Manchester City are so impressed with the job Lee Johnson is doing at Carabao Cup semi-final rivals Bristol City that they are exploring the possibility of sending young players to Ashton Gate on loan.
The Premier League leaders currently prefer to allow Etihad Campus graduates to gain experience abroad due to fears that joining other English clubs would not prepare them for Pep Guardiola’s Total Football philosophy.
But City have been monitoring Johnson since he began his managerial career at nearby Oldham Athletic.
They even financed an all-expenses trip for him to study how sister club New York City was being set-up for the MLS.
And Sunday Mirror Sport understands that discussions have taken place about giving Bristol City first refusal on up-and-coming youngsters.
The arrangement would give Johnson the pick of City’s youth system.
And if the 36-year-old can guide the West Country club into the Premier League for the first time in their history, it would give them a huge boost.
Johnson and Guardiola lock horns in Bristol again on Tuesday night with the semi-final balanced on a knife-edge after the top-flight team edged the first leg 2-1.
Johnson spent 40 minutes talking football with Guardiola after the game.
And he admits he will never forget the help he got from City executive Brian Marwood when he was learning his trade at Oldham.
Johnson said: “Playing the first leg at the Etihad was a great thrill for me because Manchester City have been an important part of my personal progression.
“Brian Marwood, who is an important member of the City Football Group, is someone I’ve had good contact with for a number of years.
“When I was at Oldham he allowed me to get an insight into Manchester City’s philosophy.
“I did a lot of work about personality profiling and leadership expertise and I was able to go out across the group and understand how it all works.
“I took a trip out to New York City FC and learned about some of the issues they have setting up different franchises.
“It was an important part of my football education and I did a case study for my pro-license about what I experienced.
“I make no secret of the fact that what I learned with Manchester City has had a big influence on what I’ve tried to introduce to the Bristol City model.
“The experience helped shape me into the manager I have become and hope to be.
“I believe that the best managers are the best thieves.
“What I mean by that is if there’s something I think I can steal to make me a better manage
r then trust me I’ll steal it.
“I have my own bubble, my own philosophy, but I am always trying to evolve and improve – and if that means tapping into someone else’s knowledge then I’m happy to do it.
“I am honoured and privileged that the people who built Manchester City up into this fantastic football club allowed me to come in and get an open and honest insight into what they are about.
“As a young manager – and a young English manager – that can only be a positive thing.”
City’s current preference is to send players on-loan to their La Liga sister club Girona or Dutch outfit NEC Breda.
Hot prospects like Aleix Garcia, Pablo Maffeo and Douglas Luiz are spending the season in Spain, while Manu Garcia, Angelino, Thierry Ambrose, Paolo Fernandes, Thomas Agyepong and Pablo Mari are in the Eredivisie.
But after knocking out four Premier League clubs – including Manchester United – on the way to his semi-final showdown with Guardiola, the job Johnson is doing at Ashton Gate has impressed the men that matter at the Etihad.
After that first leg, who goes through to Wembley?
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