Going into last summer’s transfer window, the usual marquee names were linked with City. Cavani. Falcao. Reus. You know the type. So it came as a surprise to many when City director of football Txiki Begiristain opted for slightly less glamorous signings, ones he felt would offer good value for money.
Half a season has passed since then and we’ve had chance to see all five of the new signings in action – some more than others. So how have they fared, taking their transfer fee and expectations into account? Here’s my view.
£14.9m from Sevilla
City’s first signing of the summer was speed merchant Navas, one of the few old fashioned wingers left in Spain. Navas had been supposed to join Chelsea when he was 20, but chronic homesickness killed the deal and kept him at Sevilla for years, despite interest from top clubs.
Having overcome his issues, Navas made the big move to Manchester, giving City a speedy and direct winger, something City fans had been pleading for but the type of player Mancini wasn’t too keen on in his system.
Navas made a hit-and-miss start, showing plenty of pace and trickery but delivering little in the way of assists and goals. His assist against United in September was his first in the league, but City career didn’t really explode into life until the 6-0 massacre of Spurs, where he put in a near flawless performance that included two goals and an assist.
Since the Spurs game, whether as a starter or off the bench, Navas has been in tremendous form. In his last four appearances, he has managed three assists and one goal. He has already matched his total number of assists for Sevilla last season, with half of this year’s campaign still to go.
It’s quite amusing really that Navas’ form is improving in the midst of a cold English winter. If any player fit the lazy stereotype of the foreigner who would struggle on cold winter nights in English football, it’s Navas. But he has gotten better as the weather has become chillier!
Navas has been a quality signing for City and offers a genuine “Plan B”, something we had been missing under Mancini. £14.9m for a World Cup and Euro winning Spain international looked a good deal on paper, and has been in reality.
Rating: 8 out of 10
£16.9m from Sevilla
The £16.9m signing of Spain international Negredo came as a disappointment to those who were expecting Edinson Cavani (£55m to PSG) or Radamel Falcao (£50m to Monaco), as they had were the marquee names on the market and both linked with City.
What some failed to realise is that Negredo had entered his prime in the season just gone and was outscoring many of the big names. His physical presence also made him an ideal match for the Premier League, moreso than his countryman Roberto Soldado who has looked half the player Negredo has in England, despite the two being on a similar level in La Liga.
Negredo isn’t a hard signing to judge – he has been a complete success and proven more than value for money. Goals have come frequently from “The Beast”, but just as important has been his overall contribution to the team and partnership with Aguero. For example, he didn’t score in September’s derby win over United, but was a nightmare for Vidic and Ferdinand, and notched up two assists. He has been a true “system” signing, someone who has slotted in like a well oiled cog.
The longest Negredo has gone without scoring is four games, and one of those was the aforementioned 4-1 win over United where his performance was phenomenal. Before his 35 minutes on the pitch against Palace at weekend, Negredo had scored in nine successive home games, something that has led to him already becoming a cult hero at the Etihad.
If there has been one flaw in Negredo’s first half-season, it is his lack of goals on the road compared to at home. Dzeko has been scoring more away from home, but Negredo’s lack of goals doesn’t mean he has played poorly. His assist for Milner against Fulham is an example of his contributions on the road.
At 28, Negredo is in the prime of his career and probably has 4 or 5 years left at this level. Should he be able to maintain the quality he has shown so far, £16.9m will be one of City’s greatest ever bargains. Cavani and Falcao – who needs them?
Rating: 9 out of 10
£30m from Shakhtar Donetsk
When Fernandinho become the third most expensive player in Manchester City history, behind only compatriot Robinho and modern day icon Aguero, eyebrows were raised. The obvious questions surfaced, such as how good could he be having played in the Ukraine until he was 28? How good could he be having only five caps for Brazil?
Anyone who saw Fernandinho light up the Champions League for Shakhtar last season knew the quality of the player. Up against Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus in the 2012/13 Champions League, he didn’t just hold his own against some of Europe’s top teams, but outshone many opposition players.
Fernandinho’s price tag worked against him in his early days as a City player, with some unfair criticism of him. He wasn’t perfect at first and was very prone to picking up yellow cards, but his performances weren’t as bad as some made out and in the games he was average in, his midfield partner (Yaya Toure) wasn’t any better.
His stellar performance in the Manchester derby, where he made United’s £27.5m signing Fellaini look like a pub league player, started to win the doubters over, but it was in the second half of October that his adjustment to English football seemed to end and he moved up a level.
Fernandinho has become not only one of City’s best players this season, but one of the Premier League’s best players. A good site for player performance stats, WhoScored, has him down as the 8th best player in the league so far this season, higher than any other summer signing in the Premier League.
Fernandinho combines what both De Jong and Barry brought to the team, but offers so much more, such as his ability to join in the attack. He played a box-to-box role at Shakhtar and has had to adapt to a more disciplined holding role at City, but more and more we’re seeing him surge forward and it’s a sight to behold, with the Brazilian’s creativity allowing him to pass between the lines and create chances.
One gripe about Fernandinho is, or was, his lack of goals. He’s wasted some good chances in front of goal, but his brace against Arsenal including one peach of a goal has started to remedy that.
A potential worry is that Fernandinho has spent many years in Ukraine, a slower league with fewer games. No player has started more games than Fernandinho (24 starts) this season and City run the risk of burning out the Brazilian in his first season experiencing the intensity of English football.
Many would rank Negredo as the signing of the season and there is a strong case for him, but I give the nod to Fernandinho. Partnered with Yaya Toure, he has moved City’s midfield up to the next level, something that has also benefited us in the Champions League.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
£3.5m from Atlético Madrid
City’s failed pursuit of Real Madrid’s Pepe led to a late scramble for defensive reinforcements in the summer window. They opted for the experienced Demichelis, who had been named in La Liga’s Team of the Year playing for Málaga under Pellegrini.
At 32 (now 33), Demichelis was obviously a short-term solution and the intention was likely for him to act mainly as a backup, as he would have at Atlético Madrid behind Godin and Miranda.
However, injuries to Kompany and Nastasić have meant Demichelis has played regularly for the Blues. Before his recent injury, he had completed 90 minutes in twelve successive Premier League and Champions League games, only being given the night off in a couple of Capital One Cup matches.
Demichelis hasn’t been a mega-hit signing like Negredo, Navas and Fernandinho. But neither has he been the disaster the faux pundit Alan Hansen would have you believe. At times he has struggled with the pace of English football and makes mistakes, but his reading of the game is impressive as is his forward thinking passing. He is also a threat in the opposition box from corners and free kicks.
Overall, he has been a solid signing, about what you’d expect from a 33-year-old who cost £3.5m. Having to play so many games at his age can’t have been easy with the ferocious pace of English football. He has adjusted to English football much better than £6m flop Stefan Savić did, and with so many injuries in central defence this season, has proven decent value for money.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
£22m from Fiorentina
There is an unwritten rule in football that when you sign players in a bulk, at least one of them has to be a disaster. Jovetić would be the closest to that so far, but to call him a flop, misfit, disaster or any such moniker would be unfair. To receive such titles, you surely have to fail on the pitch, something Jovetić hasn’t even had the chance to do.
Of all the summer signings, the Montenegrin excited many City fans the most. A versatile and technically gifted attacker, Jovetić joined City on the back of an excellent season at Fiorentina. One, I might add, that was mostly uninterrupted by injuries.
His first half-season at City has been ruined by injuries, though. Bizarrely, some in the media are ignoring this and pretending he is some kind of misfit who just can’t get a game. This isn’t true, of course, and we have been left frustrated by the many setbacks keeping “Jo-Jo” out of the City team.
Jovetić has played just 187 minutes for City so far, in that time scoring a brace against Wigan in the Capital One Cup, a tantilizing preview of what we can expect. He was also outstanding in the summer friendly against AC Milan. And during one of his spells of fitness, he outshone Rooney in the “number 10” role in the World Cup qualifier between England and Montenegro.
Jovetić is now training again and seems very close to a return. Pellegrini has spoken of his hopes for Jovetić and City believe he can be like a brand new signing in January. Fingers crossed he can put his injury hell behind him and show us what he is capable of.
There is a lot of skepticism about the “Director of Football” model in England. Most top clubs outside of England have someone in this role, overseeing transfer policy and other areas of the club, but most previous attempts in England have failed badly – Damien Comolli’s £110m spending spree on mediocre English talent at Liverpool is the perfect example of that.
Txiki Begiristain’s work in the summer transfer window (and in other departments at the club) has proven that this model can work in England, as long as you have the right man in charge. And the former Barcelona chief has proven to be the right man.
Rather than go solely for the A-listers (besides Pepe, who Real Madrid wouldn’t sell because of Varane’s injury), he used his knowledge and City’s scouting network to acquire players who have proven to be fully compatible with the style of football City want to play, most of them at good prices.
City were also close to signing Isco from Málaga and chances are he too would have been a great signing, but the resurgence of Nasri means few are still disappointed about missing out on him.
There is nothing scattergun about City’s transfer policy anymore and these new signings have proven it. With the exception of Jovetić, who I’m very confident can be a great signing if he can just stay fit, all of them have contributed something, with Negredo, Navas and Fernandinho making this an undeniably successful group of signings.