On what was an unusually quiet transfer deadline day, the announcement that Pep Guardiola was to take over as manager of Manchester City at the end of the season made Steven Fletcher’s loan move to Marseille rightfully seem a bit boring. It was the world’s worst kept secret that Guardiola was to leave Bayern sooner rather than later, prompting speculation that the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and City and even Spain were all vying for his signature.
So when it became apparent that Guardiola was to join old club compatriot Txiki Begitistain, a close friend and Director of Football at the Etihad, all of a sudden the press was rife with rumours as to who the Spaniard would be looking to bring in, who can expect to face the axe and what sort of tactical philosophy the 45 year old will be employing. Pablo Zabaleta has already admitted that his arrival as manager in the summer has left players ‘unsure of their future’ with squad changes expected from the Spaniard.
“We suspect changes but it’s normal. Now is not the right time to talk about the future because there’s a lot of time for this. We just need to be 100% focused on the next games. We need to deal with it. The club decided to announce this now; after so many rumours we really understand this. Now it’s just time to finish in the best way we can do this season. We are all behind Manuel Pellegrini. He’s been great for this football club, so he’s to continue in the way he has done for the last few years. Nothing changes for him and then we’ll see at the end of the season with the new manager coming in.”
Sergio Busquets has already flirted with the possibility of relocation to East Manchester. The 27 year old midfielder has made over 300 competitive appearances for Barcelona after Guardiola gave him his breakthrough at the club. The fact that his contract currently lasts until 2019 is posing a problem however. “I have always said there are just two people who could make me change my decision to stay at Barcelona,” the Spain international told ESPN. “One of those two people is my wife. The other person is Guardiola. It’s clear that I owe Pep a lot and I would be honoured to work with him again.”
Another target surely in contention is Thiago Alacantara, the 24 year old is the kind of deep lying playmaker Guardiola sees as a must-have in his teams. Never was this made clearer than when he was bought from Barcelona in the summer of 2013. Paul Pogba is another who would improve just about any midfield. City have continuously targeted the Frenchman and would be well placed to use Guardiola’s image as a means to attract the 22 year old to the club.
On the other side of things, there are certain few players who will be cautiously looking over their shoulders during the next few months, hoping they can prove that they don’t deserve to be the first one out the door. Yaya Toure is the most obvious example, having been sold by Guardiola and noticeably slower this season, at 32 he may playing his last six months for the Citizens. Jesus Navas as well, a player who thinks and runs in straight lines (the polar opposite to what every Guardiola team is built on) seems to have his days numbered.
What should be encouraging for the neutrals out there is that Guardiola’s pedigree and reputation for bringing the best out of young players will surely mean positive futures for the likes of Raheem Sterling at the club. Since the winger’s drawn out £49 million transfer to Manchester City was concluded last summer, Liverpool fans have had to reluctantly admit that he hasn’t done badly over in Manchester. With a total of 10 goals and 3 assists to his name so far this season, his place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad and long term future at the Etihad looks all but assured. Guardiola will be aware that he holds the potential to become one of the elite, and who better to coax it out of the young Englishman?
If it was the promise of a place among the European elite which brought the Spaniard to the Etihad, then he has every chance of fulfilling it. With a rumoured £150 million transfer budget to play with and the guaranteed respect of the dressing room, there is little which seems out of reach. Fans are salivating at the prospect of Jose Mourinho taking over at Manchester United, seemingly just to set up a battle between the Special One and Guardiola twice every season, reminiscent of their many managerial duels at Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. For the time being, what’s certain is that the noisy neighbours just got a lot louder.