Rico Lewis believes Manchester City sent out a strong statement to Arsenal this week – but the former Thai boxer admits he still does not feel like a full member of the team.
The impressively tough 18-year-old full-back or midfielder underlined his emergence this season with an outstanding display as City came from 2-0 down to beat Tottenham 4-2 on Thursday.
The turnaround ensured City got back to winning ways after successive defeats and breathed life back into their title challenge by cutting Arsenal’s lead at the top of the Premier League to five points.
“We showed the character of the team,” said the teenager, who displays a fighting spirit on the field his father Rick, a former British Thai boxing champion and coach, will undoubtedly be proud of.
“We showed the season is not over and there is still plenty of time to come back. It is the same City that has won the Premier League four times (in five years), and we’re not here to mess about.”
The season has been a whirlwind for academy graduate Lewis, who only made his senior debut in August.
He marked his first start with a goal against Sevilla in the Champions League in November and has been a regular feature of the side since the World Cup break.
His versatility has perhaps been the key, with his game combining defensive toughness, pace, a willingness to attack down the flank and an ability to move inside into midfield, as manager Pep Guardiola often demands.
His performances have earned praise from Guardiola and he concedes it has all been hard to take in.
He said: “Every game for me is just a massive surprise. I don’t expect to play any games so the games that I have been able to play already – it’s just overwhelming really.
“Obviously I feel like I belong but not really like I’m part of the team – I’m just playing with them. I feel that will come gradually but right now it’s just playing games and doing as much as I can for the team.”
Lewis was on the end of some robust challenges from Spurs but he did not shirk the challenge, his steeliness ingrained in a childhood that included learning kick boxing from his father.
Lewis said: “(My boxing’s) probably not on par with his, that was just something I did when I was a bit younger. It probably helped me a lot with balance and agility and stuff like that.”
The roles between father and son have now changed with Lewis junior introducing Lewis senior to his sport.
“He’s got into football a lot more recently because I have been playing,” Lewis said. “He never played football and never did anything to do with football but now he is involved in it I think he loves it just as much as I do, probably.”