This summer may not see wholesale changes at Manchester City but, for the first time in 10 years, they will have to face life without Sergio Aguero. Not only has the club’s greatest ever goalscorer announced that he will be departing when his contract expires in a few weeks, as expected, but City boss Pep Guardiola is now facing up to a first in his career: he’ll have no world class striker to call upon. So who could City recruit as a replacement for Sergio Aguero? All eyes are on Guardiola to see how he will react.
A move for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland has been so heavily discussed that, in some ways it feels like a matter of time until the Norwegian heads to the Etihad Stadium, a club his father, Alfie, knows all about. It would certainly make sense. Haaland, despite being only 20 years of age, would represent a safe transition from the regular source of goals Agüero proved to be until injuries took hold. Alongside Kylian Mbappe, he is believed by many to be the future of football. The pair are expected to represent a rivalry which will emulate and replace that of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Although Haaland’s agent and father landed in Barcelona for talks over his next move this week, before reportedly heading over to Real Madrid, City remain the most viable option financially given the debt Joan Laporta inherited at Camp Nou. Seeing both Haaland Snr and Mino Raiola fly into Manchester at some point in the spring would be the least surprising news of the year. As far as a potential replacement for Sergio Aguero goes, Haaland’s name is obviously at the top of the list.
Dortmund’s stance, in what could become a real saga, should not prove too difficult to navigate. Their entire recruitment model is based upon acquiring and improving talent for re-sale value. Having only signed Haaland from Red Bull Salzburg in January last year, a deal may come a little early for their liking. Raiola, though, has already suggested the player could make his choice now, in which case Dortmund’s focus swiftly turns to a profit. They could easily demand a fee in the proximity of the world record, even in these precarious times.
Such a move makes total sense; but cannot be taken for granted in the manner it has been. City are believed to be looking for a long-term filler of the Sergio Aguero void meaning Messi, who became a mouth-wateringly realistic signing last summer as his standoff with Barcelona rumbled on, isn’t likely to be his replacement. That approach should, theoretically, be another tick in the Haaland column but actively signing the very best players available has seldom been Guardiola’s style, particularly in attack. He has preferred to develop what he inherits and sign highly-rated but, for the most part, unearthed talent. Any move for Haaland will depend on whether Guardiola still sees him as that, or rather that he has built up too big a reputation already.
The counter-argument is that the Catalan has never needed to dip into the market for a world class focal point. At Barcelona, he inherited Messi and built an entire tactical concept around him. Bayern Munich signed Robert Lewandowski the season before Guardiola’s arrival, meaning the pair convened in Bavaria at the same time. City, with Aguero, allowed him to rest easy on that front, too. Although with the latter, there were mumblings of discontent which were accentuated by the arrival of Gabriel Jesus midway through his debut season.
Guardiola is incredibly fond of the Brazilian but it is difficult to make a case that he has developed enough as a player to fill Aguero’s boots. With that in mind, this may be the right time for him to go all in for a top striker as a replacement for Sergio Aguero. Haaland is the clear favourite but Romelu Lukaku, Inter’s former Manchester United striker, and Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane are never too far away from the gossip columns. Both would require hefty investment and are unlikely to improve any further, due to age. For that reason it feels unlikely that Guardiola would opt for them.
Lukaku’s teammate at San Siro, Lautaro Martinez, could be another option. Of those supposedly in the frame, he is the closest player to Aguero stylistically. His goal record isn’t phenomenal, netting 14 goals in each of his last two Serie A campaigns but, at 23, he is the same age Agüero was when he left Atletico Madrid in 2011. Partnering Diego Forlan at the Vicente Calderón saw him take a similarly withdrawn role as Martinez has next to Lukaku at Inter. Guardiola could help him thrive at City, despite the step up.
Benfica’s Darwin Nuñez is making waves in Portugal and may be worth a look but at this stage nothing has been spoken about. There is also the far less exciting possibility that no striker arrives this summer, with Guardiola having perfected a system with no focal point, even when Jesus has been fit. Ferran Torres, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne have all played centrally and, although not acquiring a replacement for Sergio Aguero would invariably invite scrutiny, he may opt to go in that direction or potentially sign a cheaper alternative. Danny Ings’ name has been mentioned and his Southampton contract only has one season to run.
Whatever happens, Manchester City are at a crossroads. Aguero is the best striker in their history and he is also the last remaining member of the first great team of the Abu Dhabi Group-funded era. Guardiola will be making a huge mark on the club with his next decision with regards his firepower. The obvious names will all be discussed, but don’t be too surprised if none of them come to fruition this summer.
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