Kean Bryan has always had one eye on the next level.
From early beginnings at Hough End Griffins, where he was spotted by a scout playing an age group above his own and brought to the City Academy, to the present where he has already represented the under-21s, the 17-year-old has been confident holding his own against those older than himself.
He reflected: “All you can ask for is to play as well as you can, and if you’re playing up an age group that shows you’re doing very well.”
Plucked from his local side to join City’s under-12s, Kean has dazzled through every level and was offered a two-year scholarship in July.
He said: “I was really proud to sign for City this summer. I feel like I’ve started quite well and am playing most weeks for the under-18s, although I’d made my debut for them before.”
He was just 15 years old when he made the first leap into the under-18 side, debuting alongside current teammate Brandon Barker in a hotly-contested draw away to Liverpool in January 2012.
The opposition was especially poignant for the Manchester-born Bryan, who models his game on Reds captain Steven Gerrard.
“He has been my idol since I was a kid,” he smiled. “He’s the spine of the team for Liverpool and England. Look at the game against Poland at Wembley – he led the team, he was everywhere and he scored a goal.
“I really like playing in the centre, going forward but also helping out the defence. But I’ve also filled in at left back to help the team out this season. I’ll play anywhere, I just like to play.”
Typically a box-to-box midfielder who likes to exert a considerable influence on the game from the centre of the park, it’s easy to see why the promising youngster looks up to Gerrard, who has captained his country and led Liverpool to the European Cup.
But importantly for a player who regularly pulls on the Sky Blue shirt, the opposition Kean really relishes facing is City’s cross town rivals.
“I love playing against United,” he smiles.
“My favourite game for City was a 2-1 win against them, when I scored a goal in the top corner at Carrington. It was a great feeling.”
Like a growing number of City academy players, the midfielder has caught the eye at international level and has represented England at u16 and u17 level. Not shy at taking a shot at goal for club or country, he grabbed the winner for the Young Lions against Wales in October 2012.
He reflected: “It’s an amazing feeling to get called up for England. Playing for your club is great, but playing for your country is special. When you hear the national anthem before the game you understand how important it is. My family are all really proud.”
But it’s club goals that are Kean’s focus during this first campaign as a City scholar.
Having only celebrated his 17th birthday at the start of November, he already has his sights firmly set on the EDS and regularly representing City at the under-21 age group.
Blues players and staff have all spoken of the benefits the u19 UEFA Youth League has brought to developing young players in bridging the gap between the sides, and the midfielder has already taken the first step by slotting into Patrick Vieira’s squad in the inaugural season of the competition.
“Vieira speaks to us all individually before games, which is really good for understanding exactly how he wants us to play.
“The Youth League has been really good for me. You get to test yourself against different sides than we normally do.
“It’s also been brilliant travelling with the first team and watching what they do, as well as playing in stadiums around Europe. It’s been really inspiring and I hope that will be me one day.
“My aim for this season is to break through into the under-21s and play a few games for them. I’ve played for the under-19s in Europe, trained with the EDS and now made my first appearance for the under-21s, so it feels like the next step.”
Handed a debut from the bench in a friendly against Sheffield Wednesday, the England youth international impressed in the second 45 minutes and made his competitive debut for the side in City’s inaugural fixture in the Premier League Cup against Stoke.
Introduced at a critical stage of the match, which was goalless as the end of normal time approached, Bryan adapted immediately to the pace of the game and helped Vieira’s men to a 2-0 victory in extra time to secure their place in the last 16.
“I know it will be tough to break into the team,” he admitted. “But I’m determined to do it.”