“He is a special person for all of us. He is so nice. He helped me a lot. We cannot replace him. We cannot,” said a teary-eyed Pep Guardiola about Sergio Aguero – who will be leaving Manchester City at the end of the season – on the final day of the Premier League campaign.
Aguero, who joined club in 2011-12 from Atletico Madrid, ended his Premier League stint for City with two goals against Everton on Sunday. Overall, he finished with 184 goals in 275 league games, the best goals-per-minute ratio of 108 in the league, record for most hattricks (12) and also for the most consecutive seasons with 20-plus goals – he achieved that for five straight terms between 2014-15 and 2018-19.
He scored 260 goals in all competitions and can add to it during his final hurrah in Saturday’s Champions League final against Chelsea should Guardiola use him, something he has done rarely this season.
City have managed well this season without the Argentine talisman who struggled with injuries and then Covid-19. City began poorly but Guardiola then found a way as the season has progressed, tweaking his line-ups so that even the likes of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus – two players who had replaced Aguero in the past – were left on the bench in key games. The responsibility for goals were shouldered by attack-minded midfielders Ilkay Guendogan (17), Phil Foden (16), Riyad Mahrez (14) and Kevin De Bruyne (10).
But how long can they go without a proper forward upfront?
Omar Berrada, City’s chief football operations officer, feels that City will only go for a replacement if the team’s think-tank feels so.
“Very, very difficult task if not impossible,” said Berrada at an online interaction on Wednesday when asked about replacing Aguero.
“If you look at Sergio and his performances and contributions to the team since he joined us, it has been absolutely phenomenal. He is the best striker in the history of the Premier League if you look at number of goals per minute played so he is going to be sorely missed. It’s up to our football director Txiki Begiristain to work with Pep and his coaching staff to try to find the best solution possible.
“Fortunate thing is, we are in a pretty good position where we will only go for a player if it makes sense for us. Also, as you have seen throughout the season, Pep has the capacity to adapt the team tactically to deal with different situations. So, if we find the right opportunity, we will absolutely go for it. But if not, we are a very comfortable situation,” he said.
City have been heavily linked to Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Borussia Dortmund’s young sensation Erling Haaland. It has been reported that they are also monitoring the Lionel Messi situation at Barcelona and would be ready to bring him to the Etihad if he decides to move from Camp Nou.
“Covid-19 has had a massive negative impact on the revenues of football clubs and we are not immune to it. We have taken a serious hit in our financial revenues. We have seen that there was a 40 per cent decrease in the summer transfer activity and in winter there was a 70 per cent decrease across top five leagues in Europe. We believe that it will continue that way for a bit longer – probably at least for one more year. So, all clubs have to be very cautious with their investments, with what they can do in the transfer market,” said Berrada.
If any club has the financial might to play ball in the transfer market it is City. Last season they spent £154 million in the summer transfer window – most of it on Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake to boost their defence. But with another fans-less season and limited promotional opportunities can they repeat it this summer?
Thanks to the hefty television revenue Premier League, clubs are not that handicapped when spending on transfers and it was no different during the pandemic. Despite finances plummeting, according to transfermarkt.co.uk, Premier League spent £1.37 billion on transfers this season only a slight drop from £1.61 billion in 2019-20. But for other leagues the dip in transfer spends has been significant. La Liga spent £1.36 billion in 2019-20 but their transfer spending was just £380.34 million this season.
While City have deep pockets, they seldom spend heavily on one player like, say, Real Madrid, Barcelona or PSG. The classic example of it was their chase of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton which was also captured during the All or Nothing documentary streamed on Amazon Prime. City called off the chase when they thought the price tag of £75 million was too steep compared and settled for Aymeric Laporte from Atletico Bilbao for £57 million.
“It always has been about the team, it always has been about finding the right squad balance, between young players, players at their peak, players that can bring more experience and I think it hasn’t been about just investing in superstars. We like to find the right players and then with time they become superstars because of the success of the team. It’s very much about ensuring we find the players that can adapt to the style of play that we want to be playing and even in the culture that we already have put in place,” said Berrada.
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