What Next for Manchester City?
Following on from Friday’s news that Manchester City would be unable to compete in the Champions League until 2022, Jack Donnelly looked ahead to see the possible outcomes of the ban being put in place.
Things really haven’t gone well for Manchester City this season. Despite winning a nail-biting title race last year, Pep Guardiola’s side have assumed the role of second fiddle to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool this season, with the champions elect winning all but one of their league games so far. City haven’t really been at the races this season, dropping points on occasions where they really shouldn’t have done – a loss to Norwich in September, two losses to Wolves, draws with Newcastle and Crystal Palace and an embarrassing loss at home to underperforming neighbours, Manchester United.
On top of their league form, City have also been hit with the news that due to their breach of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, they will be fined €30 million and have been banned from all UEFA competitions for the next two seasons. This means that unless City win the Champions League this season, they’ll have to wait until 2022 to have another shot at the title.
For a club like City, this is devastating. Despite all their domestic success during the last ten years, the Champions League crown has eluded them, and Guardiola was brought in as manager with that trophy in mind. Without being able to compete for the trophy they desire so much, many are predicting a lot of changes at the club – in terms of both personnel, and the club’s long-term goals.
Of course, City aren’t taking this lying down. They have already begun proceedings to get an appeal in order with the Court of Arbitration in Sport. However, if their appeal is unsuccessful, there will be no Champions League football at the Etihad for the next couple of seasons. With that in mind, I wondered about all the possible changes that the club could go through, and how likely it would be for each change to actually happen.
GUARDIOLA LEAVES IN THE SUMMER – VERY LIKELY
Despite Sky Sports reporting that Guardiola would stay at the club during the two-year absence from the Champions League, I still think that he’ll move on sooner, rather than later. As was mentioned before, City brought Guardiola into the club with the aim of winning the Champions League. Without the ability to compete for the trophy for the next two years and having won everything there is to win in English football, what would be the point in Guardiola sticking around?
This has certainly been the most strenuous job that Guardiola has taken, with the level of competition in the Premier League being arguably greater than both La Liga and the Bundesliga. Despite breaking the Premier League’s total points record, earning 100 points in the 2017/18 season, Liverpool have strengthened and have overtaken City as the top team in the country.
Typically, Guardiola has never been in a man to finish anywhere other than first, having won league titles for each season he spent at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He’ll want to be back at the top spot as soon as possible, preferably at a club with prospects of Champions League football. With Maurizio Sarri under pressure during his first season at Juventus, many are predicting Guardiola to make the move to Italy in the summer. Another option for the manager is a return to Barcelona, with current manager Quique Seiten not really living up to the hype, with the club going through a period of inconsistency. Guardiola would certainly be keen to reunite with Lionel Messi in the twilight of the Argentine’s illustrious career. With high-profile options available to him, Guardiola may well call time on his stint at City after this season is over.
PLAYER EXODUS – FAIRLY LIKELY
With every controversy surrounding a club, comes the thought that a number of key squad members may not be there come the start of the new season. This is the case for City and although Raheem Sterling told Sky Sports that he would stay in Manchester regardless of the outcome, the same cannot be said for a number of his teammates. Bernardo Silva has already openly discussed returning to Benfica, saying: “I have said it several times. I have this emptiness which is that I left Benfica a little early and I think I will come back. I believe that if they want me there, I will go back.”
It seems timely that Silva’s quotes surfaced a day after the announcement was made, almost acting as a “come and get me” plea. While other players haven’t made similar comments as of yet, it would be understandable to think that a number of the squad would be looking for a way out. Arguably the best player in the Premier League, Kevin de Bruyne, is a name that has come up often when discussing the players that would be likely to leave. Real Madrid seems like a realistic destination for the Belgian playmaker, with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric ageing and players like Isco constantly being linked with moves away.
Another notable player that could leave, and for cheap, is Sergio Aguero. City’s all-time top scorer has made it known that he intends to return to his native Argentina when his contract runs out, but the striker was also quoted to say that he’d stay at the Manchester club until they win the Champions League. Aguero’s latest contract extension came in September 2018, where he penned a deal that would take him to June 2021, meaning that City fans have just over a year left of Aguero before he returns home. With Gabriel Jesus looking to establish himself as City’s main man up front, the club could potentially move Aguero on earlier than planned.
On top of that, players like Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are ageing, David Silva is already on his way out, Leroy Sane has been linked with a move away on numerous occasions and Riyad Mahrez hasn’t been guaranteed consistent play time, despite impressive form. While it’s unlikely that the club would allow all of these players to leave this summer, expect at least one high profile departure.
GREATER FOCUS ON YOUTH – A BIT LIKELY
In short, I could see City doing something similar to what Chelsea did last summer when they had their transfer ban – have faith in their youth players. This isn’t something that City have done in the past, with the only notable youth player to have broken through into the first team being Phil Foden. Even so, he barely gets any minutes for City, despite Guardiola claiming that the English midfielder is the “most talented player” he has ever managed. With a lack of Champions League football, there would be even less opportunity for squad rotation, but due to the nature of why the ban was imposed, I don’t think fewer games would reduce youth involvement over the next couple of seasons.
Since the ban was brought into place due to City breaching FFP regulations, they could save their money over the next couple of years and invest more into their youth set-up and give more playing time to the likes of Foden, Eric Garcia and Benjamin Garre, if they are to lose their regular starters. This could also allow them to save money for the season in which they return to the Champions League and spend BIG in the summer of 2022 to come back to the competition with a bang. Alternatively, they could rely on their youth in the competition, as they will have had plenty of playing experience and will be coming into their prime. Granted, it’s more likely that City will buy in young talent that can fit straight into their first team, but there’s always a chance.
MORE PUNISHMENTS – HIGHLY UNLIKELY
As with any announcement in modern football, the rumour mill began to crank out “news” that went alongside City’s ban and fine, suggesting that their league titles would be scrutinised to the point of being revoked, points would be deducted from their current season total and even the prospect of relegation from the Premier League has been discussed, similar to that of the Calciopoli Scandal in 2006.
However, it is highly unlikely that City will be hit with any further punishment, with it being more likely that City have their current punishment reduced. For one thing, the Premier League would be unable to punish the club in any way as they cannot act upon UEFA’s verdict alone. They would have to launch their own investigation into the club and assign any further punishment based on their own findings.
Regardless of any possible outcome of the ban, we can only speculate until City submit their appeal with CAS and only then will we know how severe the punishment will truly be. What the ban does is put incredible urgency on this season’s competition, with City playing Real Madrid in the first round of the knockout stages. An old enemy of Guardiola’s, this matchup could prove to be the most critical out of all matches Guardiola has played against the Galacticos, as City aim for their first Champions League at, potentially, the last time of asking before their hiatus.