Gifted midfielder James Hardy isn’t likely to be fazed by any of the potential pitfalls common to a young footballer.
The 18-year-old has already experienced his fair share of knockbacks in his fledgling career, but has emerged stronger for it and remains determined to fight his way to the very top.
Let go by Oldham Athletic before his 16th birthday, others might have felt their game was up, but James’s talent, drive and work ethic convinced the City Academy he was well worthy of a second chance at the club he has supported all his life.
“I was at Oldham from the age of 10, but they didn’t give me a scholarship,” Hardy remembered. “So in January 2012 I came on trial at City and then they offered me a scholarship – since then it’s been the best.
“I’ve been a City fan since I was born so it makes it extra special. It’s the best feeling in the world to play for the club you support.”
Slight in stature, James relies on his technical ability rather than physical power to get the better of his opponents, using his quick feet to find pockets of space. His range of passing and close ball control make him an ideal fit in the centre of the park, and he was handed his first start for the under-18s at the first opportunity after signing on in the summer of 2012.
He reflected: “I made my league debut in the opening game against Chelsea, but it didn’t go too well and we lost 6-1. But I was a first year scholar and they picked me to start, so that was great because they showed faith in me. It felt great just to play.”
But while he may have enjoyed a dream start to life with the Blues, this term has been one of frustration and disappointment for the Stockport-born midfielder as he battled a long term injury.
“I was fit throughout pre-season and I started in the first game against West Brom,” Hardy explained. “But then I had a stress fracture in my back, which has kept me out all year. For about three months you just can’t do anything.
“So it’s been a frustrating year, but hopefully I will get through it and be stronger. Being injured has helped me appreciate playing football even more, so when I do return I won’t take being fit for granted.”
While he admits that watching from the sidelines as the under-18s squad lifted the North League title was tough in many ways, he remains delighted for his friends that achieved so much during this campaign.
“I want to see my mates do well and to see them win the league is a great feeling, but I don’t feel that I have really been a part of it.”
But James is keen to focus on the many positives of his burgeoning City career, including the chance to test himself against foreign opposition and travel the world while participating in prestigious tournaments.
He declared: “I would say my favourite memory so far in a City shirt was in Hong Kong when we played against Aston Villa in the final and I scored.
There was a big crowd there so it felt really good to get a goal, especially because it put us 1-0 up.
“But obviously I have only been here a short time so I hope to make a lot more memories like that.”
His tender years mean he has plenty of time. His on field return is edging close with the prospect of full training just weeks away, and he looks set to enjoy a full pre-season alongside his peers as he aims to take the next steps towards Patrick Vieira’s Elite Development Squad.
“Next year my aims are to stay fit and play well mainly! I hope to be involved in the UEFA Youth League too. Playing teams like Benfica is completely different to playing teams here,” he said.
“You get to play the English teams every year, but Benfica is a one off. Plus, you get to see what your competition is like abroad, see how good they are and compare yourself to them.”
Although this season has been a disappointing one for the youngster, he managed to end it on a high at the Etihad Stadium.
James turned 18 on the last day of the Premier League season, and his beloved Blues lifting the trophy was the ideal present, especially after he was let down 12 months ago.
“I went to Wembley last year and it was my birthday then, and obviously we ended up losing to Wigan. So to win it this year, was the best feeling ever!”