Beyond Erling Haaland – Assessing Man City’s plan to get even better and sign new talent
Every summer, Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak uses the club’s in-house television channel to address the fans. It’s usually a review of the previous season, but this year’s address also included a warning for the Premier League and the rest of Europe.
Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, one of the best young players in the world, has already been snapped up for £51 million, and according to Khaldoon, the squad will only get stronger before the new campaign. “I can confirm that there will be more players coming in,” he said. “We are looking to strengthen the team in the areas that need strengthening.”
Given that they are already the dominant team in England, it’s a statement to worry their rivals around the world.
Pep Guardiola’s side were run close by Liverpool last season but still won their fourth Premier League in five years. They scored 99 goals — more than anyone else — while often playing without a recognised striker, and recorded the joint-best defensive record (26 goals conceded, tied with Liverpool). They posted 90-plus points in the league for the third time since 2017-18 and were minutes away from a second successive Champions League final before an inexplicable collapse in the final minutes against Real Madrid.
After six years under Guardiola, City are a well-oiled winning machine. And, according to Khaldoon, they are keeping their foot on the gas.
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Haaland is the headline arrival and fills a gap up front that City coped with admirably last season, but sources have told ESPN that other changes to the squad will allow Guardiola’s side to compete in every competition next year.
Argentina forward Julian Alvarez, signed from River Plate for £15m in January, has been told he won’t be loaned out, and management has already started work to find a new left-back and a midfielder to replace Fernandinho, who has left after nine seasons at the Etihad Stadium.
Sources have told ESPN that former Barcelona full-back Marc Cucurella is on the list of potential targets, and Brighton’s asking price of £35m is not considered overly problematic.
England midfielder Kalvin Phillips is admired by Guardiola and City’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, although sources have told ESPN a move has been complicated by Leeds’ escape from relegation. However, a deal is still on the table, and City are set to make contact with Leeds after England’s Nations League games.
Elsewhere, City have distanced themselves from moves for Barcelona‘s Frenkie de Jong and West Ham‘s Declan Rice.
De Jong has been offered to City — and most major clubs in Europe — as Barcelona try to raise £70m for new arrivals, but so far only Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain have returned positive responses. Man United are the leading contenders, but there are concerns at Old Trafford that the Dutchman has his heart set on staying at Barcelona — whether they want him there or not. Rice, meanwhile, has indicated to West Ham he is unlikely to sign a new contract and wants regular Champions League football, but this summer at least, City have deemed the 23-year-old too expensive at more than £100m.
Any other new signings for City are likely to depend on outgoings.
City expect striker Gabriel Jesus to leave and, as such, Arsenal, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have already registered their interest. Guardiola is a fan of the Brazilian player, who played a key role at the end of last season, but with only a year left on his contract and his desire for more regular playing time, City are ready to talk at around £50m. Jesus is open to the prospect of a reunion with Guardiola’s former assistant, Mikel Arteta, at the Emirates, but City’s valuation has so far proved a problem.
Arsenal are also among the clubs interested in Ukraine left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko and England winger Raheem Sterling. Sterling will enter the final year of his contract this summer, and sources have told ESPN he’s set to make a decision about his immediate future after England’s Nations League games. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are watching the situation closely, and Sterling hasn’t ruled out a move abroad. The 27-year-old is keenly aware that the next contract he signs will be the most important of his career.
A new five-year deal would take Sterling to age 32, and by that point the chance to test himself in another of Europe’s major leagues might have passed. He also has concerns about his place in Guardiola’s plans for the future and will not settle for sitting on the bench. If Sterling indicates he’s unlikely to seriously consider signing a new contract, City would have to listen to offers this summer to avoid losing him for free in 2023.
Sources have told ESPN they would also consider offers to sign midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and winger Riyad Mahrez — both over 30 and out of contract next summer — while Newcastle are interested in defender Nathan Ake, although the trio wouldn’t all be allowed to leave at the same time.
Guardiola does not like to keep unhappy players — it’s the reason winger Ferran Torres was allowed to join Barcelona for €55m in January — but the squad needs to be strong enough to cope with the demands of four competitions.
City are at the start of a summer of change, but their ability to challenge for the biggest trophies already looks set to remain the same. They have set the standard in the Premier League over the past decade and are continuing to make moves designed to keep it that way. Their rivals have been warned.