There are two pieces of evidence that point to City signing a new central midfielder in January.
Exhibit 1: Transfer master Gianluca Di Marzio, who has come into his own as Europe’s most respected and reliable source for transfer news, reports that City have had a cash + Javi Garcia bid turned down for Benfica’s Nemanja Matić.
Exhibit 2: Respected football man Tor-Kristian Karlsen, formerly employed by Monaco, Zenit, Leverkusen and other clubs, claims that City are after a reputable midfielder (from outside of the Premier League).
City have two outstanding but overworked central midfielders, Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, and the large drop in quality when either is injured or rested continues to worry City fans.
Garcia works hard, but just can’t seem to get to grips with the English game. Rodwell is a promising player, but is regularly injured and after 1 1/2 seasons still can’t be relied on. Milner’s best position seems to be on the flanks – at least according to Mancini, Pellegrini, Capello and Hodgson.
City are set to sign Bruno Zuculini in the near future, a promising young Argentine, but he is said to be rough around the edges and a loan deal could be the starting point for his European adventure.
So it would come as no surprise if City are actively pursuing a new central midfielder of proven quality. But who could it be?
Combining market rumours from recent months and our own information, here are five possible signings from abroad City may be considering for January.
Nemanja Matić (25, Benfica)
We start with the one City have already tried to acquire, at least according to Di Marzio. Nemanja Matić is a “Chelsea reject”, which has predictably led to the question: “So why would City want him?”. Well, that is simple enough to answer. Players improve! Matić was deemed expendable by Chelsea and thrown into the deal that saw David Luiz head to Stamford Bridge. Funnily enough, it was the sale of Garcia to City in the summer of 2012 that saw Matić given a chance to step up as a regular in the Benfica first team, and he impressed. The 6’4″ warrior has matured into a commanding presence, capable of winning duels both on the ground and in the air. But Matić is more than your typical midfield destroyer, possessing a good pass and the ability to attack. He seems a far more ideal fit for the Premier League than Garcia, and having already spent a couple of years at Chelsea would have few problems settling. His fellow Serbian internationals Kolarov and Nastasić are already at City, a detail that could help lure him to Manchester.
As already mentioned, City are said to have made a bid of cash + Javi Garcia for Matić, but Benfica rejected the deal. City could go back with an improved offer, but there are potential complications such as Garcia’s wages and rival interest in the player. Chelsea are known to be keen on taking him back and Ramires said in a recent interview that he thinks they should sign him. PSG are also known to be interested and have spoken to the intermediary Jorge Mendes about a possible deal. Benfica are thought to have lowered their valuation of Matić recently and £25m should be enough to sign a player who is only in his mid-20s and has massive upside.
Blaise Matuidi (26, PSG)
City are known admirers of France midfielder Matuidi, who Carlo Ancelotti last year described as “one of the best midfielders in Europe”. Matuidi’s ability to read the game, much like Fernandinhos, is exceptional and also like the Brazilian he is a modern day midfielder with not only excellent defensive skills, but also the ability to contribute to attacking play. Matuidi’s passing and technical ability would also make him a good fit for City, the 26-year-old having a 91.3% pass accuracy in Ligue 1 and 94.1% pass accuracy in the Champions League so far this season. He would join fellow French internationals Nasri and Clichy at the Etihad Stadium if City could tempt him away from the French capital.
Matuidi was expected to have renewed his PSG contract by now and still could in the next month, but if he doesn’t there will be a frantic race for his services from some of Europe’s top clubs. If contract talks with PSG continue to stall, Matuidi will be the bargain of next summer on a free transfer – unless someone can tempt PSG to part with their influential midfielder in January with a cash offer. A tough task with PSG still in the Champions League and top of Ligue 1. City, Chelsea and Barcelona are the three clubs most commonly linked with Matuidi, a clear sign of his talent. Everything depends on the outcome of his final contract talks with PSG, but if City could snatch him it would be a huge coup.
Xabi Alonso (32, Real Madrid)
Alonso needs little introduction. A bona fide superstar of world football, Alonso has been in the spotlight for years at Liverpool, Real Madrid and of course for the Spanish national team, with whom he has won the World Cup and European Championship. Alonso is now 32 but remains a fantastic footballer with outstanding technique and one of the best passing ranges in European football. Alonso has very little pace, something that can be a problem in the Premier League (see: Garcia, Javi), but his intelligence and ability to read the game make said lack of pace a non-issue as already shown when he was one of the Premier League’s best midfielders for Liverpool. Alonso might not be a long-term option, though these deep-lying playmakers can go well into their 30s, but would add proven ability and experience to the squad while suiting City’s playing style.
Much like Matuidi, a January move could be difficult but not necessarily impossible. He is another out of contract next summer and according to Marca today, he is leaning towards a Real Madrid exit despite a 2-year offer being on the table. Alonso may want a new challenge and an ambitious club like City could offer him the chance to continue playing at a high level while competing for trophies. Alonso’s financial demands are likely to be high, but any transfer fee in January would be fairly nominal due to his age and contract situation. If Real Madrid do agree to let him go in January, City would face competition from a host of clubs, but the Spanish connection and standing of the club would give them a good chance of landing El Señor.
Fernando (26, FC Porto)
Porto midfielder Fernando is the third player on this list who is down to 6 months left on his contract, something that has alerted clubs around Europe. City scouts are very active in this part of the world and will have noted his excellent performances this season for Porto. Nicknamed O Polvo (The Octopus) because he never stops running, Fernando is another tenacious holding midfielder who could help add some steel to a City side that often looks too open. He is a very industrious midfielder with excellent tackling ability, but also a clever player with a surprisingly good disciplinary record for a battling midfielder. His impressive season so far has led to a tug-of-war between his native Brazil and Portugal, who he is eligible for, with both wanting to call up the uncapped player.
Fernando is the lowest profile of the names on this list, so he could be the easiest to acquire for City if they move for him. United were briefly linked with him in October, but Liverpool and Fiorentina have been more commonly linked with him recently. Porto are notoriously tough negotiators, but find themselves in a weakened position and are out of the Champions League. Fernando’s release clause is £25m, but with his contract up in June they will be lucky to command £10m for him. Given Porto’s regular need to sell, the chances of him leaving in January are very high, and one phone call from City could be enough for a deal.
Lassana Diarra (28, Lokomotiv Moscow)
A name well known to Premier League fans, Lass Diarra has played for Arsenal, Chelsea and Portsmouth in the past. An excellent season for Portsmouth led to a £19m transfer to Real Madrid at the beginning of 2009, and he spent 3 1/2 years in the Spanish capital. Diarra was no flop at Real Madrid and played regularly, but the nature of that club means there is a high turnover of players and he was finally sold to wealthy Russian sides Anzhi last year. Anzhi’s cost-cutting led to a “first come, first serve” fire sale and Lokomotiv Moscow snapped him up in the summer. He has impressed at Lokomotiv, being named player of the month by fans in both November and December. This has led to speculation about his future with both City and former club Arsenal linked with him this month. At 28, Diarra should just about be in his prime and deserves a better platform than the Russian Premier League to showcase his skills. He is an all-action midfielder who is familiar with English football and would add more quality depth to City’s midfield. His versatility, which allows him to play at centre-back and right-back, is arguably something City need – a few more James Milner types who can play around the pitch when the squad is beset by injuries, as it has been lately.
Let’s be honest, Diarra would probably jump at the chance to join City, so the real question is whether City genuinely want him or whether the reports from Russia are agent talk. Diarra has played at the highest level for top clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid) so could be considered a low-risk signing for City. Monaco and PSG were thought to be keen on him before he moved to Moscow, but have probably moved on to other targets now. His transfer fee to Lokomotiv was thought to be in the £10m range, so assuming the Russians are willing to do business, this is the sort of offer that might land the 28-year-old.
These are just five possibilities and I’ve tried to keep it realistic. But who knows, it could be someone not on this list that City are after. City have been linked with the excellent Paul Pogba for example, but a £40m+ swoop for him in January might be out of the question and Juventus have no reason to part with him just yet.
Perhaps Txiki Begiristain will spring a surprise like he did when he opted for Negredo, Navas and Fernandinho over high profile names who had been linked with the Blues – signings that raised some eyebrows but have been masterstrokes. A diamond in the rough from La Liga, maybe? Time will tell, but any high quality midfielder would add crucial quality in depth to one of the few positions lacking it at City.