Manchester City have reportedly now made their move, signing 21-year old Sevilla defender Jules Koundé.
After months of speculation, Manchester City have reportedly agreed a deal to sign their second central defender. While much of the rumor mill was focused on another promising Sevilla defender in Diego Carlos, the situation has rapidly shifted to his partner, and now City have reportedly agreed to buy Jules Koundé for £45 million.
Despite a long-term fixation on Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, a defender with experience, pedigree, and a physical presence, City have taken a step back and made a deal that fits their usual transfer policy. Koundé is far from a known quantity, but brings natural defensive talent coupled with blistering pace for a central defender.
At just 21 years of age, he has potential to evolve into one of the Premier League’s best defenders as he links with Aymeric Laporte, another French player who made his name in La Liga before joining City. The deal also fits much more within City’s price range, as the club have never spent more than £62 million on any player. It would have surely cost more to pry alternative targets such as Koulibaly or José María Giménez from their respective clubs, but this is the tradeoff for experience.
Cost does seem to be the primary motivating factor here, but it is surprising that City ultimately proved unwilling to spend £70 million on a known quantity like Koulibaly or even negotiate with Napoli directly after their Jorginho saga. Koulibaly looked like precisely the player who could turn the title in City’s favor if he performed up to his reputation and ability.
Koundé is coming off a fantastic season in La Liga, so it is not his natural ability that concerns me, but rather his fit into the team. City had intentionally looked outside of their usual transfer policy for much of the window, valuing experience, physical presence, and proven quality over potential. In this regard, Koulibaly fits the bill perfectly. City have struggled to defend aerial balls and needed stability, experience, and leadership next to Laporte.
With Koundé, the immense burden on Laporte to lead the backline continues. At just 21 years of age, he is not going to come in and immediately take charge of commanding the defense. Moreover, at just 5’11 tall, he is not going to help City’s aerial presence by any means. Despite Laporte’s height, he is rarely commanding in the box with defensive headers, and City’s vulnerability in this area seems set to continue.
He is not a big name who will necessary guarantee a spot in the team sheet each week, so City could struggle for consistency, which I believe was one of last season’s biggest issues. He is not far and away better than Nathan Aké, who brings Premier League experience. Koundé is right footed and more athletic, which is an advantage, but I can see Pep Guardiola questioning whether or not to trust a 21-year old defender in massive games.
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The purpose of a new defender was to answer questions, not create new ones. Guardiola has overthought his team selection in consecutive Champions League exits due to defensive fears. Even if Koundé plays brilliantly, it is unlikely he will have a Virgil Van Dijk-style impact on the defense that will instantly solve every issue. He is very talented and at a good price given his massive potential, but City need to win here and now.
This signing, coupled with those of Aké and Ferran Torres earlier this summer, seems much more geared toward a post-Guardiola future rather than dethroning Liverpool in the here and now. None of them, on current ability, seem to be game-changers that can turn an 18-point gap into a title victory, especially after Liverpool secured the signings of Diogo Jota and Thiago Alcântara yesterday.
In all, I believe City have signed a good defender who will be a big part of the future at the club. Nevertheless, given the profile of the type player the team was looking at for much of the window, this seems more like a backup option geared toward the future rather than a title-turning arrival. City’s months-long transfer saga appears to finally be over, and only time will tell if they have proceeded wisely.