Manchester City have already splashed £80million this summer on the signings of Edson Moraes and Bernardo Silva, as Pep Guardiola continues to reshape his squad.
They are expected to spend up to £300million during the transfer window, with Alexis Sanchez, Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker all reported Manchester City transfer targets.
But this summer could be City’s last chance to spend big for a while, as a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing will determine whether the Premier League club have breached FIFA rules over the signing of young players which, if found guilty, could see them levied with a transfer ban.
Our friends at Football Whispers ask whether City’s Guardiola project could be over before it has truly begun if they are unable to sign new players for any length of time beyond the current window.
There is a theory being purported that City’s current and anticipated spending, lavish even by their standards, is due to the fact that the club is acutely aware that this may be their last chance to make such additions for a while once the transfer window closes.
It all relates to the Manchester club’s signing of Argentine teenager Benjamin Garre, grandson of 1986 World Cup winner Oscar Garre, from Velez Sarsfield. The Buenos Aires club allege that City broke FIFA rules regarding the signing of under-18s cross-continentally when they wrapped up a deal for the 16-year-old.
FIFA cleared the transfer as Garre holds an EU passport thanks to his Italian heritage. But Velez have taken the matter to CAS as they claim the youngster’s Italian passport would only enable him to move between EU clubs, not from South America to England.
“Man City argued that there is an exception in the FIFA rules that said that because he has a European passport he could be transferred,” Velez club secretary Bernardo Bertelloni told The Times this month. “But the FIFA rule does not say that, it says he can move only within the EU, between EU clubs.”
The CAS hearing is set to take place today but it is understood that it may take several weeks for a verdict to be reached. If found guilty, City – who were recently banned from signing academy players by the Premier League for a breach in the rules regarding the pursuit of youngsters registered with other clubs – could be hit with a transfer ban similar to that which Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have all been handed in recent years.
It must be noted that the Spanish clubs were all guilty of multiple infractions, so there is a chance that City’s punishment might not be as harsh if they are found in breach of the rules. But a transfer ban of some sort remains a possibility.
A year into his effort to lift City to the height of his former employers Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola’s project has to be considered behind schedule. A fourth-place Premier League finish and a last-16 Champions League exit last term will have been viewed as some way below par inside the Etihad stadium, and a title challenge will be a minimum requirement in 2017/18.
Last summer’s significant outlay on Claudio Bravo, Ilkay Gundogan and John Stones failed to lift City beyond the level there were at under Manuel Pellegrini. While Guardiola’s ideas and tactical philosophy, which will take time for the players to assimilate to, showed signs of bearing fruit for City, further work is needed.
Further reinforcements too. City are acting quickly to get their business over the line this summer. But is one window enough to plug all the holes currently shipping water? It might have to be.
Should they be unable to make any signings for a year or so beyond this window, Guardiola may find it impossible to fully realise his plans for the club. It would prove a new test of his managerial mettle, having never faced such adversity with player recruitment.
It could, in turn, force the Catalan coach to revert to what made his spell as Barcelona such a resounding success: the integration of talented youngsters from the side’s academy and B team.
Sergio Busquets, Pedro and Thiago Alcantara all broke through to make an impact under Guardiola. There is no shortage of talent within City’s youth ranks and the misfortune of a transfer ban for the club could make the prospect of their youth stars graduating to the first team a real possibility.
However, the club’s owners are expectant and Guardiola doesn’t have the luxury of another campaign of transition – he must deliver next season and continue to drive the team forward thereafter.
The potential inability of the club to secure the players he wants will lead to the manager questioning the viability of his long-term ambitions at the Etihad; likewise, the club will be unwilling to countenance further underachievement, regardless of the circumstances.
Guardiola’s first season didn’t go to plan but he has time to turn things around. However, this potential spanner in the works could have serious ramifications.