For Manchester City to finally join Europe’s elite band of teams, the addition of a long-term partner for captain Vincent Kompany is arguably the most important one they can make.
Kompany, who some believe is the best centre-back in world football, has struggled with intermittent injuries for two seasons, yet his performance level has rarely dipped. A young defender capable of partnering him for years to come would instantly improve City.
And, according to Ed Malyon in the Mirror, it would seem Medhi Benatia, Roma’s Moroccan centre-back, is now at the top of the list drawn up by Manuel Pellegrini and director of football Txiki Begiristain. The 27-year-old has impressed in Serie A in recent seasons, carving out a reputation as one of the finest defenders in Europe.
Last season, it was clear Pellegrini wanted a defender comfortable with the ball at his feet. The Chilean has a very clear sense of how he wants City to play, and 11 players comfortable in possession is key to his vision of an attractive footballing side.
Joleon Lescott clearly didn’t fit the bill. As good a defender as Lescott is, he has never been a footballing centre-half, and he was confined to the sidelines very early in Pellegrini’s reign.
Unable to sign a long-term option for the role, the City boss opted instead for Martin Demichelis, a player he knew well from his time at Malaga and one he knew would be comfortable playing the ball out of defence with quality.
The signing worked. After some initial struggles adapting to the Premier League, which resulted in an unfair and misguided media scapegoating exercise, Demichelis emerged as one of the stars of City’s season. During the crucial run-in, it’s arguable only David Silva performed more admirably than the Argentinian.
He turned the tide of negativity and is now a cult hero at the Etihad; however, with just one year left on his deal, the 33-year-old hardly represents City’s future. A younger version of Demichelis is now surely needed.
And after what seems to have been difficult negotiations to bring Eliaquim Mangala to the club, City appear to have turned their attentions to Benatia, with a fee of £30 million being reported by Malyon. If he can recreate the form he’s shown at Udinese and Roma, he could well prove to be a very important signing for the club.
After starting life in France with Marseille, where he was loaned out to Tours before moving to Clermont, Benatia signed for Udinese in Italy and really began to impress.
A big-money move to Roma followed in 2013 where his reputation has been enhanced further, with a string of impressive displays turning the heads of some of Europe’s top clubs.
City are hoping to leap to the front of the queue and seal a deal for his signature.
City, of course, still have Matija Nastasic, the 21-year-old Sebian defender signed by former boss Roberto Mancini during his final year in charge, and many still believe he has the talent to be a world-class centre-half for years to come. A mysterious knee injury and a downturn in form last season dampened the enthusiasm many felt about him, but it’s clear he possesses real quality.
Pellegrini, though, has hardly seen it, and he can be forgiven for feeling he needs Benatia. Making a better fist of four competitions—and improving City’s Champions League record in particular—is a priority. Nastasic, who played just 13 times in the league with the last of those coming in February, is seen as a liability.
Benatia may well prove to be an important addition in City’s quest for domestic dominance and European success.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.
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