At a time where transfer speculation is rife, so comes the time to assess the current stock. Who will stay? Who will go? Obviously, I cannot predict the future. Some of the players on this list might be heading for the exit door, after all, they are unlikely successes. If I was to guess now, I’d presume at least one of the five won’t be wearing sky blue next season – but we’ll see. So, how have I chosen these five players? The criteria (so to speak) is that they simply wouldn’t be tipped as an obvious success story under Pep. There are question marks surrounding these names, be it that they either haven’t impressed during their time at City, or that their race looks run – here are my top five unlikely success stories of the Pep era.
Number Five: Yaya Toure
This is by far the longest shot of my list of five. In all likelihood, Yaya will be on his way in the coming months. But, is there any reason to believe he could be a fixture under Pep? Maybe. The dominating Ivorian has been an icon in the last few years, sometimes delivering trophies near single-handedly. But his clock has been ticking for a while, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s been massively impressed with him in the last two years.
Why might he succeed under Pep? Yaya might be ageing, but it doesn’t necessarily dictate a player’s quality. Across Europe we have seen older midfielders who simply dictate the game from a deeper role, and for me, that is the role that Yaya would need to adopt if he were to be a success under Pep. His legs are nearly out of gas, but Yaya still claims one of the best passes in the squad. The 40-yard runs need to scrapped, and some work would need to be done on his defensive responsibilities. But, if supported correctly, Yaya may still have a part to play in City’s future.
Number Four: Samir Nasri
Whether or not Nasri will remain at the Etihad beyond this summer is still a very active talking point. If he does though, I think he would find himself an active part of the squad, contributing regularly. Over the years, I haven’t been Samir’s biggest fan. At times, his lethargic strut frustrates me, he almost looks as if he isn’t too fussed. On top of this, his injury record hasn’t been great in recent years and it wouldn’t be massively surprising if he was for the chop.
Why might he succeed under Pep? Nasri has quality, he’s a technician who knows how to retain the ball and that is something that Guardiola won’t turn his nose up at. Is he the most explosive flair player in the league? No. Can he pick a pass, score a goal and steady things when needed? Absolutely. In more recent seasons I’ve began to appreciate the job that Nasri is capable of. I’d argue that he’s one of the best ball retainers in the squad, and with Pep almost certainly bringing a style with him that demands possession, Nasri might not be out of the door as quickly as some are expecting.
Number Three: Fernando
It was reported this week that Guardiola has decided to hold on to Fernando for next season, and it wouldn’t surprise me all that much. Fernando joined City a couple of seasons back and admittedly, hasn’t had it all his own way. Especially in his earlier days as a Blue, Fernando struggled to really get to grips with the pace of the English game. Although, in more recent times has looked much more comfortable in the setup.
Why might he succeed under Pep? Fernando isn’t a player who wants to sit in a two-man midfield, putting out fires and attempting to make attacking contributions along the way. Unfortunately, at times during Pellegrini’s spell in charge, he was asked to do just that. Under Pep, Fernando would likely find himself the holding midfielder as part of a three-man midfield. When this has been the case under Pellegrini, the Brazilian has looked accomplished, even resulting in praise from the stands from time to time. Fernando is a good passer of the ball with an edge that a lot of the team lacks, and if channelled correctly, he may well find himself an unlikely part of Pep’s plans.
Number Two: Nicolas Otamendi
For me, a player with a great chance of making an impact under Pep is Nicolas Otamendi. It’s not been an easy first season for the Argentinian centre-back. Dubbed ‘the best defender in La Liga’ a season ago, it was a move that must’ve seemed an attractive prospect to most City fans. It wasn’t without its complaints though, as many City fans wanted to see the young Belgian, Jason Denayer, given a chance in the first team. Ultimately though, Manuel Pellegrini opted to ship Denayer out to Galatasary on a season-long loan, with Otamendi filling the fourth centre-back slot.
Obviously, it’s impossible to know if Denayer would’ve done a better job, but Otamendi certainly had his difficulties during his first season at the Etihad. A defender whose approach is very ‘all or nothing’, Nicolas regularly lays himself on the line (quite literally) in an attempt to nab the ball away from on rushing attackers. Sometimes it works, and at others… it doesn’t. Despite being a decent enough ‘footballing’ centre-half, he has work to do on his defensive ability.
Why might he succeed under Pep? Simply put – the footballing ability that Otamendi does possess will interest Guardiola. Pep isn’t the sort of manager who needs four lots of Vinnie Jones’ in the defence, he wants players who can pass the ball. Granted, Otamendi’s defensive performances would have to improve greatly if he were to become a permanent fixture in a successful Pep side. But, his ability to fast-track attacks by bypassing a midfielder and playing the ball straight to the front man won’t be ignored by Pep. An Otamendi who stays on his feet more often could well prove to be a valuable asset in the coming seasons.
Number One: Raheem Sterling
The most likely benefactor of incoming Guardiola is Raheem Sterling. Following his £49 million move from Liverpool last summer, it was a very stop and start season for Raheem. I don’t imagine there are many City fans out there who believe that Sterling is worth that kind of money now, and they wouldn’t be wrong. But, City didn’t pay that kind of money for Sterling now, they splashed that kind of cash on what Sterling may well become. I’m a Sterling fan, on the other hand, I’m not trying to suggest he’s had a fantastic season – he hasn’t. He’s had games where he’s looked like dynamite, but they have been few and far between. More often than not, he looks lightweight with appalling knack for decision-making and a face devoid of confidence. Still though, his return of 11 goals isn’t a disaster and there is definitely a player there that can be tapped into.
Why might he succeed under Pep? Well, you could argue that the reason he hasn’t been a success already is partly down to Pellegrini’s system. Often a slow, repetitive and downright predictable style of play often made it hard for Sterling to make any kind of impact. With a manager like Guardiola to work with, Raheem may well find himself in a system that plays to his strengths. Faster, more attacking football, with high-quality, overlapping full-backs and instructions that actually encourage him to take risks and beat men. I’m sure there are many sceptics out there, but I’d lay all of my chips on the table for Sterling to be a huge success under Pep.