Long before Pep Guardiola announced in December 2015 that he would be leaving Bayern Munich for Manchester City in the following summer, it was no secret that the nouveau riche English outfit were in keen pursuit of the Spaniard. Neither was the fact that if he left the Bavarian giants, the Citizens would be an obvious next step, especially with his friends – Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano – occupying top positions at the Etihad Stadium.

If anything, it was a surprise that Manchester wasn’t Guardiola’s next stop after he reinvigorated during a year-long sabbatical from management following four years of top-flight football with Barcelona, a club where he had to fight opponents both on and off the pitch.

Nevertheless, Manchester City finally had their man as they tied him to a three-year contract in February 2017. The Catalan oversaw his first game – a friendly – with his new team against his previous employers Bayern Munich in late July.

On August 31, Joe Hart was loaned out to Torino in the Italian top flight. It was a little disconcerting that it took the Manchester City management so long to realise that Hart would not fit the archetype of a Guardiola goalkeeper. Goalkeeping being such a pivotal position – especially in a Guardiola style of football – it clearly indicated a lack of thorough planning that the decision to ship Hart off was taken so late.

Bravo is no ball-playing goalkeeper

Amidst talks that Manchester City were interested in signing the current Barcelona No. 1 Marc-Andre ter Stegen, ultimately the then No. 1 Claudio Bravo signed for the Citizens. There is no doubting Bravo’s ability. His exemplary shot-stopping skills and great positioning in one-on-ones had seen Barcelona boss Luis Enrique hand him the goalkeeping duties in the league matches, even though Ter Stegen was considered the better of the two.

Bravo has done exceptionally well with Chile on international duty as well, having guided his national team to back-to-back Copa America titles – the only major titles Chile have won in their over a century old football history. It is worth remembering that both the 2015 and the special 2016 Copa America finals were settled after a penalty shootout against Argentina. And Bravo one-upped Sergio Romero in both the tournaments to claim the winners’ medal.


However, there was one area in which Ter Stegen is head and shoulders above Bravo: playing with his feet.

The Barcelona custodian has a range and precision in launching long balls that would put many deep-lying midfielders to shame. And he also possesses the nerves and the nous to try some tricky balls to defenders in tight positions. Since Barcelona’s attack begins with quality balls from their goalkeeper many club faithful wanted to see Ter Stegen in goal in all competitions. For all his excellence in other nuances of goalkeeping, Bravo is no match for the German when it comes to playing the ball from the back.

In the given circumstances, it was baffling that Bravo’s signing by the English outfit was justified by calling him a ball-playing goalkeeper who would suit Guardiola’s style. Needless to say, Bravo has shown no signs of being much use with his feet. In fact, quite surprisingly he is making uncharacteristic errors leading to comical goals.

The presence of defenders who are themselves capable of protecting, distributing and bringing the ball from the back is equally important for a ball-playing goalkeeper to work. But just like Bravo even his defenders are showing no signs of even possessing their primary skills for the job.

Have money, let’s buy

Over the last five years Manchester City have spent some serious money to land the likes of Matija Nastasic, Eliaquim Mangala, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones among other defenders but none of them have proven themselves worth the money.

Nastasic has since been sold to Schalke; Mangala is out on loan and has all but played his last game for Manchester City. Otamendi has been all over the place and in hindsight his £32million fee seems absurd considering he was signed on the back of just one good season at Valencia. Stones became the second most expensive defender in the world when Manchester City shelled out an initial £47.5 million for him last summer.

The list of mistakes he has made this term will be very long. And perhaps some of them can be forgiven considering his young age but there is no excuse for repeated failures. Although it is never good for the development of a young centre-back to be playing alongside a defensive partner as woefully out of form as Otamendi has been this season.


Guardiola has signed some defensive duds in the past, cue Dmytro Chygrynskiy at Barcelona. He has also tweaked settled defences far too much, cue Philipp Lahm in defensive midfield and Javi Martinez in central defence at Bayern Munich. However, the overall quality of the squad at his two previous sides was far better than his current team and as such individual lapses didn’t prove as expensive as they have done in his first season in the Premier League.

A case of one too many attackers

The signing of Ilkay Gundogan was spot on as his exemplary ball-playing skills would perfectly complement the more defensive Fernandinho at the base of midfield. But Gundogan has had trouble finishing a season injury-free and this term has been no different as he is left nursing a cruciate ligament tear.

The 3-1 defeat of Barcelona in their Champions League group fixture at the Etihad was a perfect illustration of the difference a fit Gundogan can make to his team’s fortunes. But it is indeed unfortunate that the German doesn’t have the same command over his own body as he does over a football.

There is no other midfielder at City who can play his role but they have several who can operate just behind the forward and on the wings. As if the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Leroy Sane are not enough, City have also welcomed Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus this January.

A transition phase

There have been undoubted transfer failings, not just this year, but over the past few. For every good player Manchester City have signed a couple of duds.

However, as they sit fifth in the league table after 21 games with Guardiola having conceded the Premier League title is out of Manchester City’s reach, their current predicament cannot all be attributed to failed transfers. Guardiola is undoubtedly facing a more competitive league than he has done in his past managerial stints and he will be stronger for the experience in the coming seasons.

For now he should be content to see his ideas being assimilated by his disjointed bunch and aim for a realistic goal of securing Champions League football next season.