Gunners supporters have known that their popular French right-back was going to depart the Emirates Stadium this summer for a while and could be heard somewhat wistfully pleading with him to stay during their final home match of the season against West Bromwich Albion last month.
It was too late, though, and the meticulously braided one had already decided that his meticulous braids belonged elsewhere, and seemingly without much speculation or rumour, he’d decided to go to City.
Sagna’s agent Laurent Gutsmuth has now all but let the cat out of the bag by telling Napoli website AreaNapoli.it—and subsequently ESPN.com—that the French full-back won’t be joining Rafael Benitez’s Serie A side this summer and “should be signing for Manchester City,” and so thoughts must turn to the following question: Why?
This isn’t about Sagna’s ability.
The 31-year-old has proved himself to be a more than capable right-back over seven years and 284 games for Arsenal, only missing out on the winners’ medals to back up those claims like all of those Arsenal players he played alongside—at least until Aaron Ramsey’s extra-time intervention at Wembley three weeks ago.
Capped 40 times for France, Sagna fully deserves his place in his country’s World Cup squad—where he was seen scoring this fine goal in training earlier this week—and he’ll doubtless do a good job in Brazil if he’s selected ahead of Newcastle’s Mathieu Debuchy.
Also in Brazil, however, and a potential second-round opponent for Sagna’s France, is Pablo Zabaleta’s Argentina.
The City fan favourite is two years younger than Sagna at 29, and as these admittedly hand-picked stats show, Zabaleta fared better than the Frenchman in a number of key areas in the season just gone.
Of course we could have chosen five areas in which Sagna fared the better, and statistics aren’t everything, but the five chosen are all key elements of a full-back’s game, with Zabaleta coming off by far the superior player in all of them.
Throw in the extra two years that Zabaleta has in hand on Sagna and the fact that he signed a new four-year deal just last August and the question seemingly looms all the larger: Just why do City want Sagna?
This isn’t, as has been seen in the past, the ruthless plucking of one of of Arsenal’s star names away from the club for richer pastures—with City benefiting from that by taking Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy in recent years, and the likes of Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas readily coming to mind—but instead it seems a more calculated transfer.
On the most basic level, it makes sense because City seem likely to be losing Micah Richards this summer—according to a report by Michael Morgan in the Daily Mirror, Hull City are the latest team to display interest in the right-back—while the Financial Fair Play regulators will doubtless nod approvingly at the “free” nature of the transfer. They can then stick their fingers in their ears and pretend not to hear about the proposed wage packet, as detailed here by Richard Tanner in the Daily Express.
Yet with City needing to keep up their homegrown player quota and coming under pressure to produce players from their famed “Elite Development Squad” then does Sagna not just get in the way of that? Is he not another expensive asset to try to keep happy in a squad that is full of them?
Perhaps the answer to the Sagna question doesn’t just lie in what City will gain from signing him, but more on what they’d be up against if he went elsewhere.
With the probable exception of a full-back rich Chelsea, you could make a good case for Sagna being an upgrade at right-back for the other elite clubs in the land, certainly at Liverpool and Manchester United anyway, while Arsenal clearly didn’t want him to leave.
In signing the Frenchman, City keep him out of the clutches of their closest rivals last season and their closest rivals geographically while adding a player of undoubted quality to their expanding squad at the same time.
It might not be the greatest reason to sign a player, but when you’ve got the resources that City have, you can afford to make such decisions.
You can afford pretty much anything, in fact, including two top quality right-backs that will be the envy of the vast majority of the Premier League.