It would be entirely wrong to underplay Pep Guardiola’s role in Manchester City’s consecutive title wins, just as it would be remiss to underestimate Manuel Pellegrini’s managerial acumen that saw the Blues lift the Premier League trophy in 2013/14 scoring 102 goals along the way.
Yet running parallel to these coaching feats is an infrastructure that leaves nothing to chance, and is designed to elevate and keep the club within the world’s elite. There is the £200m academy of course, that is as impressive as it gets, and the numerous clubs around the globe that are affiliated with the City Football Group. But most pertinent to what we’re discussing is the long-term planning, dedication to detail, and strict adherence to an ethos that all comes together to make up Manchester City’s transfer strategy.
The principal players behind the strategy are City’s Director of Football Txiki Begiristain and Pep Guardiola though there is naturally significant input from others too, namely key members of the coaching staff. What helps matters hugely is that Begiristain and Guardiola have a close relationship, accrued from many years working in alliance at Barcelona and now City.
Together the pair identify the right targets, not only concentrating on ability but via a holistic approach that factors in a footballer’s character and crucially how they will fit into the framework of the squad. The most important criteria of all is whether the player in question will help evolve what can sometimes grandiosely be called the ‘project’.
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Evolve. It’s impossible to avoid that word when talking about City’s transfer policy. In 2017 City paid £43m for Bernardo Silva not solely for his obvious qualities but because David Silva was the other side of thirty. This summer 23-year-old Rodri was acquired with the aim of recruiting a successor to 34-year-old Fernandinho. Next summer Sergio Aguero turns 32 and do not be remotely surprised if the rumours linking Kylian Mbappe to the Etihad start up again in earnest as such a move would fall plum within their remit. A superstar is phased out. A younger version is brought in.
Begiristain said in September of last year: “You don’t need to change 11 players every year. You need to change two or three.”
On its own this is a strategy that hardly amounts to rocket science. Yet that would discount the attention to detail that so often results in a player enjoying his peak years at City and furthermore – for what it’s worth, because City are not a selling club – increasing their value.
From Aguero joining at the age of 23 to Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne being procured aged 20 and 24 respectively – with the latter signing roundly and foolishly mocked for the supposedly hefty fee – there is a mightily impressive track record of bringing in young stars who go on to be enormously impactful at the club.
De Bruyne remarked recently: “The way that we did transfers the last years adds up.
“You see a lot of young talent coming in willing to play our style.”
Admittedly, along the way there has been the occasional misstep. The signing of Claudio Bravo springs to mind while the £32m purchase of Eliaquim Mangala equates to an uncharacteristic brain-fart. By and large though it is a sensible and militaristic strategy that has reaped dividends.
So much so in fact that other clubs now look to City as the way forward becoming as they have the standard bearers in recruitment and squad evolvement. Last month Gary Neville urged Manchester United to ‘build a foundation as Manchester City did and have done’.
Okay, let’s leave it there, enough with the praise. The point has been made and with that point being made a question now needs legitimately asking in all sincerity. Just what in the holy mother and father of all that is sane were City thinking of in the summer summer by letting Vincent Kompany go without replacing him?
Because there was no evolvement there: only a weakening. There was no long-term planning. No adherence to an ethos and absolutely zero holistic approach. Instead – entirely unnecessarily – there was only make do. Instead there was only a teary farewell to a club captain and instrumental leader followed by a quick head-count that totted up to just three centre-backs remaining. ‘Let’s roll the dice,’ appears to be the reasoning, or at least what passed for reasoning. ‘We’ll go into a long and demanding season that could very conceivably add up to seventy-plus games with only three conventional centre-backs and if need be we’ll convert Fernandinho’.
The carefully structured and laboriously considered remit that has helped furnish City with an abundance of silverware in recent times never rolled any dices. It covered every eventuality. It ensured there were two players competing for each position. It signed a long-term successor to Kompany two years ago when the Belgian was the other side of thirty and persistent injuries began to take a toll.
Except they didn’t. Not in this instance. Which meant that when Kompany informed Guardiola of his decision to leave the club ahead of last May’s FA Cup Final (City had hoped their inspirational captain would stay for a further year before joining the coaching staff) they faced a summer transfer window where the priorities were to sign the long-coveted Rodri and a centre-back of reputable standing.
Harry Maguire was sought, as has been widely reported but then, as has also been widely reported, City pulled out of the race for his signature at an early juncture due to being put off by the exorbitant asking price. “We cannot afford it,” Pep said of their decision to look elsewhere and if the benefit of the doubt can be given to that rather stretched explanation that’s fine because it’s likely there are a plethora of other top class centre-backs available at a cheaper price.
Except City didn’t look elsewhere. Instead they splurged their £60m on a right-back.
A long-term injury to Aymeric Laporte – City’s only remaining Rolls Royce of a defender – has laid their risk bare. It leaves the reigning champions with only an injury-prone John Stones and a player in Nicolas Otamendi who inspires very little confidence.
Fernandinho meanwhile has indeed dropped back but has been tasked with learning the ropes amidst sheer chaos.
Consequently points have been dropped to Norwich and Wolves – on both occasions directly due to defensive horror-shows – and, by virtue of being eight points behind a Liverpool team who lost only once last season, City’s aspirations to win a third title on the bounce are all but extinguished.
Can it be assumed that Manchester City now wholly regret their nonchalance in not replacing a key figure, more so a key figure in a key role? Unquestionably they do.
As for why they made such a nonchalant decision in the first place? Your guess is as good as mine.