Why have Manchester City given up on Milan Škriniar?

Manchester City’s never-ending search for a defender continues to boggle the mind.

For months, dating back to January, nearly the entirety of Manchester City’s transfer speculation surrounding the signing of a new defender was focused upon Milan Škriniar. The 25-year old Inter Milan defender fits the profile the team are looking for in nearly every way; he is highly experienced, physical, plays the ball well, and wins aerial duels.

The explanation at the time was quite simple. Inter were demanding an outrageous fee that did not fit with City’s transfer policy, so speculation quieted. After a difficult second half to the season for the Slovak, Fabrizio Romano is now reporting that Tottenham are looking into the player and that Inter want no more than just £55 million, a reduction of over £30 million from his price in January.

With that option back on the table, the question is begging to be asked. What are Manchester City doing? Reports have lately been erratic and indicative of a scrambling transfer policy, with bids in excess of £80 million for José Giménez and done deals for Jules Koundé being reported and subsequently denied.

The latest rumor is that City have given up completely on their main target, Kalidou Koulibaly, due to their frugality and petulance in refusing to even negotiate directly with Napoli. For a club with so many resources and a clear need, why they are scrambling for unproven players such as Koundé or injury-prone ones such as Giménez at massive price tags is head-scratching when more stable options are on the table.

I still believe Koulibaly fit the profile better than any of the other options being reported, but I also recognize that age and price are a legitimate concern. If City are not willing to go outside of their transfer policy, that is fine, but they need to do so wisely. Spurs are reportedly struggling to meet the £55 million valuation of Škriniar, which will be far cheaper than what current reports indicate for Koundé or Giménez.

If Koulibaly cannot be signed, I see Škriniar as the next closest thing, at a much more reasonable price and just 25 years of age. This feels all too familiar. When Thiago Alcântara, a world-class midfielder and Pep Guardiola disciple was available for just an initial £20 million, City simply shrugged their shoulders at the opportunity and watched as rivals Liverpool struggled for weeks to meet a massively undervalued transfer fee before eventually completing the deal with little resistance.

Škriniar was an £85 million player just a few short months ago whom City were enamored with. The opportunity presents itself to get him on a much more reasonable deal, and they are going to either sign no one or a less proven defender at greater cost?

Being frugal with money is difficult, but understandable. While I’d point to examples of Virgil Van Dijk or Alisson as to why going above a club’s typical transfer policy to get a known quantity at a position of need is a good thing, I can understand City’s refusal to not pay more than £62 million for any player. However, if a club is committed to a policy like this, they have to seek maximum value.

In this case, neither of the current options are the best path forward in my opinion. If City sign no one, it represents a highly disappointing lack of ambition that leaves the future of the season in flux. If they spend upward of £55 million for a 21 year old 5’11 defender who has yet to play a Champions League game or even more than that for an injury-prone defender who has yet to defend outside of a 4-4-2 low block, I believe they have not made the best decision.

In my view, Koulibaly would have been the best choice, followed by a second tier comprising of Škriniar and Dayot Upamecano. I view all other linked options as inferior, including Koundé, Diego Carlos, and Giménez (who is better than the other two in this tier but is being quoted at ridiculous prices). While Koulibaly may have age and price concerns and Upamecano may be too difficult given a recent extension with RB Leipzig, I don’t see the logic behind spending more for a less proven player.

If Škriniar is truly available for £55 million or lower, City should pounce and finally sort out one of the most headache-inducing transfer sagas in recent memory. The deadline is rapidly approaching, and the club have yet to make their move. Nevertheless, with each day that passes it becomes increasingly likely that City will enter into the season with no concrete plan of how they will correct their Achilles Heel from a year ago: defense.