At around 2pm, whilst I was on a break from my busy revision schedule, I read a tweet from a journalist which read that Jesus Navas, our perennial scapegoat, has now made 100 Premier League appearances without scoring a single goal. I laughed, and remembered the good times. Remember his first season, when he scored a brace at home to Spurs, the first being perhaps one of the aesthetically best goals at the Etihad since its opening. I went back to my work. Then, at 4pm, my phone bleeped. It was Mr. City Watch. He told me that Jesus Navas was staying. I honestly thought it was a joke at first. Then I checked my timeline to see what appeared to be the horrors of horrors unfolding.
It took a few seconds to sink in. I looked up at the sky (my bedroom ceiling), and mouthed ‘Why?’, hoping for some divine response. It didn’t come.
At first I collapsed into a confused state. Was this City settling for mediocrity, after the media promising us so much for Pep’s project? Has Pep forgotten about Maffeo? The boy who marshalled Rashford so well in October, the boy he farmed out to Girona? Maffeo, though young and possibly raw, surely was the better option to the ageing Jesus Navas, who’s contract was running down, currently having only two months left along with a whole other host of players. This brought my train of thought to its latest stop on the Navas line: what about Sagna and Zabaleta? Sure, neither of them were getting any younger and their declining athleticism meant they couldn’t get up and down the pitch much more, but as solid back-ups on the cheap? Navas has played a mere handful of games in the position, and hasn’t particularly set the world alight, with many pointing out that his runs often negate the threat of Sterling, who would hold up the ball waiting for an overlap rather than attacking the defender himself. Twitter agreed for the most part.
Certainly, Jesus Navas has been much maligned for his ability. He can’t score, his crosses reach their target once every five, and his worst trait is perhaps his incredible indecisiveness. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a player who hesitates so much. When he’s made a few aggressive steps up the pitch, it often looks like Gandalf has shouted ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!’ at him, causing him to get nervous and turn back. Yet, as the blue mist settled in my head, I started to try and see the positives. Try being the operative word.
He’s a try-hard. That meaning that he does indeed run (three quarters of the way) up and down that right-hand side like he could all day, and this athleticism does bode well for Pep’s side. He does occasionally complete a good cross, as evidenced by the single accurate cross I remember of his this season, against Barcelona for our third goal of the night, but he’s got 0 assists this season in the league so far, albeit playing at least half of this time at right-back. You’d also think if given a pre-season’s worth of training, Navas would be able to hone the art of defending, though some might say he’s still not quite honed the art of attacking.
Moreover, we have to remember that if all goes well, he won’t be our starting right-back. We’ve been linked with both Héctor Bellerín and Kyle Walker, both of whom represent a significant upgrade upon Jesus. Hopefully therefore we’d only see Jesus in early cup ties, and as a late substitute in games we want to see out. This quells my fears of the club settling for mediocrity somewhat, but the prospect of missing out on our top right-back targets still troubles me. If we did sign a top class right-back, this deal could look quite smart – how many right-backs in world football would come to play second fiddle? Perhaps we could look at Barcelona’s right-back trouble – they have had to refashion Sergi Roberto into a right-back rather playing their new signing Aleix Vidal, a signing who has disappointed the Catalans deeply thus far.
As I thought back through the entirely forgettable history of Jesus Navas and Manchester City, I remembered his goal against Everton in the Capital One Cup last season. It was a decent finish to be fair, but what endeared it to my memories was the celebration. Jesus ran over to the fans and celebrated like he’d scored in the Champions League final. This, of course, is of no particular importance when he never scores, though.
Then, I arrived at the final stop on this train of thought. Jesus Navas renewing does not necessarily say everything about City’s summer policy. We still have to shed several players, not least Zabaleta, Sagna, Toure and Clichy. We’ll look to get rid of Hart, Nasri, Bony, Mangala, as well as potential outgoing deals for Nolito and Fernando. This still leaves a great canyon in our side ready to be supplemented by new talent, new faces to renew our side. In some ways, keeping Navas, a player who can now play in, or seemingly is not embarrassingly bad in, two positions, is a fairly shrewd move. He is unlike Zabaleta and Sagna who are both ageing and only able to play in right backs, unsuitable to fill out the squad, and consistently try despite all the odds. We must remember that this deal, after all is said and done, is only one year long. Unless of course we renew him again next year. And the year after.
That’s where I concluded. On the face of it, Jesus Navas’ deal seems like a disease has taken over our club like we’re Medieval Europe, the plague of settling for mediocrity. We look likely to let a true City legend, Pablo Zabaleta, go whilst retaining Navas. But we mustn’t be too hasty, Navas certainly is not as bad as we all think he is, and he definitely has not completely embarrassed himself at right-back. This deal will be embossed or deflated on the basis of whether or not we’ll sign a top class right-back this summer and only hindsight will allow us to comprehend this deal as shrewd or horrendously disappointing. But imagine if Navas outlasts Agüero. Words fail me.
But, if Jesus Navas does score, we’ll be on the pitch. And I love a pitch invasion.