City’s flying form at the start of the league season had many thinking that Guardiola had took to both the club and the Premier League like a duck to water. Several impressive displays and six consecutive league victories in a row not only gave City fans optimism ahead of the season ahead but perhaps more paved over the cracks that deep down plagued the club and every supporter had recognised for some time. Somewhat expectedly, it consequently then wasn’t too long until City were brought back to earth with striking defeats to Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and reigning champions Leicester highlighting the amount of work that needed doing in what is an increasingly ageing squad for Guardiola to manage.
After a relatively quiet January only made that bit more exciting through the eventual arrival of Gabriel Jesus in what felt like one of the longest and most protracted transfers in recent memory, the numerous issues that have been exposed all season long and have subsequently contributed to the club’s downfall from the top of the Premier League therefore appear to have been put on hold until the summer at least. Perhaps due to the numerous decisions that Guardiola will have to make this summer or simply because of the nature of modern football, you need only open any tabloid newspaper or browse on social media to see the club linked with a diverse range of players, young and old both in defence and attack to therefore see that this summer looks set to be one of the biggest in recent times with the very early days of Roberto Mancini and his movements in the transfer window at the start of his City tenure springing to mind.
Therefore as the season draws to a close and perhaps more so given that chances of title success look lesser by the game, understandably all eyes turn to next season. With changes clearly needed to make the club title challengers once again, surely Guardiola and his City hierarchy will already be making plans ahead of a busy summer of transfer activity. With this in mind we take a look at the five biggest decisions that Pep Guardiola faces this summer; decisions that will largely dictate the direction of the club going firearms for many years to come.
Spend big on English talent or look further afield?
Albeit a widely discussed topic when it comes to each and every transfer window, Pep has taken time this season to comment publicly on signing promising young English players and the scarce value for money that offers in comparison to signing like minded players from across the continent or even further afield. Clearly as proven in the past given the vast sums of money spent on English talent in Raheem Sterling and John Stones, as and when the right opportunity arrives and a player becomes available that is capable of helping the club improve on the pitch, City are certainly not afraid to part with vast sums of money to buy the best homegrown talent.
Yet given Pep’s recent comments on the challenges he has faced in recruiting such players whilst obtaining value for money, it does make you wonder whether the club’s future transfer plans mirror that of last summer’s youth recruitment with young players brought in from South America as well as Europe. Of course there are homegrown requirements that will need meeting but perhaps Pep may choose to balance it in other ways and instead centre his summer transfer activity by looking much further afield in an attempt to unearth the next big thing, away from the signing homegrown and often highly inflated Premier League players.
Recruiting experience where necessary or trusting in youth?
After the club went out and spent their fortunes on the likes of John Stones, Leroy Sané and Gabriel Jesus last summer alongside the much smaller, albeit highly significant sums of cash spent on youth players that were subsequently sent out on loan, with a new manager at the helm it looked like City had started a new era by adopting a new approach to player recruitment. Yet away from the many purchases of hot prospects and promising youth players that offer more in potential than in current ability, it is easy forget that City were in fact willing to turn to experience where necessary with Ilkay Gundogan, Claudio Bravo and Nolito signed despite their age, to help Pep implement his desired style of play at the club.
Yet with more and more fingers pointing to City’s ageing backline and constant weekly reminders that X amount of the current City squad were part of Mancini’s title winning side back in 2011/12, there are obvious attempts by the club to bring the overall age of the squad down before the club gets left behind. However does this therefore mean completely avoiding signing players with experience from this window onwards? I’m not quite sure as although the need to mirror the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and AS Monaco; teams seemingly having little difficulties in challenging at the top of their respective leagues whilst fielding numerous young players, is imporant.
However you’re not telling me if an experienced Leonardo Bonucci expressed his desire to play under Guardiola that the club would turn it down? Again it’s simply a case of addressing the balance in the best way possible and how Guardiola goes about doing so will certainly make for interesting viewing this summer.
Risk short term anger for long term happiness?
There are fewer bigger names in City’s recent history than the likes of Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta. A trio that have not only engrained themselves in the club’s history for many years to come but also three individuals synonymous with the club’s success since being took over in 2008. There’s no doubting how influential throughout their City careers all three players have been and clearly their status amongst the club’s fans at present is untouchable but speaking realistically, neither of them are getting any younger in what is progressively becoming a much younger and forward thinking City side.
With this in mind it can often take a big manager to make the biggest decisions that perhaps those who aren’t as confident in their own ability would be afraid to make and given the way that Pep has not only spoke about but often criticised both his defence and attack, could Guardiola be the one to risk the short term frustration that he’d most likely receive in axing some of the club’s most loyal servants in favour a much brighter future with younger replacements from next season?
With regards to his track record at Barcelona, Guardiola certainly doesn’t appear to be afraid of making decisions that have the potential to ruffle feathers with the fans and as displayed with his quick fire decision-making and consequent departure of Joe Hart, I for one wouldn’t be surprised if this is to be the transfer window where the likes of Yaya, Kolarov and Clichy, mainstays of the current City era, subsequently move on for good. The proof is in the pudding and should it happen, whether it all goes to plan or later proves costly will remain to be seen but if there’s anybody capable of making such decisions then it’s certainly Pep Guardiola.
To invest in attack as the best form of defence?
If there’s one thing that this season has tought City fans is that Pep Guardiola’s style of football is most definitely built on attacking. For all of the fantastic defenders that he’s had at his disposal during his time at FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the key to his success has always been largely in the equally as talented forwards he has had in the likes of Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski. Yet in Premier League, whilst focusing on attacking football may have its benefits throughout the course of a La Liga or Bundesliga season, there is certainly no avoiding the need for a stable defence not only capable of perhaps playing the type of football that Guardiola desires but more importantly maintaining the basics so that high scoring games aren’t lost as they were against Monaco because of a weak back line in spite of however good City are going forward.
Whilst such a style of football may make for great entertainment both personally for Guardiola and wider football fans, it has left City fans and the media scratching their heads asking just how City have forgot to defend. With defensive reinforcements therefore imperative to help City become title contenders once again, you would however think that Pep would prefer to spend the vast sums of money most like offer on an array of attacking talent to suit his desired style of play, making his next big moves in the transfer window vital.
Should the club opt for one or even a number of stellar attacking signings (of course largely depending on both Aguero and Kelechi’s futures at the club) then what does that mean for city’s inevitable defensive recruitment? Conversely would the club be wise to this time around to instead pool all of their financial resources into defensive signings and look to those out on loan such as Enes Unal or Patrick Roberts for depth in attacking areas next season? Whilst I’d personally opt for the latter, you never know which of the world’s biggest attackers could become available this summer and should they do, then you’d expect City to at least be in the frame for their signature.
To go with his heart or return to Hart?
A decision that continues to hang over Pep Guardiola’s current tenure at City was his painstakingly brave choice to allow fan favourite Joe Hart to leave in favour of bringing in a goalkeeper that was much more competent with his feet and capable of comfortably adapting to a new style of play. That man was former FC Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo who was given the responsibility of helping City play out from the back and operating effectively as a sweeper keeper, assisting the club’s defence in the process by a much more assured distribution given Bravo’s confidence with playing the ball with his feet. Yet for all the attention placed on Bravo’s capability as an outfield player, it is however simply impossible to ignore his severe complacency and ongoing difficulties in adapting to life in English football.
In what has been a torrid start to life at Manchester City, I need not even mention the many statistics floating around pointing to Bravo’s problems in the City goal to further illustrate his battle in settlling comfortably in the English game – severely unable to recreate his previous form at both FC Barcelona and at international which originally earned the Chilean a mega money move to City in the first place. And whilst his poor form may have cost him his place in the club’s regular starting XI for the time being, it remains to be seen whether Guardiola will stick with Bravo next season or whether he’s seen enough to go out and seek a replacement.
Clearly a return for Joe Hart would perhaps be the move that many a City fan would take in a heartbeat but given Torino’s as well as the player’s recent comments on his future at both the Serie A club or elsewhere, such a move looks unlikely, consequently meaning that aside from either Bravo or Caballero, City will have to dip into the summer transfer window for yet another player. With the likes of Ederson Moraes and Geronimo Rulli just two of several names linked with moves to the club in recent times, an incoming goalkeeper therefore looks likely this summer with one of either Caballero or most probably Bravo set to head in the opposite direction in a very quick exit from the club.
Maybe Guardiola realising the error of his ways and at long last going with Hart over his heart would be the fairytale ending but if this season has taught us one thing then there’s certainly no space for sentiment left in modern football.