Once again pulling out the special treatment for one of its rising stars, adidas invited Liam Delap to its London flagship store recently, opening the doors for a special spree that’s reserved for Three Stripes VIPs only, and it was here that we took the opportunity to speak with the young City baller on a range of topics, from making his debut to working with Pep.

Few can imagine the feeling of making your Premier league debut at the age of 17. For literal next-gen baller Liam Delap though, it became a reality when he was called up to the Manchester City first team at the beginning of last season. The levels of praise that he subsequently received from none other than Pep Guardiola are a simple indicator of the potential he has; now 18, Delap has the pedigree and he has the potential, and all he has to do is put it into practice. As he plots his next moves in the game, adidas rewarded his development with a special trip to its London store, and it was here that we caught up with him for an informal chat on his dad, his development, and the path he’s treading. 

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Football has been in your life from early on – how much did you love the game from day one?

Football has always been my number one sport, it’s always been around me and I’ve been lucky to see all sides of it. All my friends love it, all my family love it and it’s really been a sport that’s taken priority over everything. It’s the thing I enjoy doing most and it brings me so much joy as well.

That happiness, it’s so important to make sure you’re enjoying football even when it becomes more serious, the higher you get…

Of course. I definitely believe that you play your best football when you’re at your happiest. There’s no better feeling of being out there with your teammates, having a good time and winning in the process. If that enjoyment went out of it, I don’t think my love would be the same. Keeping it enjoyable is so important.

What was it like as a kid to see your dad playing and how much has that driven you to get to the level you have?

Obviously watching it, going to so many games, even though I wasn’t playing, I used to get such a buzz from seeing him do well. It was a warming feeling and I just wanted that feeling for myself. Watching my dad go through everything he has gone through, I’ve seen how hard you have to work to make it at the top. Having that environment and experience around me helped me stay determined – it showed me what I have to do to make it.

How would you describe your own personal challenges along the way – I’m sure it’s come with plenty of challenges?

There’s always highs and lows in anyone’s journey but from a young age, I would just be focused on playing every second I could. There’s not many downs as a kid playing because there’s so much freedom. About five years ago though, I broke my back. That was a stressful time but I managed to get through that. I came through that by working hard in the gym. When I was doing my rehab then it was a hard time but it’s what I needed to do if I wanted to get back into the game.

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I remember Pep saying who the team was and I was just like, 'fucking hell, I’m in the team'. I couldn’t believe it."

You broke your back ... you talk about that so casually, but what a monumental achievement to come back from that…

It was a stress fracture to be fair but it did give me that chance to take a look at myself and assess where I was going. It meant that I became determined to come back even stronger. Since then, you have good and bad games and go through the emotions of it all that way but you always learn more and more from every bad game.

Was that the point in your life when you said, “right, I’m making this dream happen”?

Yeah, I’d say so. There’s a long process to recover from something like that. It was a full year out for me but I knew I was going to come back stronger from it – it’s just the only way I could look at it – tunnel vision on coming out stronger. It was preparing me for the future. Now I know how to handle a long term injury and I can help others in the future.

From there to this season ... What was it like to get the call up from City when you knew you were going to make your debut?

I was almost in shock when I got told. It was such a surreal moment. You dream of that from your childhood. Every age level, the first team will always be what you’re dreaming of. That moment I got told I was going to make my debut, I just couldn’t believe it when I was told. I was just so happy. It was such a great moment and it’s one I was working towards for my whole life.

Can you remember the very moment you were told you were going to make your debut? That moment must be burnt into your mind?

It was the day before the game and we were out on the training pitch. I remember Pep saying who the team was and I was just like, “fucking hell, I’m in the team”. I couldn’t believe I was in the team. That day I was just so happy.

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Better yet, to score that first goal for City – did that feel like a moment you’ve  been working all your life for?

It’s massive, it really is. I was always confident in my own ability. It’s more about making sure you take that chance. I had been on a great scoring run before that game and I felt good in myself that if a chance came my way I’d make it count. Luckily I got my chance and I took it. The feeling really was crazy. In that moment and after the game, it was just unbelievable.

What was it like to be around Pep in the way you have?

It’s so so good. You can absorb so much information from him. He’s one of the best managers in the world and he has so much information and so much knowledge he can give you as a player. So I think a lot works both ways, you’ve got to knuckle down and soak up all you can from him. He’s so incredible. The position I am now, to be able to learn from him is such a great position to be in. I’m so grateful to be able to learn from him.

Do you feel like your game, your level, has improved from being around him?

Yeah, all the academy coaches are incredible at the club and they implement his ways which has all had an affect on me positively. I think the environment around the club makes you thrive and strive to be the best but with Pep, especially, playing under him there’s so much good pressure. You always feel like you want to show him that you’ve got what it takes to be in his team. It’s just about having the confidence and motivation to believe in yourself. The players around you rise your game as well. If you don’t rise with them then you’ll be way off it. There’s pressure but it’s a nice pressure.

It’s so competitive at City but you’re on a strong progression. People like Foden have shown you can break in there. Can you tell us about your mindset – how determined are you to work your way into that City squad?

You look at Phil and he’s done it and he’s been in my shoes. Now he’s broke through and he’s been unbelievable this season. Doing all he has with England too, it’s so impressive, he’s been flying. That model to follow is such a motivation. For me and all the other younger boys at City, to have that player to look at to show it’s possible is such a driver. He’s someone we can look up to and he’s shown us a path. Being around him and knowing what he’s like, he’s a good lad and he helps us and I like to think we can help him too.

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With him getting into the England squad the way he has, does it also make you realise that it’s possible?

Definitely. You look where he was two years ago. He was in my shoes and now two years later he’s broken into that team and he’s been one of the best performers in the league. I think it’s such a good message for young players and it shows that it is possible no matter how competitive your team may be.

Looking forward to this season, where do you set your targets and what would you like to achieve?

At the start of every season I set goals – it’s mainly to score goals. Last season I wanted to have a great season with the development squad – that was my focus. The first team wasn’t really something I thought would be possible but it shows that it’s good to set ambitious targets. This season it’s about working hard every single day and any minutes I do get on the pitch, I’ve got to be ready to perform in them and keep building and learning. Getting the experience of playing football and reaching those level is what I’m looking for.

Coming to the adidas store, being part of the brand...it shows that good things come from the graft that goes in – does it show you another side of the game?

Everyone has been so warming and welcoming to me and it feels nice to be treated in such a way by such a big brand. They brought me to watch England in the Euros and seeing those players on the pitch in the flesh, it gives you that extra motivation to want to be in their shoes. The experience with adidas shows that they value you and that’s something you want to pay back. It’s all good motivation to inspire you to keep getting better and better.

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