In the world of expensive centre backs, Manchester City’s current crop ranks right up there with both Mangala and Otamendi costing the naughty side of £30million but neither have set the world alight with performances that match their respective price tags. Now with Guardiola arriving in the summer, and wholesale change a foot with this aging City squad, defenders are once more high on the agenda.
As Raphael Varane and Marquinhos respective stars stall somewhat, at least in the eyes of the British media, Guardiola appears to be targeting two of the brightest prospects from the ‘next generation’ of centre backs currently playing in Europe.
Aymeric Laporte, the Basque born French international, has this season started to make serious ripples with the likes of Barcelona scouting the 21 year old rather seriously. With over a 100 caps already for Athetic Bilbao, Laporte comes with a £39 million buy-out clause that will probably see a Premier League club move to the front of the queue when the new TV cash cow begins to start paying out next season.
With many of Europe’s potential transfer targets plying their trade in the Euro’s this summer, Laporte won’t be gracing the field this summer. When playing for the French U-21’s in March, Laporte suffered a fractured fibula and a dislocated ankle, an injury that required surgery to start the rehabilitation process. Will this put potential suitors off however? That is a whole different question. Laporte should be fit in time for pre-season, but as with any injury such as this, time is crucial and until a ball is kicked in anger, a question mark will always remain of how full a recovery a player can make.
Injury or not, it appears that Laporte is somewhat the brides maid to John Stone’s big day. The subject of very strong interest from Chelsea over the last window, the John Stones love-in has only garnered more admirers despite the young Englishman’s mixed season.
John Stones has all the makings of a top class centre back but at just 21 years old still, Stones is definitely a diamond in the rough. With very un-English ball playing capabilities, Stones certainly fits the mould of a Pique or a Javi Martinez in offering himself up as an outlet for the goalkeeper. Pep likes to see his defenders start the moves and have the confidence to bring the ball forward out of the defence, something Stones appears to have a natural talent for.
Defensively however Stones still very much seems a 21 year old on a steep upward learning curve. Whilst staying at Everton (especially in hindsight since seeing how Chelsea’s season has unravelled this year) seemed a good move, for Stones’ own personal development playing under a coach like Mourinho would really see him make that next step in becoming a much more accomplished defender.
Martinez hasn’t the defensive acumen to instil the cynical and the brilliant things that a manager like Mourinho is so aware of when building a strong defensive unit. It is this nastiness and the knowledge of what I guess you term ‘gamesmanship’ that makes the good defenders, brilliant defenders and if the Chelsea move did materialise Stones would have been learning from the very best with Mourinho as a manager and playing alongside John Terry. Is Guardiola the man to instil that little bit of nastiness in Stones? It would very depend on the make-up of his backroom staff but one can’t help but feel that it’s an aspect of the game that Guardiola may not regard as highly as José.
The re-building job at City is vast and with even question marks being raised against Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart, not one member of City’s defensive line is evidently safe going into next season. It comes as no surprise that Guardiola may look at re-enforcing his defensive partnerships. Is Laporte and Stones the way to move forward? At 21 years old, either could become a stalwart in the City side for years to come but with English players at a premium to comply with Premier League rules, John Stones certainly would be a welcomed addition to City’s aging squad.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog