Despite a dirt-cheap price tag on one of the world’s best midfielders, Manchester City gave little resistance as rivals Liverpool signed Thiago Alcântara.
In what had been a window of relative inactivity for Premier League rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, the Reds made the first big move as they finally got a deal for Bayern’s Thiago Alcântara over the line.
The Spaniard is one of the world’s very best midfielders and is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, dating back to their time together at Barcelona and Bayern. Given his refusal to renew for the newly-crowned European champions, he was available on a cut-rate price that seemed just too good to be true.
Nevertheless, Liverpool struggled to meet Bayern’s £27.3 million price tag, which could have presented an opportunity for Manchester City to bring in a world-class player who is a perfect fit for Guardiola’s style of play. In my view, this represents a huge mistake from a Manchester City perspective, as letting Thiago walk unopposed to their biggest rivals could absolutely come back to bite them as they seek to regain their Premier League title this season. When asked about the signing, Guardiola responded as if Thiago would be nothing more than surplus to requirements, an idea with which I completely disagree.
“We have enough players in this position,” Guardiola said. “I am happy Thiago comes to England because England is going to enjoy a really good player.”
On a surface level, this appears to be true. Phil Foden is expected to play an increased role this season and Bernardo Silva could move full-time to midfield with the arrival of Ferran Torres. However, at just £27.3 million in today’s market, a signing of Thiago’s caliber was simply too good of a deal to pass up and undoubtedly brings enough quality to have started week-in, week-out for City.
David Silva has left the club and there has not been a replacement, so there is objectively less depth in midfield than there was a year ago. However, the number of midfield options in the team is not my issue with City’s lack of ambition in this deal, but rather the quality.
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While defense is regularly scapegoated for City’s recent European failures, the simple fact of the matter is that midfield has also been at the heart of City’s defeats to Tottenham and Lyon. İlkay Gündoğan has rightly taken a large share of the blame for poor performances in both years, but the problem goes deeper than that.
Gündoğan is not a bad player, but does not have a role in the midfield suited to him. He is not as dynamic going forward as Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, or Phil Foden in the attacking positions, nor is he as good defensively as Rodri or Fernandinho in the shield role. He is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. He would work best in an engine-room type midfield like Liverpool or the German national team have employed in recent seasons, but this is simply not how City play.
Thiago, on the other hand, brings such a well-rounded game to the table that City fans would not fear for the defense if he was deployed as a number six, nor would he halt City’s dynamism in attacking midfield if he was played there. The Spaniard is one of football’s best dribblers in central midfield and has a range of passing that will be second to only De Bruyne in the Premier League this season.
If buying any midfielder was an issue given the club’s pursuit of a top central defender, I see no reason why Gündoğan could not have been sold for a minimum of £25 million (I believe he is actually worth closer to £35m) or even directly swapped to Bayern, who would surely love a ready-made replacement and former Dortmund player over such a small fee. In either scenario, it’s effectively a straight swap for Thiago, who I believe is superior in every facet of his game and brings Champions League-winning pedigree and a perfect fit for Guardiola’s system.
Therefore, Guardiola’s disinterest in the player and the club simply allowing him to walk to their biggest rivals on the cheap represents a disheartening lack of ambition. Is the current midfield situation terrible and in need of immediate repair? Absolutely not. Nevertheless, settling for “good enough” is rarely the right choice when City have failed on the biggest stage in three straight seasons. Acting as if signing another defender will magically make City unbeatable is naïve and unrealistic.
When opportunity presents itself, you must at least do your due diligence, and in this scenario, City simply watched as their biggest domestic rivals brought in a game-changer at well below his true value. On the contrary, City have yet to sign the promised star defender, seemingly due to their own frugality, and appear to be walking into a new season with no concrete plan of how they will dethrone Liverpool other than “hope Aymeric Laporte doesn’t get injured again.” Only time will tell if that is enough.