Amidst all the hullabaloo of Manchester City’s pursuit of Jack Grealish and Harry Kane this summer a surprising detail has emerged. It’s that some City supporters don’t want one or either.
The reasons for this vary from person to person of course but a trawl through social media at least throws up some commonly held misgivings. Regarding Kane, many believe Erling Haaland to be a superior striking option to replace the now sadly departed Sergio Aguero, while doubts persist around the wisdom of shelling out the widely quoted figure of £120m – a British record by some distance – for a 28-year-old who has a history of injury problems.
With Grealish the concerns are more clear-cut in that a narrative has built up, identifying Bernardo Silva as the player who will likely make way for the Villa star. Silva is adored by the blue faithful.
Naturally, there is no right or wrong to any of the above. It is all subjective. It is all opinion. Yet, there is another qualm that does need addressing as Man City prepare to spend lavishly on two of the most highly regarded English footballers of their generation. It is that City don’t need to do this.
It is not an ascertain that is necessarily incorrect. Manchester City strolled to a third Premier League title in four years last season with games to spare and all with a squad that can truthfully be described as formidable in both depth and quality. Even losing Aguero for large tracts of the campaign did not hinder Pep Guardiola’s creation as he instead turned to a cornucopia of attacking talent who artfully fulfilled a ‘false 9’ remit.
Indeed, so great is their embarrassment of riches that it has become a source of annoyance for supporters when commentators point out the strength of City’s bench and a legitimate discussion can be had determining just how steep or slight an upgrade Grealish would be on even City’s subs.
To illustrate this, consider the wealth of fare the shinpad-less schemer must by-pass simply to grab a first-team jersey: Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez, Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Ferran Torres. Factor in too, rising academy stars in need of first-team minutes to continue their development and it’s easy to see why the arrival of Grealish is viewed in some quarters as a luxury purchase: another Ferrari for a garage already well-stocked with Ferraris.
So far, so accepted. But here’s the counterclaim.
Firstly, doubts surrounding Grealish’s ability to establish himself as a pivotal creative force within this City set-up does the Villa man a disservice. In 2020/21 only one player made more key passes in the top-flight and that was De Bruyne, while only one other player carved out more chances from open play, many of these from carries into the box.
Should the England international head to the Etihad he can and will provide penetration that has previously been lacking among the fluid but sometimes passive interchanges. Furthermore, Grealish has a rare combination of skillset, confidence and application that Guardiola can transform into something very special. Within a year we might realistically be looking at De Bruyne levels of consistent excellence and impact.
As for Kane, should any trumpeting be required of his extraordinary attributes then let’s simply detail a few and move on. The Tottenham forward has won the Golden Boot on three separate occasions, scoring 220 goals in 334 appearances for the North London giants. Last term he was directly involved in 54.5% of his team’s goals.
He is a goal-scoring phenomenon who would make City a thoroughly frightening proposition should he join. More pragmatically, he would offer a cutting edge inside the six-yard box that Guardiola’s side have missed since Aguero’s absence.
Ultimately though, debates about whether or not City ‘need’ to spend north of £200m on these Premier League superstars in the coming weeks are to no purpose. Both players indisputably are marquee, guaranteed, blue chip talents and granted, City already possess a few of those but that really does miss a central point.
That central point is that clubs who maintain domination of their league over the long-term historically refresh every three seasons. They do this regardless of their standing or situation. They do this to pre-empt the threat of complacency creeping into a squad that – to put it banally – has got used to winning.
Famously, changing things up from a position of strength was something Sir Alex Ferguson excelled at, doing so on several occasions across his 27 years at Old Trafford and almost always raising collective eyebrows as star names were jettisoned, replaced by players ravenous for silverware and desperate to prove themselves. It’s what kept United on top. It’s what kept them lean, sharp and dangerous.
Famously too, City have been rather rubbish in the past at understanding the cycle of a successful club. Having won the league in spectacular fashion in 2012 the Blues wasted a golden opportunity in the following transfer window to really consolidate their power-base, bringing in distinctly average newcomers such as Scott Sinclair and Javi Garcia who did not kick them on but instead stymied progress.
Unforgivably the same mistakes were made two years later when the new champions took an expensive chance on Eliaguim Mangala and Fernando and again halted their own momentum. The less said about splurging £30m on Wilfried Bony meanwhile, the better.
To date, under Guardiola, two mini-rebuilds have been necessary, the first after the Catalan’s first season when he moulded his side into what he envisioned his team to be; the second last summer, to rectify a degree of fatigue that was prevalent throughout a group that had scaled astonishing heights for two years running.
This though is very different. Going after two bona fide, risk-free, proven players in Grealish and Kane is strategic, stone-cold intent to tighten a stranglehold. To maintain domination. And this is what champions do.