The huge £50m transfer blunder that Man City simply cannot afford to make next summer
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I’m old enough to remember Pep Guardiola - bleary-eyed and ruddy-cheeked, the baby blue caress of a Premier League winner’s medal ribbon draped around his neck - baring his soul on the confetti-strewn turf of the Etihad. “We cannot replace him”, he chokes through stifled sobs. “We cannot”.
The ‘him’ in question was, of course, Sergio Aguero, and let me tell you, dear reader, Pep was fibbing. Shortly after his outpouring of hysterical grief, Manchester City signed Erling Haaland. The Norwegian has scored 65 goals in 68 appearances across all competitions since.
As such, the point here is that, regardless of Pep’s protestations, City have almost certainly never possessed a player who was truly, truly irreplacable. Except, perhaps, for Kevin de Bruyne. The Belgian, flame-haired and searingly visionary, has no equal, no equivalent, and - as far as the immediacy is concerned - no successor. How frightening it is to hear, therefore, that he has become a significant target for the tractor beam wealth of the Saudi Pro League.
According to a report from Football Insider, the 32-year-old is wanted in the Middle East, with suggestions that City could demand a fee in excess of £50 million for a player who will have just one-year left to run on his contract come the end of the current campaign. It is understood that no transfer is expected in January, but that the promise of untold riches could be enough to prise the playmaker away from Manchester in the coming months. City, for their part, cannot afford to let that happen.
It is hardly revelatory to state that De Bruyne is an important player to Guardiola’s side. It would be a little like extolling the virtues of oxygen as a molecule. But, while he remains sidelined with a hamstring injury sustained on the opening weekend, it is worth reiterating just how much he offers this City squad when he is fit and available.
Last season, De Bruyne ended the campaign with the most assists in the Premier League, as well as a spot in the PFA’s Team of the Season. The only player to make more passes into the opposition penalty area was Newcastle United full-back Kieran Trippier, and the Belgian was in the top three across the entire division when it came to key passes completed. He is, in short, the conductor around which so much of City’s orchestral majesty swells.
It is true that the champions have managed okay enough without him; they are just two points off the top of the table, and are commanding their Champions League group with ease. Certainly, you could make an argument that Rodri’s absence, in which City lost all three of the matches for which he was suspended, was felt much more keenly.
But whichever way you slice it, however you choose to dice it, the reality is that the treble winners are a much more potent attacking force with De Bruyne in their starting XI. Evidently, he cannot continue in his current role forever, nor does the recurrence of that niggling hamstring injury exactly fill one with buoyant optimism, but to cash in on their ringmaster right now, while he is still thriving and influencing to such a peerless extent, would surely be a mistake that even City’s unerring juggernaut cannot afford to make.
If you want my advice, Pep - and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you? - then get a new contract and a fountain pen in front of that man as soon as humanly possible, and stand over him until every dotted line is adorned with a signature. Otherwise, those crocodile tears might just turn into the real things next time.