With his family ardent Barcelona supporters and having dreamt of playing in the Camp Nou for his boyhood heroes, it took a lot of courage and conviction for Eric Garcia to leave them two years ago.
Reflecting on the bold decision to join Manchester City after nine years growing through the ranks at the famed La Masia Academy, the 18-year-old has no regrets. And nor should he.
Having come off the bench for his Premier League debut in the enthralling 8-0 win over Watford last weekend, Garcia then started, and impressed, at Preston as City comfortably opened the defence of the League Cup with a 3-0 success.
Manager Pep Guardiola has predicted a bright future for the centre-back – and promised more opportunities in the first team with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones sidelined by injuries and midfielder Fernandinho currently being used alongside Nicolas Otamendi in the backline.
“My family supports Barcelona, I was with them, so they were my team when I was young,” Garcia told Sport360 exclusively.
“But you need to make decisions in your life. To leave my family there and come to play here with City was the best decision I could make.
“Of course there’s the pressure of what’s going to happen when you go, coming to a new country, a new language and everything with this. But I wanted to do this. I have confidence and belief.
“At the end, the key is to be calm and then the opportunities will arrive.
“I’m very young and I know I need to work hard, but maybe one day I could be there in the [City] first team and helping them win trophies. We will see. I hope I get my chance, but it’s the manager who decides, so we will see.”
Pep on Eric Garcia:— Man City | Superbia (@SuperbiaProeIia) September 21, 2019
"He's going to play. He's going to play a lot of games, a lot of minutes because I trust him a lot, a lot." pic.twitter.com/xfl7FaFeYf
Garcia’s composure, control on the ball and calm authority has belied his teenage years.
They are traits he picked up while watching former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol – also the man who arranged his move to City – lead the Catalan giants to glory.
During a four-year period from 2008, coached by Guardiola and inspired by Lionel Messi, they won 14 trophies to become the world’s finest club side.
“I was always a defender and, because I was with Barcelona, my kind of idol was Carles Puyol,” said Garcia, whose City side visit Everton on Saturday before hosting Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Yet recalling Puyol’s rugged style, with a smile, he added: “We are different, it’s true. He was so aggressive, but I try to learn the things that make him so good, the way he defended and coped with situations because he was so calm.
“I try to do the things he did because he was a real leader in the team, inside and outside of the team. That’s probably why he was my idol.
“Nowadays training with these guys at City I am learning from them. Most of the centre backs, Nico, Aymeric, they speak Spanish, so we talk, but also with John we talk and they all try to help me and give me advice.
“At the end of the day we play together and, as centre backs, we have to speak to each other in the games a lot so I try to learn from them.
“They just tell me to be calm and to speak a lot, there has to be lots of communication. I’m really happy to make my debut in the Premier League.
“Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure because all the players and the staff give me confidence so I am just happy to play.
“At this moment this is my first year fully training with the senior team so I need to get the movement and everything within the team, to work with them. But I feel ready.
“In training I feel good, but the games are different so I need to go step by step. My target is to train hard every time and if the manager decides if I need to play then I need to be ready for it.
“But when you play with these kind of players it’s easy because they are the best players in the world, really amazing.”
Best way to start the Carabao Cup💪 incredible performance from everyone against a really tough team. Thanks to the travelling fans for the incredible support💪🔥🔥🔵 pic.twitter.com/WqYyWua0ha— Eric Garcia Martret (@ericgm3) September 24, 2019
Garcia, who also won the Under-17 and Under-19 European Championships with Spain, has been eager to learn since becoming part of the first-team set-up this summer.
And he believes he is witnessing something special, something unique, from a side that won a domestic treble of league, FA Cup and League Cup last season.
“Watching this team, like the game [against Watford], the first 12 minutes was just unbelievable,” added Garcia.
“I haven’t seen anything like that, never. That first 12 minutes, then to come on and play with this team, it was just an amazing feeling.
“I grew up watching Barcelona and probably there are similarities. It’s true that Barcelona, under Pep, that they were fantastic, won so many trophies, but I think we are different to them.
“We are trying to win the same, but I think we are more together as a team.
“Barcelona had Messi, Xavi, [Andres] Iniesta, more key players, but I think we are altogether stronger as a team.”
Liverpool launch this weekend’s round of fixtures in a lunch-time kick-off at Bramall Lane.
Jurgen Klopp’s side could move eight points clear at the top with victory before title rivals Manchester City’s tea-time kick-off at Everton.
Here, the PA news agency highlights some of this week’s main talking points.
Can Blades cut down Klopp?
Liverpool despatched MK Dons in the Carabao Cup in midweek and Klopp will revert back to his accustomed starting XI as his side resume their Premier League title charge. The Reds are expected to extend their 100 per cent league start by notching their seventh straight win, but it will be no cakewalk at a sold-out Bramall Lane. The Blades fought back from 2-0 down to take a point off Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and won at Goodison Park last week. Can Klopp’s side close to within two victories of Chelsea’s best-ever Premier League start when they won nine on the bounce in 2005?
Silva braced for City storm
Everton eased some of the pressure on boss Marco Silva with victory in the Carabao Cup at Sheffield Wednesday in midweek, but must be wary of another lightning start by Manchester City, who struck five times inside the opening 18 minutes in last week’s 8-0 rout of Watford. The champions, stung by their recent defeat at Norwich, have a clinical, steely resolve about them, scoring 14 goals in their last three matches and it is difficult to envisage anything other than a fourth Premier League defeat of the season for the Merseysiders, who sit three points above the relegation zone.
Greenwood champs at bit
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could turn to Mason Greenwood to help solve his side’s goalscoring problem by handing the teenager his first Premier League start of the season against Arsenal on Monday night. United, who head into the weekend fixtures in eighth place, 10 points adrift of leaders Liverpool, have scored more than once in only three of their last 20 matches in all competitions, while the 17-year-old has netted their last two. Arsenal, three points better off in fourth, have won only one of their last 16 visits to Old Trafford, but now could be a good time to improve on that record.
Perez poised for Magpies ambush
Newcastle have won on their last two visits to the King Power Stadium, but this time their match-winner on both occasions, Ayoze Perez, will be lining up against them. Leicester’s £30million summer signing has yet to score for the Foxes, but could hit the goal trail for them against his former club. Brendan Rodgers’s side provided further evidence last week that they can mount a top-four challenge by beating Tottenham, with James Maddison to the fore again. Steve Bruce is finding it tough going with the Magpies, whose only win this season came at Tottenham last month.
No time for sulking at Spurs
All eyes will be on Tottenham to see how they respond to their embarrassing midweek Carabao Cup exit at Colchester. The Londoners’ season could really start to unravel if they lose again. They recently squandered a 2-0 lead to draw in Greece against Olympiacos in the Champions League and then lost at Leicester before losing on penalties against a side that is mid-table in League Two. Southampton, a point behind Spurs in the table, thumped south-coast rivals Portsmouth on Tuesday night, while their four wins in all competitions this season have all come on the road.
Copy provided by Press Association Sport
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder has backed on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson to shine against Liverpool on Saturday.
The Blades face the daunting task of hosting a side that has won its last 15 Premier League matches stretching back to last season, and who have already opened up a five-point lead at the top of the table this time around.
Liverpool boast two of last season’s three Golden Boot winners in Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, who shared the accolade with Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after the trio all scored 22 Premier League goals.
Henderson will be the man tasked with keeping the Reds at bay and Wilder believes his young goalkeeper is up to the challenge.
“Liverpool’s forward three have been unbelievable for the past couple of years,” said Wilder. “In terms of the quality they’ve got, the mobility and way they interchange, we’re going to have to have an unbelievably great day to keep the ball out of our net.
“Our goalkeeper is going to have to make saves, we understand that, but I feel we have the best young goalkeeper in the country.”
Henderson played a key role in helping the Blades win promotion to the Premier League last season during his loan spell at the club.
The 22-year-old is highly regarded at Old Trafford too, after signing a new contract until 2022 this summer prior to rejoining Wilder’s side on a second season-long deal.
“He’s an outstanding goalkeeper. He will rise to the occasion I’m sure, and he, like all the other players, will relish the opportunity of going go toe-to-toe with Liverpool on a level playing field,” said Wilder.
“He will have to make some big saves and I’m sure he will do when the time comes. He enjoys the big occasions. I love him as a personality, he’s got something different and something about him.
“He knows this year, not just in this match but throughout the season, that he is going to have to come up with some big saves at big times – not only for us to help us in what we are trying to do in this division, but also for his individual career as well.”
David McGoldrick is a major doubt for the Blades. The Republic of Ireland international has missed the last two matches with a muscle injury and Wilder is not optimistic about his chances of being fit.
Fellow striker Billy Sharp is suspended but on-loan Everton midfielder Mo Besic returns to contention having been unable to play against his parent club last weekend.
Copy provided by Press Association Sport