Marcos Lopes is in a better position than most to give an overview of Tuesday's opponents Monaco.
Better known to his family and friends as ‘Rony’ after his idol Cristiano Ronaldo, the former Benfica youth player joined City’s Academy in 2011 aged 15.
An exciting attacking midfielder, Roberto Mancini promoted the teenager to his first team squad during the 2012/13 pre-season and he made an unforgettable debut against Watford in the FA Cup third round in January 2013, replacing David Silva on 88 minutes and then scoring with virtually the first kick of his senior career to become the Club’s youngest ever goal-scorer aged 17 years and nine days – a record that still stands.
The City fans voted him the Academy Player of the Year at the end of the season as he continued to develop towards the senior squad. A year after his debut he played again – this time starting the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against West Ham and assisted two goals in a man-of-the match display that cemented the Blues’ place in the final.
It seemed he would be in or around the first team thereafter, but there were few chances to play as City powered towards the Premier League title and instead, to offer the 18-year-old more experience, Lopes was allowed to join Lille on a season-long loan for the 2014/15 campaign.
He played 27 times for the Ligue 1 side before returning to Manchester where he was again included as a member of Manuel Pellegrini’s senior squad for the 2015/16 campaign, joining the pre-season tour of Australia.
Again, the opportunity of regular senior football eluded him and just before the 2015 summer transfer window closed, Monaco made a bid of £9m which City accepted. Midway through his first season with Monaco, he was again loaned to Lille and he re-joined the club for the entire 2016/17 on another season-long loan.
Having recently turned 21, Lopes – still a Monaco player – is hoping he can return to the current Ligue 1 leaders next season and force his way into the manager’s plans. Other than that, he’s enjoying his time in France.
“It’s going well, but I’ve had some injuries that have held me back a little but I’m enjoying it – it’s good,” said Lopes. “I didn’t watch the Champions League draw live but I saw it afterwards and of course it made me smile. I think it’s a good draw for both clubs because they both enjoy playing great, attacking football. I think both legs will be exciting and it will be a special game to watch.
“I don’t know if I’ll be at the game in Monaco – I will need to check my schedule and if I can, I’ll be there. I think City will start the game as favourites but it will be close because both sides can score goals. Monaco are playing very well this season and are top of Ligue 1 at the moment while City have had good moments and some bad ones, too. Now, it seems City are playing really well again.”
With Monaco battling it out with Paris St Germain and Nice in the Ligue 1 title race, it looks as though The Red and Whites will battle to the wire to end PSG’s recent domination of French domestic football.
“There is a long way to go in the league and many things can happen – one defeat could change the whole picture but I think Monaco have been very consistent and done really well so far,” said Lopes. “It will be close and PSG are very strong as well and will keep going until the end, bit I believe we can win the title.
“I think the away leg for City will be tough because Monaco are very strong at home and the stadium is quite small compared with the Etihad. I expect both teams to be strong on their own ground.”
Monaco’s glamorous reputation and lifestyle is the stuff of legend and Marcos, though obviously residing in Lille during his loan spell, admits it’s a great place to live – but adds he misses Manchester and the friends he made at the Club.
“Monaco is a really nice place to live and very different from Manchester, but I enjoyed my time with City and had many good years with the Club so they will always be special to me,” he said. “I made a lot of good friends at City and the people were great with me, so I’ll always have many happy memories of my time there.“My family is still in Manchester because my brother is still going through school so I still have many connections with the city.”
And would Marcos ever consider a return to City? He said: “Who knows what could happen in the future? I will complete my loan spell at Lille and return to Monaco where I hope to do well in the next few years – but yeah, If I had the chance to play again for City in the future I would take it.”