This week, Yaya Toure’s agent has made the headlines for allegedly giving Manchester City a public ultimatum on a contract extension for his client, throwing Toure’s future at City into doubt (Telegraph).
For all of the frustration and anger this will have caused City fans, Dimitri Seluk, the agent in question, holds the power this time, because to last year’s English Premier League champions, Yaya Toure is quite simply indispensable at this time. (B/R’s Sam Tighe has more on Toure’s value to City here.)
But, given how Toure’s contract situation has played out, the City hierarchy will be well aware of the possible repercussions if their powerhouse midfielder, one of Europe’s finest, decides to depart the Etihad this summer.
Here are five realistic targets who might just make Toure’s departure less damaging for Manchester City.
Disclaimer: Such phenomena as Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juventus’ midfield duo of Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio are indispensable players at two of Europe’s biggest clubs, and thus weren’t included as realistic options.
Primarily an attacking midfield playmaker, Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been starring for Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine since 2010, and has scored 32 league goals in just 63 appearances, a scoring rate to rival the best strikers.
Which makes him the least likely candidate to be a like-for-like replacement for Yaya Toure, who is equally threatening from both a deeper defensive midfield position or as a box-to-box midfielder focusing more on the final third.
But Mkhitaryan’s scoring prowess makes him a fearsome prospect and would add a sizable goal threat to the City midfield, which, like Roberto Mancini’s side overall this season, hasn’t been firing on all cylinders.
Perhaps the lesser known of the Bender twins—Sven plays for Borussia Dortmund, who have enjoyed an impressive, meteoric rise to the top of the European game—Lars Bender plies his trade as a deeper-lying defensive midfielder for Bayer Leverkusen.
Bender is one of the most promising young players in Germany, and has received 12 caps for Joachim Low’s national team since making his debut two years ago.
A physical presence in the center of the pitch with good instincts going forward and a tenacious tackle, Bender seems tailor-made as a box-to-box midfielder who can thrive in the rigors of the Premier League, and the City midfield could provide him with a perfect platform to realize his potential.
Whether he can fully replace Yaya Toure remains to be seen, but at just 23 years of age, Bender is the youngest of our quintet and has time on his side.
Just a year ago, Alex Song was playing his final months as an Arsenal player, in the process establishing himself as one of the finest box-to-box midfielders in the Premier League.
A year on, Song has made just 12 La Liga appearances for Barcelona as he has taken up a consistent role on the Nou Camp bench, which might just alert potential suitors to make a bid to pry him away as a first-choice starter.
As the only member on our list with experience in the Premier League, Song’s development during his Gunner days was impressive: He matured from a fiery and raw utility player to become a dynamic defensive midfielder with an underrated passing range and attacking vision.
It is this all-roundedness that makes Song an attractive option as a Yaya Toure replacement. There aren’t many midfielders with the complete skill set of Toure, but Song comes close.
Perhaps, as one of Italy’s most well-known and experienced defensive midfielders, it is just inevitable that De Rossi will be mentioned as a Mancini target once again this summer.
Not that the interest wouldn’t make sense: De Rossi possesses a passing range and shooting threat to rival the best in Europe, while his tactical flexibility makes him a standout option in the multi-faceted midfield that Mancini has to assemble if City are to make up for an underwhelming campaign both in the Premier League and in Europe.
Last summer, Mancini missed a golden opportunity to build on their glorious title win and instead opted for Javi Garcia. De Rossi would be a sizeble upgrade and would fill Toure’s boots with ease.
Our last name on this list is Brazilian midfield star Hernanes, who, after three impressive years with Lazio, scoring 32 goals in 115 Serie A appearances, seems destined for a move to one of the biggest European clubs.
Hernanes is 27, approaching his prime and capable of playing all three midfield positions through the center, giving him a complete range to rival that of Toure, and allow Mancini to make substitutions and tactical alterations without having to sacrifice Hernanes.
Indeed, one of Mancini’s signature moves last season was to bring on the more defensive-minded Nigel De Jong to play alongside Gareth Barry and unleash Toure to move further forward.
In the case of Hernanes, the opposite might well be more effective: starting Hernanes in an advanced role but moving him back for an attacking substitution.