Pep Guardiola does not want to repeat the mistake he felt was made when Manchester City last won the Premier League title two years ago.
Then, the champions recruited in the transfer market, with a net spend of £80million, but they compromised on a key area – a replacement for Vincent Kompany.
For the centre-half can now be read the centre-forward. Sergio Aguero is leaving this summer when his contract expires, a decision made by Guardiola, and while the manager has successfully experimented with a ‘team of midfielders’ and played without a central striker this season it is not something he plans to carry on with.
Given the Aguero decision was made early the club has had plenty of time to source his replacement. “They want to do things this summer,” a source confirmed.
In his conversations with City’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain, his closest ally at the club, Guardiola will cite the growing strength of Chelsea. Roman Abramovich spent £220million last summer, hired Thomas Tuchel in January, and will recruit again during the forthcoming transfer window. It helps Guardiola’s hand that Chelsea are City’s opponents in the Champions League final. He regards them as potentially City’s biggest threat next season.
Guardiola will also relay his expectation that Liverpool will surely recover and that Manchester United will also enter into the market and build on what is expected to be a second-placed finish behind City.
City’s problem two years ago was not that they did not invest – they triggered a release clause by spending a record £62.8million on Rodri as a long-term successor to Fernandinho and they brought in Joao Cancelo for £60million from Juventus – but that they were caught out by Kompany’s decision to leave.
They dropped out of the bidding for Harry Maguire, claiming he was too expensive, a decision Guardiola agreed with. That meant they went into the campaign heavily dependent on Aymeric Laporte who suffered a serious knee injury and missed 30 matches. John Stones’ collapse in form compounded matters and suddenly City were forced to deploy Fernandinho as an emergency centre-back and Eric Garcia, who wanted to leave, alongside him in key games such as the Champions League quarter-final.
Guardiola is aware that keeping the same team should not be an option if City want to build on this season’s spectacular success. “No matter what happens at clubs you need to change the squad a little bit. You need to bring in new people for new energy,” a source said. “Sometimes it’s even more important to do this when you are winning. It’s when you are winning that people think you don’t have to do anything but it’s when you need to do the most.” Guardiola is understood to share this belief.
So what will City attempt? The dream signing would be Erling Haaland but City are far from alone in wanting the 20-year-old Norwegian. It is also unclear whether he will be able to leave Borussia Dortmund this summer especially if they qualify for the Champions League.
Dortmund want £130million for Haaland – who may be available for far less next year if a buy-out clause exists – and it does not fit City’s model to go as high as that. Neither do they usually involve themselves in bidding wars although with such a talent they may be willing to compromise.
Until Lionel Messi signs a new contract at Barcelona, City will lead the race to sign him, although all the latest indications are that he will agree a new deal. An alternative to both players, and one Guardiola would really like, is Harry Kane. Imagine the Tottenham Hotspur striker in City’s side? Guardiola has done just that although, again, he is well aware how difficult a deal that would be to pull off given Daniel Levy’s history when it comes to negotiating player sales.
It raises the prospect of a move for Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. He is a different type of attacking option but one that Guardiola admires and Villa may be willing to do business even if their opening asking price – around £100million – would be prohibitive.
A more realistic option would appear to be the Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martinez even if he has stated his desire to stay at the Italian champions. City have scouted the 23-year-old Argentinian extensively.
The other significant move could be in central midfield where City are waiting to hear whether Fernandinho, who recently turned 36, will accept their proposed 12-month contract extension. The Brazilian has told the club that he wants to wait until the season ends until he makes his decision and that does not sound promising.
If he goes, City will lose their captain for a third successive season, with David Silva having left last year. Although the armband will pass to Kevin De Bruyne, Guardiola will want to replace Fernandinho.
An obvious choice, and a player who is much appreciated by Guardiola and his staff, is Declan Rice although – again – City are aware of just how much West Ham would try and get for their best player. It may too prove too expensive.
West Ham manager David Moyes has cited a fee of £100million and he is serious. City would not go that high, clearly, especially as they are hoping to invest heavily in a striker. A far cheaper option would be Brighton’s Yves Bissouma who is admired by a number of clubs.
Whoever City go for there are potentially two big signings being made – and that is an ominous sign for the rivals that are already trailing in City’s wake.