Another transfer window, another hole in the squad left unaddressed by Manchester City.
It’s become a frustrating trend under Pep Guardiola and Txiki Begiristain, City’s director of football. While leaving clear gaps in the squad isn’t exactly the strategy of City’s top brass, never overpaying for a player certainly is, even when the need is glaring.
This almost fanatical obsession with never being taken advantage of has worked out for City so far. It’s hard to argue with four titles in five years, but this seems like the potential breaking point.
Left-back has been the consistent issue, with Guardiola seemingly forced to find a new solution each year. He pulled rabbits out of his hat with midfielders like Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko early in his tenure, and Joao Cancelo seemed like the answer, but now another elite talent has left Manchester for Munich.
Two years ago, it was a lack of centre-backs and cover for defensive midfield; the frantic search caused City to get priced out of moves for players like Frenkie de Jong, Fred, Jorginho, Kalidou Koulibaly, Jules Kounde and Harry Maguire. However, those failures led to Rodri and Ruben Dias, two of City’s most important players who have filled the shoes of the club legends who played before them.
Then it was striker. First, it was Alexis Sanchez going to Manchester United, then Sergio Aguero’s fitness decline and Gabriel Jesus’ drop in confidence, multiple Messi debacles, capped off by Spurs’ refusal to negotiate for Harry Kane causing City to play with a false nine for nearly two years. The result? Back-to-back Premier League titles and, barring some late dramatics last spring, nearly back-to-back Champions League final berths, too. Oh, and it led to the signing of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez. Not exactly a bad trade-off.
It’s one thing to mess around with fullbacks because the real issue now is central midfield. Ilkay Gundogan is out of contract this summer, Bernardo Silva has publicly confirmed his desire to leave, and Kevin De Bruyne will be 32 years old and has suffered a plethora of leg injuries over the years.
You can only play with fire so many times…
Maybe it’ll be Jude Bellingham to take the mantle, but he’s currently the most in-demand player in the world, and a bidding war isn’t exactly a City calling card; as we know, it’s quite the opposite. Maybe it’ll be Maximo Perrone, another highly rated Argentinian prospect that is somehow expected to immediately compete for minutes in the best team in the world. I know we see the clips on Twitter, but let’s not pretend any one of us consistently watch a team that placed 26th last season in the Argentinian top tier. Or maybe it is finally time for one of Jack Grealish or Phil Foden to step down from their roles as wingers.
The relationship that Guardiola and Begiristain, City’s director of football, have is one of the most unique in the sport. It’s a friendship that has lasted for decades, that believes in the same footballing philosophy, and has led to domestic and continental success dating back to the 1990s.
The two played together for years at Barcelona under Johan Cryuff, winning multiple La Ligas and their first European Cup. They reunited 15 years later when Begiristain, then director of football for Barcelona, made the shocking decision to hire his former teammate to rebuild the Catalonian side. The result was another golden age for Barcelona and produced one of the greatest footballing sides in history. It wouldn’t be long before they teamed up again in Manchester.
Fast forward to today, it gives most plugged-in City fans the privilege of often being able to foresee how the club will be run. However, that privilege is also a curse. The benefit of having the same structure for what is now almost a decade is that it’s predictable and expected. When that Cancelo news broke, the idea of a player coming in was farcical at best. The policy is clear: if a player wants to leave, all they need to do is find a club willing to pay a fair fee. And no player will come in without serious scouting and consideration.
For most of the money era, that was rarely a problem. Players weren’t involved in transfer rumours, and even the occasional Aguero or David Silva story would fail to gain any meaningful traction. But over the past few years that has begun to change.
First, it was Leroy Sane, who after briefly falling out with Guardiola, was set on returning to Germany. Then it was Angelino and Ferran Torres, whose departures garnered a sizable profit. But then, this summer, it reached its peak when Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Zinechnko all left for other top English sides in search of guaranteed minutes. And to top it all off, Cancelo leaves in the final moments of the January window to join another Champions League contender on a loan deal. Maybe the Portuguese international will return, although right now that is hard to imagine.
The result has led to City now having one of the lowest net spends of any Premier League team over the past five years. That might be something Liverpool fans championed a few years ago but we have all seen how that strategy has panned out. The actual impact is that the squad now has as many first-team centre-backs as midfielders, Kyle Walker is now the lone senior fullback on the roster, and there are fewer options to turn to as Arsenal have a five-point lead at the top of the table, with a game in hand.
This leaves City in one of their most vulnerable positions in recent memory. Arsenal and United are at the top of their games, Newcastle are the nouveau riche club and are currently top four, while Chelsea have spent more this year on incoming players than the GDP of small nations.
City lack depth in key areas with an ageing and seemingly soon-to-be empty midfield.
The last time City were in this position, players like Aymeric Laporte, Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Walker were brought in to revolutionise the club. At the beginning of the season, it would be hard to imagine that this upcoming summer window feels almost as important as that one did six years ago. But with several clubs now ready to push for the Premier League title, City have to respond. Either strengthen the squad or allow another potential dynasty to start.
Written by: @IVIeehan