Pep Guardiola carefully shaping Manchester City's next generation of stars
MIAMI, FLORIDA -- While Jose Mourinho has been bemoaning the lack of first-team players at the International Champions Cup for Manchester United, Pep Guardiola has taken the chance to run the rule over his young guns and give them the opportunity of forcing their way into his plans for the new season.
No club on the planet sent more players to the World Cup than Manchester City and, of the 16 that went to Russia, only Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy joined the preseason tour to the United States. The French defender has not played any minutes, meaning that Guardiola has been forced to name youthful sides in each of their three matches. Their improvement in such a short time working with the coach was evident in Saturday's clash when they fought back from two goals down to beat a much more experienced Bayern Munich side 3-2.
"You cannot imagine how I enjoyed these 10 days with these guys," Guardiola told a news conference after the game in Miami.
"The young players have desire -- they are starving to become football players. They are hungry, work with them and you say something and they open their eyes and listen to you because they want to make a career."
With the transfer window closing in less than two week, the City boss must now decide who will be allowed to leave on loan and who will benefit from sticking around with the first team.
Phil Foden is the only youngster guaranteed to stay in Manchester with Guardiola closely monitoring his progression with so much expected of the playmaker. The 18-year-old stepped up confidently in the Bayern game after the loss of club-record singing Riyad Mahrez through injury, and is pushing for a start in Sunday's Community Shield clash with Chelsea at Wembley.
Spanish forward Brahim Diaz also made a number of first-team appearances last season but has been linked with a loan move to sister club Girona in La Liga.
"Pep said it's been a great experience for us and he knows better," Brahim, 18, told reporters. "Working with him, you learn from him every day. The young players can really benefit from that.
"That's what we try to do every day -- train hard so that one day we can play for City or for another club. It's amazing to be here with a club like this so we will see what happens."
Striker Lukas Nmecha, who made just two appearances from the bench last season, started all three matches in the U.S. -- scoring in the win over Bayern although he was disappointed with another effort that struck the foot of the post.
Several Championship and German clubs are interested in taking the 19-year-old on loan but it could be that he remains with the first team after impressing Guardiola with his quality. The admiration is mutual.
"He knows what he's doing, doesn't he? Building up and all that stuff," he joked to reporters at the Hard Rock Stadium.
"We have been lucky in a way. We have got so many great first-team players and they've all been away at the World Cup, so we have had our chances to play and I thought we all did really well.
"When we get back I'll have to speak with Pep and see what he wants me to do. It's still a learning curve and I'll keep improving."
The biggest surprise to emerge from the tour has been 17-year-old former Barcelona defender Eric Garcia. He defended solidly against Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool earlier in the tournament and has displayed the confidence in possession and the ability to play out from the back just as Guardiola likes his defenders to do. The fact that Garcia was selected ahead of the more experienced Jason Denayer and Tosin Adarabioyo for City's final game speaks volumes.
"He played three games against [Sadio] Mane, [Mohamed] Salah, [Arjen]] Robben and [Kingsley] Coman -- it's so complicated," Guardiola said.
"But I'm so satisfied for the intention. We judge intention and his intentions were so good."
It would not have been Guardiola's ideal situation to be without the majority of his first-team squad so close to the start of the season. But the last 10 days in the U.S. could have had a significant impact on the future of some of his young players.