It’s a strange time for Manchester City. Last season saw them win silverware and play in a Champions League semi-final for the first time, yet the widespread feeling is the squad needs major surgery.
Manuel Pellegrini’s tenure came to an unsatisfactory end. The club’s Premier League campaign was a disaster, and it was becoming increasingly clear as their season stuttered to a close that the core of the side built by Roberto Mancini and continued by Pellegrini was no longer fit for purpose.
If City want to challenge in every competition they enter, which is the ambition of the owners and the club's leadership team, then serious improvements are needed.
And so it begins. Pep Guardiola doesn’t officially take the reins until July 1, but he has surely discussed transfers with Txiki Begiristain, the club’s sporting director. They have already made their first acquisition, with Ilkay Gundogan arriving from Borussia Dortmund at the start of June for a fee of around £20 million.
The incomings certainly won’t end there.
One criticism of City’s transfer policy under Begiristain is that it has lacked ambition. Whereas the Garry Cook-Brian Marwood era was defined by City’s brazen attempts to sign the best players in the world, the Begiristain-Ferran Soriano years have seen their sights lowered.
Last summer’s move for Kevin De Bruyne was the exception; City have barely been shopping at the high end of the market in recent seasons.
But that's likely to change as City’s moneymen look to show their commitment to improving the club's fortunes. Having lured the most coveted manager in the game to the Etihad Stadium, they need to back him and make sure they maximise his appointment. Signing the right calibre of player is paramount.
And the signs are this summer’s recruitment drive will be a step up from what they’ve managed in recent transfer windows. Buoyed by their profitability and their share of the whopping new Premier League TV deal, City’s fears about UEFA’s financial fair play sanctions have largely disappeared.
With money also incoming from likely player sales, there’s no reason why they cannot embark on an aggressive recruitment drive that changes the makeup of their squad significantly.
“We have made a profit again," Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the club’s chairman, announced in the third part of his end-of-season interview recently. “We are constantly moving in the right direction financially as a club, and that’s one of the things I’m particularly proud of."
Sheikh Mansour had a dream from day one that he would invest in a club, he would build value, he would put a lot of commitment into a club, but that that club would be financially sustainable and would be profitable.
That dream is a reality. It works.
We are one of the top clubs in the world.
We are financially sustainable, and we are profitable.
Mubarak also confirmed the club would back Guardiola: "We will provide the necessary resources for Pep to build a team that has the ambition and the capability to go and win back this Premier League for us, to go as far as we can and try to win the Champions League, and as I said earlier to keep pushing at the cups."
Gundogan is an excellent start. His fee represents excellent value for money, and he’ll bring with him the kind of midfield qualities Guardiola craves.
A fine passer of the ball, he can keep possession superbly, but he also works tirelessly without the ball. A knee injury will see him miss the start of the campaign, but he’s likely to emerge as a key figure quickly after his return.
In defence, City have significant problems, with ageing full-backs and centre-backs prone to either injury or errors. Guardiola encourages an open and attacking style but never at the detriment of stability. The Catalan knows he needs solid foundations, and the ones he will inherit simply aren’t good enough.
Aymeric Laporte and John Stones are the club’s primary defensive targets, according to the Express (h/t Jack de Menezes at the Independent). Both come with risk attached, but both have huge potential.
Laporte, 22, is perhaps the more polished defender of the two at present. Since he forced his way into the Athletic Bilbao side under Marcelo Bielsa in 2012, he’s been pretty much flawless, with his mix of physicality, pace and excellent reading of the game making him more accomplished than many other defenders of his age.
“He’s young and he has to improve some things but he’s already the real deal,” Athletic manager Ernesto Valverde said in October, as reported by Nick Wright of Sky Sports. “He is a player who is mature, despite his youth. On the pitch you see that because he takes responsibility for his position. Experience is always important, but if you already have that experience when you are 22, then imagine...”
Stones of Everton is a wonderful ball-playing centre-half—a rare breed of English defender because of his comfort in possession, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Rio Ferdinand’s emergence at West Ham United in the late '90s.
His performances have been undermined by mistakes and his hesitancy in clearing the ball to safety when necessary, but Guardiola clearly feels he could hone his talent and turn him into a quality defender.
Both are young and somewhat unpolished—but given the dearth of top-quality centre-backs operating in Europe, going after two of the finest young talents is probably a wise move.
It’s arguable, though, they also need a world-class midfielder, a player of undoubted class who could play in any side in world football. Juventus’ Paul Pogba is the obvious choice given his brilliance, but according to James Robson at the Manchester Evening News, Guardiola doesn’t want him. Perhaps Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos, with his outstanding range of passing, is the answer.
And according to Sky Sports News HQ, City are in talks to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a sensational striker who scored 25 goals in 29 Bundesliga games for Borussia Dortmund last season.
He wouldn’t be cheap, with a British-record fee mooted, but what a statement of intent it would be to put Aubameyang in a squad alongside the enduring excellence of Sergio Aguero, perhaps Europe’s finest striker, and Kelechi Iheanacho, a top-quality teenage prospect. It would also frighten their rivals.
If Leroy Sane, Schalke's exciting right-sided forward, were to join the party, City would suddenly have one of the most fearsome attacking lineups in Europe.
What’s clear is City’s transfer policy this summer will ambitious. Their squad will look very different come August, and with Guardiola set to increase the pace and intensity of the side, expect a much more competitive City next season.
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Their fans should be very excited.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and follows the club from a Manchester base. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.