'I gave myself until 18 to make it' - Man City's Lewis

Meeting Rico Lewis, the first thing that strikes you is just how normal and down to earth he is. This is a young man who won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble with Manchester City before he turned 19.

Some players go their entire careers without experiencing anywhere near that level of success so to do it aged 18, in your first full season with the first team, yet retain a sense of perspective and humility speaks volumes.

To understand where this Bury teenager's qualities come from, you have to go back to where his sporting journey began.

Lewis' father Rick is a two-time Muay Thai (Thai boxing) champion. He established the Phoenix Muay Thai Gym in Bury back in 2001 and from as early as two years old Rico would be a familiar sight for those training under Rick’s supervision.

Martial arts can help develop confidence, footwork, co-ordination and balance - all helpful attributes for any aspiring footballer - but Lewis says the most vital traits developed at the gym were self-discipline and humility.

"I think the main one is just being humble. From watching boxing and watching fights you know there's so many times that there's a cocky boxer that does get humbled," Lewis said.

"I think that's something you can take into life. You've got something until you don't have. You know in a second it can be taken away from you."

Rico Lewis near his dad's gym in Whitefield, north Manchester
Rico Lewis spoke to BBC Sport at his father's Thai boxing gym in north Manchester, where he was a regular from the age of two [BBC Sport]

Despite being a prodigiously talented fighter, who idolised Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather Jr, with the potential to follow in his father’s footsteps, Lewis chose to chase his football dream, joining City's academy around the age of eight.

That path into professional football, especially at the very elite Premier League clubs, is well documented for its difficulty.

For City academy prospects, the road to the first team is one where only the most talented and dedicated succeed.

But even they can have doubts.

"Before I signed my scholarship, I was talking to my dad in the car on the way and, obviously it sounds stupid now, but I was saying to him if by the time I'm 18 if I'm not training with the first team then I'll be looking at other options," Lewis said.

City's pre-season tour of the United States before the 2022-23 campaign brought his breakthrough - where he got his chance to play alongside established starssuch as Kevin de Bruyne, Erling Haaland, Jack Grealish and Kyle Walker.

"You've almost got to act as if it's just a normal thing but at the time it's kind of crazy to try and familiarise yourself with these players," he said.

"I think it's something that you just have to kind of take in your stride and if you're meant to be in that environment, you will do."

Man City's Rico Lewis
Manchester City's Rico Lewis won the Treble - Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League in one season - at just 18 years old. [Getty Images]

Fortunately, he had a team-mate in Phil Foden who had already made the same journey from local academy starlet to first-team regular.

“He's experienced it all before me and he's the best player that's come out of the academy to go into the first team so there's not really anyone else I should be listening to more in terms of integrating into the first team," said Lewis.

Already approaching 50 appearances for Manchester City, Lewis is following in Foden's footsteps. He doesn't yet feel "established", but says his "most comfortable" position at the moment is as an inverted full-back moving into midfield.

Lewis says the attacking midfielder role is "in my own head, in my own world, where I want to be playing for the majority of my career", adding: "This is the perfect place to try it, because we have so much of the ball and so many games we’re in control."

Rico and his dad Rick Lewis sparring
Rico and his dad Rick Lewis sparring [BBC Sport]

Lewis knows exactly the demands that come from being in Pep Guardiola's side.

"It's definitely intense. It's probably 10 times more intense than you think coming from the outside," Lewis said.

"That intensity doesn't come from nowhere. He's so hard working, he's so obsessed with winning and that's a credit to his character because he's won so much everywhere he's been.

"It's part of being at Man City. Two Premier Leagues in a row wasn't enough, three isn't enough, four won't be enough, next season he will be wanting even more."

Before thoughts turn to next season, City have to see off the threat of a hugely impressive Arsenal side. The Gunners top the table but Lewis and company have games in hand and the experience that comes with winning titles.

"They're showing how dedicated they are as well to try and take the crown off us but if anything that's given us more of a reason to not let them," he said.

"With the experience the team's got in these last stages of the season and the quality of players that we've got, I think there's no reason why we can’t."

'Rico inspires me all the time' - dad

Rick Lewis, dad of Rico Lewis
Rick Lewis praised his son's "discipline, respect and kindness". [BBC Sport]

“Rico as a kid was amazing," his father Rick told BBC Sport. "Very talented. We knew from the start that he was going to be something. Everything he did, he excelled at.

“He’s shown that a local lad can go from just being normal to being a superstar. He inspires so many people. He inspires me all the time.”

“I think we help him stay grounded because we speak to him as just Rico, not as Rico Lewis the Manchester City star. He still does his day-to-day stuff. He still rings us, he's still our child."