It’s difficult to remember a summer transfer window in recent times where we haven’t gone out and signed a central defender. This summer has been no different with John Stones arriving from Everton. The signing of Stones has been identified for a clear purpose: a ball playing, young, English centre-back that seems built for a Guardiola approach to defensive work and the role of a central defender with undoubted room for development – not unlike some of our previous signings.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it still hurts nonetheless to see promising talent slip through the net and then develop, in some cases, at an exponential rate. The signing and subsequent sale of Jérôme Boateng is a case that I’m sure would irk many a fan, especially having seen him develop into a top rate centre-back at Bayern, performing at a consistently high level in the Champions League, and then going on to win the world cup with Germany. Mancini played Boateng a lot at right-back, Boateng consistently stated he wanted to play in the middle but, to be honest, never really looked like he wanted to play at all and finally got the move that he wanted all along – Bayern.
Stefan Savić played in the Champions League final for Atlético Madrid, a team known for its concrete defence, but ultimately lost on penalties. There were times when Savić looked like a player in a City shirt but I don’t think many of us would have predicted that meteoric rise in fortune. Savić’s case is difficult though, with his father’s suicide just prior to his move to Manchester no doubt having an impact on a lad just 20 years old.
Unlike Savić, Matija Nastasić started brilliantly in the Bernabéu against Real Madrid in the Champions League. His promise was no doubt halted by a series of injuries and then his development seemed to stall completely under Pellegrini, leading to a loan-to-buy at Schalke. Pellegrini’s somewhat basic approach to defending was no doubt a factor in what had been a promising start under Mancini.
Mancini had also given first-team debuts to Dedryck Boyata and Karim Rekik, both of whom started few games but were given an opportunity in the side – an opportunity to develop – but were then farmed out on loan deals. Rekik went on to win the Eredivisie title with PSV in consecutive seasons having made his switch permanent, and Boyata went on a string of mainly unsuccessful loans only to return to City in what seemed like a manoeuvre to fulfill a Champions League quota.
We have in our current squad two young centre-backs in Jason Denayer and Tosin Adarabioyo. Denayer, with international experience, experience of two season-long loans, the second of which, in my opinion, should never have happened, can rightly feel hard done by in his professional development at City. Hindsight again, but I can’t help but think that Denayer would be in a far better position this season had he been allowed to step into the first-team squad last year, but signing Otamendi put paid to that.
Maybe with Denayer it has been a case of unfortunate timing with his breakthrough coming during Pellegrini’s reign, a man with blind loyalty to Martín Demichelis. The same can’t be said for Tosin Adarabioyo, though.
Tosin has been thrown into this summer’s pre-season plans with all of the youth development gusto that we’ve seen from Pep previously, especially at Barcelona. It’s easy to level this fact at this summer’s European Championships and Copa America keeping many of our first team squad on extended holiday, but, unlike with Mancini and Pellegrini, I don’t believe, or don’t want to believe, that this is the case. We have seen players develop under Pep’s tutelage in that central defensive position, Boateng being one, Pique being another, becoming outstanding and consistent performers.
Not for one minute am I saying that Tosin should be thrown straight in there, but I do see a lot of similarities in his game to those of Pique, Boateng and even Stones. Maybe now will be the time that we have ‘one of our own’ developed properly, given an opportunity, afforded mistakes and go on to feature regularly for the first-team, as well as further development for another high profile defensive signing in Stones. Scouting these young players, Savić, Nastasić, etc, has undoubtedly unearthed some rough gems, and maybe under Guardiola we now have the right tool to sharpen and polish them into real diamonds. That really puts Tosin, and especially Stones, in a fantastic position to fulfil their promise.