Taylor Harwood-Bellis: Man City's homegrown defensive star already wowing Guardiola

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When Pep Guardiola was unveiled as the new Manchester City boss to thousands of fans at the Etihad Campus, he shared the stage with a number of figures representing the values of the club.

They included first-team player Kelechi Iheanacho, women's captain Steph Houghton and a shy 14-year-old from the Academy named Taylor Harwood-Bellis.

"One of the reasons for coming here is knowing how good they are working in the academy," Guardiola told the fans three years ago. "For me, it's amazing to see the young players and imagine that they can one day come and join us in the first team."

That teenager is now a couple of inches taller than the City boss and, having impressed in pre-season and with City in the midst of a defensive injury crisis, is indeed training with the first-team squad.

Harwood-Bellis could now be set for his first-team debut sooner than expected as he continues to impress Guardiola and his backroom staff as they look to offset the absences of Aymeric Laporte and John Stones.

The 17-year-old was one of a handful of first-year scholars picked to join City's pre-season tour to the Far East to gain first-team experience on the advice of academy director Jason Wilcox and former Barcelona coach Rodolfo Borrell, who nurtured the development of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta among others.

Harwood-Bellis' qualities soon became clear.

In training, the Stockport-born youngster took playing alongside the likes of David Silva and Raheem Sterling in his stride, while maintaining a quiet and polite persona away from the pitch.

He started the opening match against West Ham in Nanjing alongside Laporte, playing a full 90 minutes and surprising first-team coaches with his calmness and maturity in a 4-1 victory.

City's philosophy of playing the ball out of the back was not going to change even with Harwood-Bellis in the side, and he looked more than comfortable within a system that is coached into youngsters throughout the City youth ranks.

He was happy to collect the ball in tight situations under pressure from West Ham attackers, knocking short passes into Rodri and Laporte, while making himself available as he helped City build from the back in trademark Guardiola fashion.

Taylor Harwood-Bellis Manchester City 2019-20
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With Stones missing after the Nations League tournament with England, Harwood-Bellis looked a ready-made replacement with his long strides out of defence and confidence on the ball. And, after similarly impressive performances on the remainder of the tour, Harwood-Bellis continued to catch the eye.

"I was impressed," Guardiola said. "I didn’t know him very well but in pre-season in China, Taylor was so good." That has continued on his return to Manchester, as he continues to excite in training with his desire to learn from his coaches.

Harwood-Bellis will be part of the squad for City's Carabao Cup clash with Preston North End on Tuesday, along with young Spanish centre-back Eric Garcia, as Guardiola rotates his squad after injuries to Laporte and Stones left him short of cover. His chance may come earlier than expected but he was already part of Guardiola’s thoughts before the injury setbacks.

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When Vincent Kompany left the club in the summer, the City boss was keen to replace his skipper with an experienced centre-back who could play out from defence.

City wanted Leicester’s Harry Maguire but refused to be drawn into a bidding war with Manchester United, and he eventually moved to Old Trafford in an £80 million ($100m) deal. Guardiola and director of football Txiki Begiristain were encouraged to take such a stance knowing they had two potential stars coming through their academy.

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Garcia had already made an impression with a handful of appearances in last season’s Carabao Cup run to Wembley. And that insurance was doubled when Harwood-Bellis stepped up so impressively in the summer while Garcia was captaining Spain at the Under-19 European Championship.

The duo had already formed a strong partnership as part of the City U18s side that made it to the FA Youth Cup final, while Harwood-Bellis also showed his potential when he held his own against recent Premier League players Duncan Watmore and Lynden Gooch in a Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Sunderland last season.

At 6'2" (1.88 metres) tall and with a muscular frame, he already appears ready for the step up. He has always excelled in his age groups – winning 20 caps as an England schoolboy and captaining his country at U16 and U17 level.

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He joined City as an eight-year-old, coming through the same Stockport Metro Junior League that produced highly-rated team-mate Phil Foden.

Like Foden, City will not rush him into the first team and he will play a prominent role in the UEFA Youth League this term – a competition he scored in as a 16-year-old last season.

But City do not want their academy to be a production line of promising youngsters that go onto great things elsewhere. Harwood-Bellis has a better chance of making it in a star-studded City line-up than most.