Lewis Fiorini is one of many young exciting Scottish prospects at the moment, but he finds himself in a unique situation playing under one of the greatest ever managers in Pep Guardiola.
The midfielder signed with Manchester City at the age of 9 where he has climbed through the ranks as he looks to break into the first team.
And the now 18-year-old has opened up on life at City under Guardiola, his loan spell in the Netherlands with NAC Breda, making his debut for Scot Gemmill’s U21 Scotland side and the disappointment of narrowly missing out on qualification for the Euro 2020 next summer.
For Fiorini, it all started playing for local side AFC Clayton where he was scouted by the Premier League side.
His dream of playing for his boyhood club became a reality and he insists it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“I played for my local side AFC Clayton, the area where I grew up in Manchester. I was scouted by Manchester City at six-years-old, but you’re not allowed to sign until you’re nine. I was actually really close to signing with Bolton and at that time they were a massive Premier League club, but then at the last-minute City came in for me and I was never going to turn that down”
Fiorini has swiftly progressed at the Citizens and recalled his favourite game to date, an U18’s Manchester Derby against United, which produced a six-goal thriller. It was a day full of drama for the midfielder as he gave away a penalty before scoring a quickfire brace from the penalty spot and despite falling behind, managed to set up the equaliser to ensure his side weren’t left empty handed.
And the contest certainly wasn’t short of talent on both sides, with the likes of Cole Palmer, Brandon Williams, and current Red Devils wonderkid Mason Greenwood all on show that afternoon.
“It’s definitely my favourite game so far in my career, it obviously didn’t start well but I made up for it scoring two penalties in three minutes. It was a hectic game and one I’ll always remember.
“If you look across the pitch that day, there were so many unbelievable players on show for both sides and I believe all of them will go on to have good careers. There are a few of them who’ve gone on to make first team appearances and that certainly fills me with confidence that I am good enough as well.
“You could always tell that a player like Mason (Greenwood) was always going to go on and do big things and he’s now one of the best players in the country around my age and he’s gone on to do amazing things. Brandon Williams played in that game also and he’s gone on to do very well for himself as well. Even though I’m a Manchester City fan, it is still great to see other lads doing well.
“The U18’s here is very, very competitive and the standard is high for U18’s and if you compare it to the Scottish game as you mentioned, I don’t think the players get taken out their comfort zone as much as they need to, which is a shame as I don’t doubt for one second that there are a lot of talented footballers in Scotland. At City, we’re always away playing in tournaments against the best youth sides in the world and I feel as if it brings the best out of everyone.”
Fiorini signed his first professional contract with City in the summer shortly after recovering from a lengthy injury and as football resumed following the pandemic, he was invited to train with the first team for 10 weeks.
“It was an amazing opportunity. I went in shortly after the lockdown when the Premier League was beginning to restart and I trained with them every single day until they were leaving for the Champions League quarterfinals in Lisbon. Even though I didn’t play any games it was a priceless experience and I felt myself improve massively while being around a whole bunch of world class players. The quality of the training was of a top level as you’d expect, sometimes you’re actually blown away with just how good it is.”
Fiorini’s good mates Cole Palmer, Taylor-Hardwood Bellis and Tommy Doyle have all gone on to make first team appearances inside the last year and the youngster is hoping to follow in their footsteps.
“I’ve grown up with them since I was about six-years-old, and it makes me proud to see them doing so well. It just goes to show that there is a pathway there at City because Pep (Guardiola) does give the young lads a chance.”
Another well-known talent in England is Phil Foden, who has made himself a first team regular at the age of just 20-years-old as well as representing his country’s first team, knocking some fantastic players off their perch in the process.
Fiorini believes that the midfielder is an inspiration considering what he’s achieved despite still being relatively young.
“Phil Foden is the prime example at Man City because he’s come through every single level like I have and is now a first team member at just 20. He had to be patient as well so it also shows you have to wait, and your time will come. If you are a good player, it’s going to work out whatever you do. All the boys are brilliant for giving us advice, Fernandinho, Kyle Walker and Scott Carson in particular are brilliant.”
Everyone football fan knows Pep Guardiola is an absolute genius and Fiorini can only attest to that. The midfielder is also glad the Spaniard has opted to extend his stay in Manchester for another two years.
“I think Pep (Guardiola) signing a new deal is a good thing for me on a personal note because I’ve worked under Pep for the last two years now, the odd session here and there and then for a few months in the summer, so he has saw enough of me and knows what I’m about. Hopefully, this loan spell at NAC Breda goes well and I can go back to Manchester and see what the future holds.”
The midfielder joined Dutch Jupiler League side NAC Breda in August on a season-long loan, but admitted he wasn’t short of options in Scotland.
Most importantly, he seems to be enjoying life abroad and is using players like Mason Mount and Todd Cantwell as an example of what can be achieved by moving to the Netherlands.
“I didn’t really have my heart set on going out in the summer, I thought it would’ve been more likely to go out in January to be honest. I had offers in Scotland, but the Breda move was the one everyone agreed would be best for me and it all happened within the space of a couple of days.
“I’ve done it a year before Mason (Mount) and Todd (Cantwell) as well and to see where those guys are now is incredible. Mason Mount’s loan spell at Vitesse essentially shaped up his career.
“I didn’t know what to expect as it was my first time away from Manchester City, but I am really enjoying it. It’s been great playing in front of all the fans at the start of the season and my only goal so far was a very important one as well. The standard actually surprised me, in no way did I think it was going to be poor, but there are some very good players in our team. It’s more physically and mentally challenging as well, if we lose on the weekend it hurts a lot more than it did at youth level.”
Fiorini has represented Scotland at U16’s, U17’s, U18’s and U21’s level, but once upon a time played for their bitter rivals England as a 14-year-old.
“To be honest I didn’t actually know I had the opportunity to play for Scotland until someone brought it up. However, I am just as proud to pull on a Scotland shirt as it represents my family and I absolutely every minute of it. The Scottish side is full of so much quality and every time I go away with the squad then the level seems to continue to get higher and higher.”
The midfielder recently made his debut for Scot Gemmill’s Scotland U21 side away in Greece where the young team agonisingly missed out on a place at the Euros next year after failing to secure all three points.
Fiorini was unsurprisingly disappointed with how the result turned out but stated that it was an “honour” to play for the U21’s side.
“It was an honour to make my Scotland U21’s debut last week despite the disappointing result. It was great that the manager showed faith in me as he put me on when we were in desperate need of two goals.
“The boys were absolutely gutted at full time because most of the lads can’t play for the U21’s again, so when the next qualification campaign comes around there will near enough be a whole new set of players. I don’t think you can blame anyone though as everyone did their best and left everything out on the pitch. Overall, it was an amazing campaign, and it was unfortunate it ended on a bad note.”