Manchester City have had the lure of playing Champions League football, competing on multiple fronts and providing high wages for several years now. But with the additional attraction of working under Pep Guardiola next season, many world class names have been linked with a potential move to the Etihad Stadium this summer.
Having already acquired a couple of household names in Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito, the Blues are looking to bolster their armoury to fully support their new manager’s ambitious campaign next term.
As is the case with most of the high profile European outfits, City have been continuously linked with a plethora of top quality players over the last few months.
It would be ludicrous, however, if they were to sign even half of those names on a long list of potential targets which has been accredited to them by the media. One of those heavily tipped to make the move to Manchester was Aymeric Laporte. The 22-year-old, currently plying his trade at Athletic Bilbao, is perceived to be one of the best young defenders across the globe, and had attracted the attentions of Guardiola due to his ball-playing qualities. However, the Frenchman recently signed a contract extension, tying him to the Basque club until 2020.
Another long-term French target who now appears to be more of a long-shot is Paul Pogba. The Juventus powerhouse will be upset at having fallen at the final hurdle of the European Championship final on home turf. But it is believed that he is set to leave the disappointment behind and move on from his time in Turin, although media reports indicate that the 23-year-old could be set for a return to City’s rivals Manchester United for a world-record transfer fee.
Yet City are seemingly being more prudent with their purchases, at least so far this summer. Gundogan and Nolito cost just 19.7 million and 13.8 million respectively – respectable fees considering the experience and quality of both players, not to mention their compatibility in Pep’s system and the attention of several other top sides, including Guardiola’s former club Barcelona.
However, there is no point in being frugal if its only point is just to prove a point. If doing so means that you miss out on your top targets, then it probably isn’t worth it. Of course, City are now in a position where they do not have to be held to ransom to acquire their targets and they should not pay over the odds, as is shown through their previous, and now lack of, interest in Pogba. Another example of such an episode is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
With Borussia Dortmund having already lost Gundogan to City and captain Mats Hummels to rivals Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga side were not prepared to sell the Gabon international for a small sum. Instead, their demands reportedly reached 65 million, which City were not prepared to pay.
One player who would be a huge addition to Guardiola’s ranks, however, is Toni Kroos. Sold against Guardiola’s wishes at Bayern Munich, Kroos would be the perfect midfield signing for the Etihad outfit. City fans will be familiar with the German’s quality as he has played against their team five times, producing some sensational performances in the process.
Kroos speaks Pep’s language; not German, but rather his ‘footballing language’. Kroos understands the ideology inside the Spanish coach’s head and he would be able to assist the City stars during the period of transition by translating it onto the training field.
Why? Because in his first days in Bavaria at Bayern Munich’s Sabener Strasse training camp, Guardiola worked meticulously with the 26-year-old in order to alter his body position when receiving the ball, ensuring he was able to comprehend and complete the next pass in one fluid movement.
Another name which has been bandied around the Etihad Campus as a possible new recruit for Guardiola’s revolution is John Stones. Signing him appears to make a whole lot of sense and it would be the perfect signing for all parties involved. Pep would be perfect for Stones and Stones perfect for Pep; Stones would be able to work under a coach renowned for improving players, especially young ones, whilst Guardiola would attain a young, ball-playing central defender whose mind set is still particularly mouldable. Everton would receive a sizeable fee, whilst in City’s interests, the England international would contribute towards the much-discussed home-grown quota.
Last season, Manuel Pellegrini faltered throughout the season due to numerous injuries to key players. However, his Premier League squad was not at the maximum capacity; in fact, the only players classified as home-grown were Joe Hart, Gael Clichy, Fabian Delph and Richard Wright, with Raheem Sterling counting as an under-21 player last season. With Wright retiring and Delph’s future hanging precariously in the balance, the Blues could be left with just three home-grown stars, meaning their domestic squad would be restricted to just 20 players – even lower than last season’s total of 21.
Therefore, City desperately need to incorporate some home-grown talent to bolster their squad size to the permitted limit. Ultimately, the aim is for the newly constructed state-of-the-art academy facilities to produce fine talent for the first team, but the most promising youngsters will still fall into the under-21 bracket for the upcoming campaign.
“You go for English players and they ask you for £20 million more than a Spanish player or German player or Italian player,” Pep stated last weekend, highlighted in the reported 45 million fee for Stones. “You have to deal with it to try and find what you need.”
What is it that City ‘need’ then? Quality young talents who are hungry, ambitious and have the raw potential necessary to grow. If there is no desire to learn, then Guardiola cannot teach them effectively.
And despite the talk of quotas and restricted squads, Guardiola is ‘looking forward’ to working with English players.
“I love working with young players” he also declared and there is a reason why; in addition to their longevity in terms of the remainder of their careers, they are more likely to be adaptable. Evidenced by the likes of Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich in Munich and Sergio Busquets and Pedro in Barcelona, Guardiola takes pride in nurturing the newest crop of young talent wherever he goes.
He even took Thiago with him from Barcelona to Bayern and the central midfielder is another who would be a huge coup if they could capture his signature. The 25-year-old has followed Guardiola wherever he has gone and another transfer in his manager’s footsteps has been mooted by the English press.
In a similar vein to German compatriots Gundogan and Kroos, Thiago is a midfielder who is comfortable on the ball and capable of dictating the play from deep, with a hint of superlative Spanish technical ability, but whether there is genuine interest from the Etihad officials is yet to be seen.
However, one star who is expected to make the move to Manchester is Leroy Sane. As with Gundogan, Guardiola will know all about the Schalke winger from his time in the Bundesliga. A move worth in the region of 40 million is believed to be close to completion and the German international would afford City depth in wide areas.
Wingers are a vital component of Guardiola’s teams, providing pace, width and pressing. Securing both Sane and Nolito would be a signal of intent and would strengthen the City squad in more ways than one. Last season, Raheem Sterling and Jesus Navas were the only two out-and-out wide men. Having signed two additional definitive wingers, the Blues will have strength in depth on the touchlines, but it would also enable them to utilise all of David Silva, Samir Nasri and Kevin De Bruyne in their preferred central roles, instead of being forced to shift them further across the pitch.
Fullbacks are the other wide area on the pitch and they too require improvement. With all of City’s current fullbacks the wrong side of 30 in a position that demands stamina and pace, Guardiola will be looking to inject fresh young legs into the fold. The pairing of Ricardo Rodriguez and Bruno Peres of Wolfsburg and Torino respectively have been mentioned regularly over the last few weeks. The former, a set-piece specialist, is 23-years-old and appears to be the natural replacement for Aleksander Kolarov, whilst Bruno Peres is expected to supplant the outgoing Pablo Zabaleta.
The final defensive position in question is the goalkeeper. It is well-known that Guardiola prefers goalkeepers who are capable of ‘playing with their feet’. Joe Hart has cemented his position as the Citizens’ man between the goalposts for some time now, yet it appears Guardiola is prepared to rip up the concrete foundations and lay his own, with Marc-André ter Stegen of Barcelona recently cited as his preferred option.
The 24-year-old would provide direct competition to Hart, in contrast to the likes of Costel Pantilimon and Willy Caballero of recent times, which could potentially benefit both players as they vie for the number 1 jersey.
About the author – Jordan-Luke McDonald
Jordan-Luke is a footballer writer who was a finalist at the National Football Blogging Awards 2015 in two categories. He has contributed towards Manchester Evening News, CaughtOffside and TheseFootyTimes to name but a few.