As Manchester City lifted the Champions League trophy a couple of weeks ago – which now feels like a lifetime ago – there was one overriding emotion for me personally: Relief.
Manchester City did not just have a monkey on their back going into the game against Inter, King Kong had long since clambered onto the Etihad Stadium and nested up there with a Champions League badge on his arm.
City have been circling the giant ape for about four or five years now, with semi-finals becoming a regular occurrence and one final having already been reached. However, it took one night in Istanbul and one fighter plane piloted by Rodri to deliver the killing blow, sending the stupid gorilla down to his demise.
Journalists mourned King Kong’s death. What is left for them to lambast Pep Guardiola with? A man who’s won the treble and also won the Champions League trophy he was “hired to win” if you will believe them, because there is obviously no other reason why you would hire the best manager in the world, especially after he had failed to do it at Bayern Munich. What’s left now?
Well, stirring somewhere in the ocean is a giant lizard called “115 charges”, which has the potential to rise and start destroying the Etihad with its atomic Premier League Financial Penalties breath. But we’ll worry about that when he finally emerges.
But enough of this incredibly laboured movie-monsters metaphor.
We won the bloody treble.
So, everything must be great, right? Nothing can go wrong from here. It’s all hunky-dory, we’ll just add one or two players to the squad in areas we are lacking in depth and then we’ll go again next season, right?
Well, it would seem that it’s not quite so simple as that. Ilkay Gundogan has had a contract due to expire at the end of the season. The midfielder has held off talks until the season’s ended, with interest from a certain Catalan financial black hole lingering throughout.
City put forward their terms, of course, a rather derisory one year extension for a player who is 32-years-old and not at all reliant on pace or physicality to play his game. Meanwhile, the Gaudi mob had offered him a two-year deal, no doubt with a rather fat signing on fee in the process to sweeten the deal for a player trying to get his last big contract.
The season ended and, as ‘Silky Ilkay’ captained the club to the treble, including a couple of goals at Wembley to beat Manchester United in an FA Cup Final, it was starting to look like City weren’t going to keep hold of their man.
Instead, the Spanish Juventus managed to swoop in and secure his signature. Will they be able to register him? Who knows. For Deutsche Fußballmeister’s sake, I hope they can. They’ll just sell off another wing of their media team to Apple or something to raise some money. The Spotify Arena awaits. Mes Que Un Financial Disaster.
Ilkay Gundogan leaves a huge hole in the Manchester Citysquad. A midfielder as comfortable in the ‘six’ as he is the ‘eight’, an old, experienced head and, most importantly, a top bloke. A leader who is genuinely admired by the entire squad.
We’ll all remember him fondly and, honestly, he has probably earned legendary status at the club. He’s never going to be on the level of the Holy Trinity of Vincent Kompany, David Silva or Sergio Aguero – it’ll take something special for somebody to reach those heights – but he’s definitely in that bracket just below that.
Give him a training pitch named after him. He could have done nothing in his career, but the volley against Manchester United in those first 13 seconds and I’d be saying this. Factor in the Aston Villa goals and everything else he’s done in his career at the club and he’s more than earned it.
Let’s not forget, however, that the club have royally botched it here.
He’s a player of incredible quality and value to the squad and yet we went in with a one-year extension, especially knowing that other clubs were offering more. At his age, Ilkay Gundogan almost had no choice but to take the longer contract for that last big pay day in his career. When you read reports afterwards that Pep Guardiola wanted to keep him and that Gundogan would have preferred to stay, the decision not to do what it takes to make it happen becomes all the more galling.
So, who else wants out?
Kyle Walker missed out on a start in the Champions League Final and within a week it was briefed that he considered his time at Manchester City done and dusted, with Bayern Munich ready to take him off our hands.
Another leader in the dressing room, so not ideal from a squad harmony point of view, however I personally think his time has come. He was absolutely pivotal against Real Madrid, I don’t need to remind anybody as to why, and Manchester United in the FA Cup Final. If there’s serious pace and skill going the other way, there’s no player in world football better equipped to deal with it.
However, Kyle Walker is the wrong side of 30 and pre-World Cup he was nowhere near his best. Post-World Cup he wasn’t much better, as Rico Lewis stole his spot, followed by John Stones as the right-back/centre-back/central defensive midfielder hybrid was perfected.
He stepped up big time in the last month or two of the season but, as his omission from the Champions League Final proves, ultimately his place in the squad has almost evaporated outside of the need for him in the occasional big moment against a specific type of opponent, which if we aren’t playing against Real Madrid or PSG, we’ll rarely encounter. Factor in the various off-field “mishaps” and he’s earned himself a boot out the door.
There are disputed reports about whether Manchester City are willing to sit down and offer him a year’s extension. Either way, he’s clearly a player who’s got at least one eye, if not both, on the exit door.
Next in the departure lounge is Aymeric Laporte, who has barely featured all season. This is nothing new.
Rumours of him leaving almost always circle when he’s given a spell out of the side, which is already a massive red flag, but given the fact that Nathan Aké and Manuel Akanji, two players who should be well behind him in the pecking order on paper, have stolen every chance there is for him to play any games of any significance, you can see why he’d want to go.
Say what you will about his attitude and willingness to get his head down and fight for his spot (or lack thereof) but the guy is too good to be filling a spot on the Manchester City bench every week for the club.
Laporte put his knee on the line for the club against Aston Villa at the end of last season and it’s probably ruined his season, as Akanji needed to be signed as emergency cover and ultimately kept him out of the side. We’ll never forget his sacrifice, or the years of top class defending that came before it, however it’s undoubtedly time for “I’m Eric Waporte” to get out.
The Spain international reportedly rejected a move to Spurs because, well, why wouldn’t you? It’s difficult to see where he does end up, however. Bayern Munich have just sold Lucas Hernandez so there’s a possible opening there, likewise with Chelsea and Kalidou Koulibaly, however this is just pure conjecture as there’s no real solid links.
He no doubt wants Spain (don’t they all?) but Real Madrid don’t need him and the Culers are still trying to offload enough wage to be able to register one ex-Manchester City player, let alone buy another one.
Bernardo Silva is just sitting by the phone with the same suitcase he’s had packed since 2021, begging that somebody calls with a bid that Manchester City might accept.
Bernardo, perhaps unlike Laporte and Walker, has been an absolute mainstay in the side over the course of the season, and similarly crucial in the latter stages of the Champions League, scoring in both the Quarter Finals and Semi Finals, then providing what I’m technically going to count as the assist for Rodri in the final. Losing him would hurt perhaps more than Gundogan, because he’s still got so much to offer for the next four to five years.
However, it’s become pretty clear that he hates Manchester as a city with a burning passion. At first we thought it might just be the lack of travel due to covid restricting him from seeing friends and family as often as he’d like. Since then, it’s become clear that he just wants a change of scenery. I don’t think he even wants to be closer to his family, as was initially reported, he just wants to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
PSG and Saudi Arabia are providing the most serious links right now. The French club have hired the Sporting Director who brought Bernardo to AS Monaco back in the day, so there’s an existing relationship there.
Kylian Mbappé is also there, who he’s good friends with, although the odds on him being there for longer than 12 months are pretty slim, if he even makes it til then. Still, Bernardo knows the country and the league and Paris is no doubt a great place to live, particularly if you’re absolutely cheddar cheesed.
Saudi Arabia is a much more interesting prospect. He’d earn an insane amount of money, more than PSG (tax-free too) but he would essentially be throwing his best years away in a league where, as much as there will be other players he knows well alongside him, with Ruben Neves and Cristiano Ronaldo already there, it’s not somewhere that Champions League players at their career peak are signing up for. But football is a job and if you can get the most money somewhere doing said job, you’d be a fool not to explore it.
Manchester City have seemingly made a last-ditch effort to offer Bernardo Silva a new contract with improved terms and we’d all love him to sign it but, honestly, I don’t see it. There’s been too much time spent with him making it very clear he wants to leave for him to turn around and sign a new deal.
Last is Riyad Mahrez, who is also getting offers from the Saudi League. His desire to leave is apparently less firm than anybody else, it seems more like a case of he would go if the right offer came for him and the club, but he is also happy to stay otherwise. A settled family life in Cheshire, married to generational wealth whilst already a multi-millionaire yourself, probably makes the big money moves a tad less appealing.
However, a couple of years earning fat stacks in the Middle-East never hurt anybody. Riyad Mahrez is also Muslim and so, as has been pointed out by a few people, playing in Saudi Arabia has much more cultural/religious significance than it does to others.
Mahrez is just a pure numbers machine. Even in seasons where it can feel like he’s not been at his best, he’ll still end it with 20 goal contributions. Every squad needs a player like Mahrez, who can help put games to bed even if he’s not scoring the goal that gives the team the lead. He’s also one of the club’s most technically gifted players, with a magical left foot.
I could watch a compilation of him bringing the ball down from the air with the outside of his left foot for hours, and there’s probably legitimately hours of footage of it. He’s criminally underrated by large swathes of the fanbase and I will be sad to see him go if he does.
The club are apparently not that interested in selling him, so hopefully if he’s not that keen on leaving then it’ll make for a perfect storm of him going absolutely nowhere.
Obviously Joao Cancelo is also going. No need to discuss that. We all know why.
So if we include Cancelo, that’s six players potentially leaving Manchester City in the summer directly after winning the treble. It’s a lot to shake up and replace and there’s not even been solid links for some of the positions we’re in need of.
Mateo Kovacic has come in to effectively replace Ilkay Gundogan (squad numbers wise at least, I can’t be arsed thinking about who fits where tactically). A solid pick up at only £25 million from a Chelsea side that’s desperate to offload some of their players – he’s very technically gifted and, importantly, he’s Croatian, so he’s almost a Champions League cheat code.
Aymeric Laporte’s departure is going to hopefully usher in Josko Gvardiol, although my suspicion is that he will be used more to solely rotate with Nathan Ake in that wide centre back role the Dutchman has made his own. Pep Guardiola’s won the Champions League in hard mode with no Croatians, so now it’s time to get two in and play it in easy mode.
Kyle Walker leaving apparently means that the club will look to sign another senior right-back in his place, however there’s just been absolutely nothing in the way of links to players who fit that criteria and it’s tough to see what’s even in the market. Rico Lewis should really be given the nod to step up and fill that role, but Pep probably sees him best as an inverted full-back rather than the traditional wide player Walker is, at least that’s what Pep’s use of him up to now would suggest.
Bernardo is a tricky one. We’d just taken our first steps into a transfer saga for Declan Rice and not too soon after, that particular conversation came to an abrupt end on Wednesday morning. The club was already short on 8s last season and, with Kevin De Bruyne set to miss the start of next season through injury, there’s already no depth there unless Phil Foden moves into central midfield, which creates depth issues elsewhere.
James McAtee has impressed on loan at Sheffield United and apparently Pep Guardiola wants to keep him with the first team next season, but I just don’t see a scenario where he’s a genuine option for serious Premier League or Champions League minutes.
Riyad Mahrez is another one where we’ve no idea what happens. If he leaves, we’ve no links to any wingers in his place. Again, you could look at locking down Foden as a permanent right-wing player from there but that again causes issues in centre-midfield. Our two wingers this season have been Mahrez and Bernardo in effect and both are likely heading out the door, leaving us with zero. Factor in that Cole Palmer is almost certainly going too, though I suspect he’d be in the James McAtee bracket of no serious minutes anyway, and it becomes very messy.
Manchester City’s squad was already small this season, despite the “second team that would win the league” many idiots claim they have. 19 senior players (including Joao Cancelo, who was missing for half of the season), rising to 22 if you include Rico Lewis, Sergio Gomez and Palmer, is already pushing the limits of what a squad can be expected to handle over a 55+ game season. Remove six of those, seven if Palmer is on the way out too, and, well, you do the maths. The squad becomes impossibly thin.
Of course, there are incomings. And not everybody who wants to leave will get their wish, as is often the case with these things. However if the worst happens and every player who wants to duck out finds the means to do so, the club will need to be seriously active to make up those numbers.
So yeah, it’s all easy street now we’ve won the treble, nothing to worry about!
Match Report and Player Ratings: Aston Villa 1-0 Manchester City (Premier League)
Pep Guardiola reveals what Manchester City could to force an early retirement
Confirmed Line-Ups: Aston Villa vs Manchester City (Premier League)
The BIG World-Cup Preview!
Manchester City undergo scouting mission on Juventus midfielder
Exclusive: Manchester City Plan Major Etihad Stadium Stand Redevelopment
News3 days ago
Decision made on referee Simon Hooper following Manchester City blunder ahead of Liverpool appointment
News3 days ago
Manchester City star to undergo tests on fresh injury in ‘coming hours and days’
Transfers3 days ago
Manchester City prepare €60 million investment in midfield and defensive signings for January
Features2 days ago
Manchester City in big games this season: Bad luck or a cause for concern?