COMMENT: Paul Pogba and Manchester United. It’s been their week. A watershed for the Premier League. A gamechanger for Europe. But that lot up the road have also played their part.
For the here and now, it’s been United’s transfer window. Ed Woodward’s we can say. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and Pogba. Jose Mourinho’s influence cannot be played down. Without the manager, those three clients of Mino Raiola would never have considered United an option. But the deals still had to be done. And for the club’s vice-chairman exec, it’s been a red letter month.
England could attract the best managers, they claimed. But the best players still go to Spain. The Pogba deal. All £100 million of him. Has put paid to that argument.
The “world championship of managers”, as dubbed by Arsene Wenger, now boasts the game’s costliest player. United and Woodward have made a statement, which is still ringing in the boardrooms of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The league with the best coaches is now setting about landing the best talent. But while Woodward and Mourinho dominate headlines across Europe, those at the pointy end of talent spotting are just as concerned about what Manchester City have managed to pull off this summer.
If today, this window is claimed by United. In a year. At worst, two. The summer of 2016 will go down as the definitive transfer market for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain have produced a masterclass. Not just for City, but for the Premier League. If English football fans are celebrating United bringing Zlatan and Pogba to their shores today, this time next year, we’ll look back and recognise the coup that City’s football chiefs achieved.
United and Pogba sucked all the oxygen out of the room this week. And rightly so. But City’s deal for Gabriel Jesus, the Palmeiras attacker, deserved just as much hype.
Everyone wanted Gabriel. Real Madrid tried to negotiate an option for him. Barcelona the same. Bayern were in contact. And his agents fielded offers from PSG, Inter Milan and Juventus during a European tour at the start of the year. We’re talking about a talent of the Robinho class. The next Neymar. One who Ronaldo has tipped to break his international records. Yet, when it came to the crunch, he chose City. Not Real or Barca, but the Premier League.
The best young talent in South America will play in England. Not Spain. Not Germany. But England.
When Florentino Perez, the Real Madrid president, learned of Barca’s attempt to close an agreement with Palmeiras at the end of last season, he made his own pitch. After having Neymar as a 13 year-old at Valdebabes and losing him, Florentino saw his chance for revenge. That’s how highly they think of Gabriel in Spain. Yet, Txiki and Soriano played a blinder – aided in no small way by Guardiola. It was a call from the manager which eventually swung the deal in City’s favour. Gabriel had spoken openly of wanting to follow Neymar to Barca. And the Selecao skipper had done the same. But Guardiola’s intervention was the difference. This super, super talent will be seen at Premier League grounds next year – not La Liga.
While United had beaten the world’s biggest clubs to Pogba, City can claim the exact same regarding Gabriel. And they didn’t stop there…
Marlos Moreno, the tricky, dazzling Colombian winger, like Gabriel, also signed for City with little fanfare. He’ll start his European career in Spain with Deportivo La Coruna. But he’s a City player. And like Gabriel, an entertainer. Someone to get the turnstiles spinning. Those in the know say if Moreno had a Brazilian passport, he’d have been leaving for City in the same £27 million range that was shelled out for Gabriel.
The efforts of Soriano and Begiristain deserve greater recognition. They’re ripped up the script. Turned it all upside-down. The Premier League is now not only the priority for South America’s best, young players. But attackers. Entertainers. The next Romario or Rivaldo. This is what City have delivered this summer transfer window.
Today, United are receiving the plaudits. The Pogba deal has stemmed the flow. One of the game’s great talents has rejected Spain and chosen England. But don’t ignore what City achieved this summer. It won’t be felt immediately, but the impact will be just as significant.
If Raheem Sterling was unsure of himself last season, you can just imagine how he’s feeling today.
Nolito was supposed to be the one who threatened his place at Manchester City. But then came Leroy Sane from Schalke. And then Gabriel Jesus. And finally Marlos Moreno.
In Barcelona, they’re saying Nolito is already upset with Pep Guardiola after Sane’s arrival. But then again, Sane is now having to look over his shoulder with Gabriel on his way. And if Moreno sparkles at the Riazor…
So just where does this leave Sterling? Compared to how finds himself today, at Liverpool he was a Great White in a tiny fish bowl. Now he’s the hunted, with many pundits already writing him off.
But this is what he asked for. He wanted to play with better players. Now it’s really sink or swim.
But Sterling has the talent. And if he survives, City – and England – will have one helluva player on their hands.