Transition. It’s a word used universally in football these days. It carries different meanings depending on the context in which it’s being used. For example, a side with all of the tools necessary to challenge at the very top of the game often scream ‘transition’ as their season slowly crumbles into nothingness. To flip the coin a little, a side with none of the tools capable to challenge at the top will sometimes whimper the word ‘transition’. This generally occurs when the team begins to come to terms with the fact that their season is going nowhere. In these instances, the word ‘transition’ is an excuse.
Manchester City are a club in transition. Our impending transition fits neither of these two definitions though. We are about to see a seismic change with regards to three stalwarts within our ranks. Three players that stand for everything we love about Manchester City – passion, leadership, talent, dedication.
Nonetheless, their expiry date is nearing. Manchester City’s transition will be very real.
This isn’t just about Pep Guardiola’s imminent chopping and changing. The very identity of the club could be about to change. Since the takeover of Sheikh Mansour in 2008, there have been a number of names synonymous with the name ‘Manchester City’. Some of those names arrived at the beginning (some even arrived before the takeover), others gradually entered the revolution, notably Yaya Toure in 2010, along with David Silva. All in all, we have seen some incredible talent in front of our eyes over the last 8 years. We have been treated to some incredible moments, Yaya Toure the FA Cup King, Pablo Zabaleta bleeding from every laceration imaginable and finally captain Vincent Kompany, leading us every step of the way.
Those three names represent everything that has been special about the club in the last 8 years. Who can honestly say that those individuals have not been world-class during periods in their City career? Unfortunately though, that is all about to change, and it is a process that began a long time ago.
Perhaps the most obvious of declines has come from Pablo Zabaleta. Not without his injury concerns, Zaba has found it incredibly difficult to fashion a way into the team this year. Granted, he’s had his call-ups, but during any point in this lacklustre campaign, ask yourself if you’ve truly considered him to be a better option than Bacary Sagna. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest Sagna fan in the world, he’s a competent, defensive right-back. He reads the game well, he’s accomplished aerially and generally speaking he’s not left wanting in most games. However, if we compare him to the Zabaleta of two or three years ago, Sagna simply doesn’t compete. He doesn’t possess the attacking qualities, intelligence or adventurousness that the Argentine once did, and unfortunately for Bacary, this will hold him back when Pep’s revolution begins. Needless to say, that doesn’t help Zabaleta at all, because not only does Zabaleta now lack the pace and the sharpness to involve himself in City’s attacking feasts, he’s severely lost a touch defensively. No longer do you feel safe when Zaba is on the pitch, he looks slow, tired and if we’re being honest – he looks a way off being a starter for any ambitious side in the Premier League. I feel that Zaba’s time at City is coming to an end, be it a transfer away in the summer, or a continued phase-out of the first team, we’ve seen the best years of our Argentinian Blue.
Two seasons ago, you’d have found it hard to argue that Yaya Toure’s time at City would end in the next decade, let alone a couple of years. He was scoring goals for fun, he was carrying the side in the bigger games, and he could always be relied upon to provide the spectacular and the stunning. If we delve even further back in time, he didn’t just contribute to trophies, he won them at times single-handedly. The 2011 F.A. Cup triumph was in large part down to Toure’s heroics, the 2012 Premier League win saw him produce memorable performances aplenty, but who can forget the two goals at St. James’ Park to send us within 93 minutes and 20 seconds of our first title since 1968? However, in the last two seasons, Yaya’s decline has become more and more obvious. There are still people who defend the Ivorian tooth and nail, but his performance in the Bernabeu captivated why the end is nigh for the 32 year-old. Walking after opponents, slowing the game no-end, firing lethargic passes out wide to create meaningful attacks… for the opposition, these are all things that have become typical of Yaya in the last two years.
In honesty, I’m not sure that Yaya has ever been an attacking midfield player. I’m extremely hard-pressed to think of a time that Yaya was played behind the striker and made even a miniscule contribution to the game. He’s a guy whose best football has come from seeing the game ahead of him, he’s the quarter-back, the deep-lying lock-picker. Whilst Toure’s attitude has often been questioned, it’s no longer the primary reason to offload him, his footballing ability has taken a nosedive – to the point where a previously criticised Fernando has more or less moved above Yaya in the pecking order. He’s never been anything but a liability defensively, but is no longer making up for the lack of effort by producing the goods in the attacking third, and ultimately, that spells trouble. Don’t misconceive the message here, Yaya Toure is one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen, but his exit will come as no surprise and be met with little protest from this particular Blue.
Cometh the hour, cometh the captain. There is perhaps no name that represents Manchester City better than Vincent Kompany. A leader, a fantastic player and a man whose human qualities seem to reach no end either. But, as much as it pains me to say it, Vincent Kompany can no longer be relied upon by anybody at City. I’m not suggesting for a second that Vinnie will be out of the door in the summer, he’ll have his time to prove his fitness under Pep, no doubt. However, the idea that our defence should fall back on the Belgian powerhouse should be squashed immediately. I have felt some seriously flat feelings watching City over the years, but nothing compares to the feeling 10 or so minutes into a game, where Kompany drops to the floor and looks over to the bench – everyone knows what’s happened, nobody is surprised and yet the feeling of shock remains.
We can try to convince ourselves that one day Vinnie will get fit, and none of these injuries will ever reoccur, but it’s a fallacy. Meanwhile, we fail to address the bigger problems on the pitch, we’ve never bought a centre-back who comes close to rivalling his ability, and when all is said and done – no matter how good Kompany is, if he’s sat in the stands, he’s no good. With Vinnie, there is a bigger role to play, maybe his playing days are numbered, but his leadership ability is unquestionable and this is not a plea to offload him. But, we do need to address the unlikelihood that he can sustain a full season without two/three big injury scares at least. It’s time to invest in a defence that doesn’t need Kompany around, don’t put him at the top of the food chain anymore, don’t rely on him, don’t expect anything from him, because unfortunately if you do that – you’ll likely be left disappointed.
These three players have given us joy over the years, they are undoubtedly three of the most decorated and popular players during this era of success, but their respective clocks are ticking, some more forcefully than others. The club is going to need new heroes, new leaders and ultimately – a new face of success.