.

He also laid on the assist for Sam Edozie to open the scoring having intercepted a pass high up the pitch, with the Belgium youth international having reached out to City captain Fernandinho in a bid to improve his all-round game.

"I’ve watched a lot of Fernandinho and [Sergio] Busquets,” Lavia tells Goal. “Those two have dominated the game as defensive midfielders. I’ve looked at them a lot.

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“Fernandinho knows what he’s doing - he doesn’t run just to run. He’s like the brain of the team. 

“When you’re young you want to run - left, right - but he knows what he’s doing so he won’t run as much, but will still be effective. That’s something I keep learning from him.

“I’ve spoke to him but not in person because of Covid, so just on social media.”

Though the similarities between the pair are noticeable when watching Lavia on the pitch, having only 17 turned in January he does not yet possess the mastery of the 'dark arts' that Fernandinho has excelled at in recent times.

Lavia does, however, have similar strengths when on the ball, and has spent time this season honing his ability to make line-breaking passes from deep - a skill that Guardiola insists his defensive midfielders possess.

“I really enjoy recovering the ball and pass through the lines,” Lavia says. “Enzo's helped me a lot with that, always being on the half-turn so I can see the game going forward, so it’s not a problem now.

“I know that I’ve got my qualities, but if I do something wrong they help me. 

“Obviously my team-mates have got experience - some of them have trained with the first team. They’ve helped me a lot and I’ll keep learning.”

In previous years, Lavia himself may have been offered the chance to train alongside Guardiola's squad, but coronavirus regulations mean moving between different bubbles is difficult to do.

The City boss, though, is well aware of Lavia's talent, having first set eyes on him when the youngster was just 14.

Guardiola was the guest of honour at the 2018 KDB Cup - a prestigious youth tournament hosted by Kevin De Bruyne in the midfielder's home town of Drongen - when Lavia helped inspire Anderlecht to beat the likes of Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain to the trophy, despite him being a year younger than most of his team-mates and opposition players.

The likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea all began monitoring his progress as Lavia began to start playing at centre-back, earning comparisons to ex-City captain and fellow Belgian, Vincent Kompany.

He lacks the physical attributes required to play in defence long-term, however, and having moved back into midfield, City's offer towards the end of the 2019-20 season was then too good to turn down.

“It’s a really good club," Lavia says, "with a good academy, top players and the people around to help you.

“City have got a lot of departments for everything you need. You just have to ask the question and they will help you.

“Personally, because I’m new, they help me to feel comfortable. I’m really happy to be here."

With Lavia settled in Manchester, the question that needs to be asked is what comes next?

The gap between the U23s and the very top of the English and European game is a huge one for a 17-year-old, but Lavia is already showing in his displays that he will soon be above the level of age-group football.

That is not to say that a first-team debut will be around the corner anytime soon, but the potential for him to break through in the next year or two is huge.

Lavia, though, is happy to live in the moment.

“You just have to believe in yourself,” he concludes. “When you come here, you know you’re here for a reason, so just play your football like always.”