On the eve of a UEFA Youth League semi-final, Eric Garcia admits even he didn’t expect his first season at Manchester City to go quite so well.
The 17-year-old swapped Catalonia for Manchester last summer and now, less than a year after that move, he’s preparing to face his old club, Barcelona, in the last four of Europe’s premier youth cup competition.
Having captained the U18s and played for the EDS, as well as the U19s in the Youth League, Garcia has belied his tender years to adapt to a new club, country, language and home with consummate ease.
For he and Ian Poveda, who both spent time at La Masia earlier in their careers, it’s an interesting sub-plot to Friday’s game and offers the young defender a chance to reflect on his first year in England.
“I’m proud to have reached the last four in my first season,” said Garcia.
“Last year I was there and now I’m here in Manchester. It’s only been a short time, but I’ve learnt a lot of things and a lot has happened.
“On my first day here, I would never have imagined we’d be in the semi-finals of the UEFA Youth League.”
But that’s where Garcia finds himself and standing between him and place in the showpiece game are people, who, after nine years in the Barcelona youth set-up, he counts as good friends.
Well-versed in the club’s philosophy and with first-hand knowledge of the threat carried by the Blaugrana, Garcia admits his team-mates have been keen to pick his brains about what lies ahead.
“The lads have been asking me about them,” he explained with a smile.
“I know all the players and I also know the tactics. I started playing there when I was seven-years-old and it was a really good time in my life – I won the league every year.
“As with every Barca team, they are good players, but we have a good squad so we are going to fight and it should be a good match.
“In every single game we try to have the possession. Against teams like Barca, you need to adjust your shape because they play football.
“We’ll try and press really high so that they can’t keep the ball because their biggest strength is how quickly they move it.
“We both want to play football so the possession will be pretty even and it could come down to which team doesn’t make a mistake.”
If, as Garcia expects, it is decided by which side holds their nerve, then we have certainly proved our mettle with penalty shoot-out victories in the previous two rounds.
Liverpool in particular provided a real test in the quarter-final and Garcia is expecting a similarly difficult encounter.
Friendships will be put on hold for 90 minutes in a game he declares requires real bravery.
“It will be strange because first and foremost they are my friends,” he added.
“But once the game starts, we’re not friends.
“This type of game is for brave people. It will be a hard game. Sometimes we won’t have possession and we’ll have to get behind the ball and run.
“Since I was young, I’ve never been OK with losing any game, so I try my best for me and my mates.”