Selling to rivals sets City and Pep apart from the rest

It’s a title won on the bench, by four men who left on the sidelines.

ep Guardiola also stayed there – he made a few left-field moves in his time, but getting in the 51st minute would have been too far – but his substitutes made the difference. Ilkay Gundogan scored twice.

The first was set up by Raheem Sterling, another who was hired. Sandwiched by the German’s brace, Rodri scored a goal; the assist, with a precise cut capping an influential second-half display, came from Oleksandr Zinchenko.

In the aftermath of Manchester City’s 3-2 victory over Aston Villa to win the Premier League on the final day of last season, it did not go unnoticed that Guardiola turned to Zinchenko, Gundogan and Sterling ahead of the man £100million Jack Grealish. .

Two months later, it takes on another importance. They proved the parting contributions of Zinchenko and Sterling in a City shirt. Gabriel Jesus started that day but the Brazilian proved to be a substitute until Erling Haaland arrived.

Now everyone will play their home games in London this season, the Ukrainian and the Brazilian for Arsenal, the Englishman for Chelsea.

Sterling could have been joined at Stamford Bridge by Nathan Ake, had Chelsea been willing to match City’s asking price and Guardiola could find a suitable successor.

If a relevant point is City’s willingness to sell to domestic rivals – or, to put it another way, the fact that Premier League clubs are paying them around £120m, more than funding Kalvin’s transfer fee Phillips, Julian Alvarez and Haaland – another is Guardiola’s willingness to eliminate players from his squad, to dispense with trusted people who have made crucial interventions even when it’s not automatic picks.

The most significant departures from his reign had tended to fall into two categories. First came those who, due to age or limitations, seemed imperfect for his brand of football and were the reasons his first season was so disappointing.


Pep Guardiola consoles Oleksandr Zinchenko


Pep Guardiola consoles Oleksandr Zinchenko

There were also the annual outings of the greats he inherited, who propelled City to another level and without whom they might not have had the prestige to attract him, to Pablo Zabaleta, Yaya Touré, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero. Fernandinho was the 2022 addition to this distinguished group.

Yet the other releases this summer fall into a very different category. The superb six left well into their thirties, after around a decade of service each, but without recovering any money for City.

The London-bound trio left in their mid-twenties – at 27, Sterling roughly qualifies – and while increasing the budget.

At his best, Sterling belonged to the category of City’s exceptional players. Jesus and Zinchenko were very useful, each capable of excelling in defining plays, capable of being first-choice for periods of time but looking likely to be a substitute this season.

Contractual reasons, with Sterling entering the final year of his contract, help explain the moves.

But so does preference. Guardiola paid generous tribute to all three and, while Sterling’s frustrations at being benched were apparent at times, Zinchenko and Jesus were the kind of loyal, uncomplaining soldiers he loves.

There may be an unsentimental element to Guardiola – perhaps he can’t be as emotional about another club as much as Barcelona – and he may be ready to unload constants into his trophy-winning teams.

Like Jurgen Klopp, he believes those who want to go can, provided it suits the club. Perhaps the surprise, given how much they’ve earned and how much they’re paid, is how many have considered the exit.

Last summer Guardiola admitted Bernardo Silva and ‘two or three’ others were hoping to go. Maybe Sterling and Ake were among them. At various times Joao Cancelo, after his unsuccessful first campaign, Aymeric Laporte and possibly Riyad Mahrez and Gundogan hoped to find alternative employers.

All of this forms a break with Guardiola’s past. Partly because he managed destination clubs when they became hugely successful, he rarely sold out those who attended regularly.

He started in Barcelona with a show of brutality, exiling Ronaldinho and Deco, but big departures were infrequent thereafter: perhaps only Touré, Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, after his relationship with the manager, and an aging Thierry Henry. .

At Bayern Munich, he parted ways with Toni Kroos, Mario Mandzukic, replaced by Robert Lewandowski anyway, and an aging Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Part of the difference at City is his longevity. Guardiola really only had one team in Catalonia and Bavaria.

It’s safe to say there have already been two in Manchester, given the roles played by Kompany, Silva, Aguero, Fernandinho, Sterling, Nicolas Otamendi, Fabian Delph and Leroy Sane between 2017 and 2019.

Certainly there is the argument that lasting success requires changing either the players or the manager and at City continuity comes in the dugout.

Guardiola’s thinker loves the intellectual challenge of customizing his tactics to suit different talents.

Sterling, Jesus and Zinchenko are three who have been favorite projects, each reinvented by him.

They played a combined total of 656 games for him. That each leaves at their peak points to a different dynamic in Guardiola’s management.

When he turns to the bench this season, he’ll see different faces and other ways to change games.

(© The Independent)

About Patrick K. Moon

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