|Manuel Pellegrini has vowed to sign a crack player this summer|
Manchester City have endured a forgettable 2014/15 campaign that has not seen them make any progress they were hoping for at the start of the season.
City would have wanted to defend their 2013/14 Barclays Premier League title and progress beyond the R-16 in the UEFA Champions League, but neither of those ambitions have materialized and Manuel Pellegrini’s position as manager of the Etihad outfit remains in the balance.
Too many marquee players – except Joe Hart and Sergio Aguero – in that squad have failed to play to potential this season and Pellegrini’s title-winning squad has looked a mediocre one, despite the additions of Eliaquim Mangala, Fernando Reges, Frank Lampard, Bacary Sagna and Willy Caballero, on paper and on the pitch.
City were handicapped by the Financial Fair Play (FFP) restrictions placed on them by the UEFA, as a result of which they were allowed to spend a mere £49m on transfers this season, and Pellegrini has oft mentioned it as one of the reasons for his side’s failures this term.
However, having had an income of £346.5m following their league and cup double winning 2013/14 season, City hope to be relieved of the FFP restrictions that will allow them to spend big money, Txiki Begiristain willing, and bring fresh talent to the club ahead of next season.
Of the marquee players who have under-performed this season, the likes of Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic are likely to be sold by the club this summer, in a bid to decrease the average age of the squad, which is 29 currently, and replace them with ebullient and slightly younger players.
Though the trio of Nasri, Dzeko and Jovetic maybe replaced quite easily, it will be a monumental task to find a player who can fill the void that is to be left by Toure, who has been the leading light for City over the last 5 years.
Add to that the departures of James Milner, who has not a signed a new deal offered to him by the club and Frank Lampard, who will be moving to New York City FC at the end of his loan deal, and the Citizens ideally would need five new players for various positions.
Paul Pogba, the Juventus and France midfielder, is the primary transfer target for the club who think that he would be an ideal replacement for Toure. But City are not the only club that is targeting the French international, who will command a transfer fee well in excess of £50m.
Add to the colossal transfer fee, the decision of whether to move and where to move remains with the player, and there is no certainty that Pogba will opt for City ahead of the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), clubs that are also linked with the box-to-box midfielder, if they come for his signature.
But who will be the alternatives for Pogba, that City should really consider recruiting this summer? Pellegrini has proved his desire to sign a ‘crack player’, who will give the Citizens an identity they have lacked of late, but who is it going to be? Read on…
Angel Di Maria
The Argentine has endured an unimpressive first season in England as a Manchester United player, though you cannot question Di Maria’s pedigree as one of the world-class players in the modern game.
Since his arrival from the Santiago Bernabeu for a whopping £59.7m, Di Maria has made 31 appearances for the Red Devils across the Premier League and FA Cup, scoring 4 goals and registering 10 assists so far.
His slump in form started only after November of last year, when he suffered hamstring and pelvic injuries in quick succession and returned to action only during this January.
Yes, since his return, Di Maria has simply not been at it and his performance last weekend against West Bromwich Albion was obnoxious, to say the least.
Let us, however, not forget that he took the Premier League by storm soon after his arrival at Old Trafford, as he scored 3 goals and created 31 chances in his first 11 appearances for the club.
Di Maria, going by his profile and exploits as a Los Blancos’ player, is not a goal scoring midfielder, but what he will give Pellegrini is versatility: he can play on the left or right flank, as a genuine midfielder (No.6 or No.8), as a second striker, and play these roles to great effect when in form.
I, for one, would love to see him at the Etihad and Pellegrini starting to play the 4-3-3 system, with Di Maria playing in one of the two advanced midfield positions that saw him register as many as 22 assists across all competitions in his final season at Real.
It was while playing as a midfielder that he helped Carlo Ancelotti’s men win the ‘La Decima’, as they came from a goal down against Atletico Madrid to lift the Champions League.
The 27-year old also possesses this knack of being a good ball carrier, who can run 50-60 yards with the ball at his feet.
City, if they want to compete against the big boys of Europe, need a player who can do that on a consistent basis and Di Maria’s forte lies in his ability to break through opposing defenders who stand in his way.
Therefore, recruiting Di Maria, who also might command a transfer fee of £50m or more, would mean that City bring in a player who has proven his mettle at the Champions League level and will give them that identity Pellegrini is craving for.
The Welshman has enjoyed two highly impressive seasons back-to-back: he scored 16 goals and registered 9 assists in 34 appearances across all competitions during the 2013/14 season; in the ongoing season, Ramsey, in 34 appearances so far, has scored 9 goals and made 7 assists, despite missing 12 games.
Ramsey, similar to Di Maria, has played at the Champions League level and made 41 appearances in the competition for Arsenal.
He is only 24 and has plenty of football left in him, if City are looking for younger players who will deliver them success in Europe.
The other advantage of recruiting Ramsey, lies in him being a homegrown player, an aspect that the Manchester club needs to consider ahead of their squad submissions for domestic and continental competitions next season.
Ramsey plays with a lot of flair, has great passing vision and genuine goal scoring ability. In addition, he would come from a team that plays an attractive brand of football that Pellegrini, like Arsene Wenger, is a protagonist of.
On the downside, though, Ramsey is prone to long-term injuries that have seen him miss as many as 73 games since joining the Gunners in 2010.
Unlike Ross Barkley, a talented homegrown player who is estimated at a whopping £50m by Roberto Martinez and Everton, Ramsey could be brought to the Etihad for a viable £25m.
This might be an interesting choice among all other players in the list, but Sigurdsson is a very versatile footballer, who has played remarkably well for Swansea City since joining the Welsh club on a permanent deal at the beginning of this season.
In 31 appearances across all competitions for Swansea, Sigurdsson has scored 7 goals and registered 10 assists, which is the third-best in the Premier League this season, behind Cesc Fabregas’ 17 for Chelsea and Di Maria’s 10 for United in just 26 games compared to Sigurdsson’s 30.
The Icelander also fulfills the homegrown player criteria, making him a viable choice for City.
He is technically sound; has great accuracy in his free-kicks and will provide goals for City as a midfielder. He can also play in more than one position – as a No.10, midfielder and winger – and will suit City’s style of play.
He committed his near future to Swansea only last year and might not move again this summer, but like his old teammate Wilfried Bony, the allure of Champions League football might get him contemplating over a move to the exquisite Etihad.
If City want to bring him to the club, Sigurdsson will be a pretty economical option, for a transfer fee of something like £15-20m.
The fleet-footed Argentine is another player who has plenty of Champions League pedigree under his belt.
This season has been very good for Pastore who, in 45 appearances across all competitions for the Parisians, has scored 7 goals and made 13 assists, most of which have come in domestic competitions, though.
In the Champions League, Pastore has not racked up any major stats this season, though he had an impressive game for PSG in the second leg of their R-16 tie against Chelsea.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off early on in the game, Laurent Blanc made a tactical switch that saw Pastore shift from left-flank to midfield where, along with Marco Verratti, he pulled the strings effectively for the visitors, who twice came from behind to level the game and win the tie on away goals.
Pastore is a player who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and, like Di Maria, can go past defenders on his own.
Against the West Londoners back in March, the 25-year old completed 4 of his 8 attempted take-ons and created 1 goal-scoring chance.
With City fans clamoring for a player who can produce better end-products than Jesus Navas has been able to during his two years at the club, I can’t think of a better option than Pastore, whose movement on and off the ball, is impeccable, and thrives on dribbling past defenders.
Again, he can play in more than one position, giving Pellegrini tactical options during games.
If City do want to bring Pastore, who only has a year remaining on his current contract at Parc des Princes, to the club, they would have to spend something like £20m or more for his services.
Atletico Madrid’s Koke has had a couple of excellent seasons at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, during which he has helped them win one La Liga title and become a force to reckon with on the Champions League stage.
In 45 appearances across all competitions for the reigning Spanish champions, Koke has scored 4 goals and registered 13 assists while playing in a variety of roles – winger, midfielder, No.10 – under Diego Simeone.
He is just 23 years of age and already has plenty of experience at the top most level of the game.
His work-rate compared to other players in this list, is very good and plays with his heart on his sleeve.
Owing to his age and the stardom he has achieved in such a short space of time, City might have to splash a transfer fee in excess of £40m. He will, however, be worth the huge money.
Manchester City need to act quickly, and astutely, during the upcoming transfer window that will be crucial to their chances of competing for silverware next season. Their current squad, as is already evident, is devoid of enough top-class players to become a strong European force. And, if the Citizens aspire to go further in the Champions League next season, they need to bring at least one of the aforementioned quintet, preferably Di Maria, to the Etihad.