The City Summary (January 26, 2014)

City today discovered that they will face Chelsea in the FA Cup 5th Round, one of two huge matches drawn out of the bag (the other being Arsenal vs. Liverpool).

The good news is that this will take place at Fortress Etihad, where City have been so strong this season.

The bad news is that it falls just before the Barcelona home game and City would ideally have liked to make wholesale changes, but if they do that now it risks an FA Cup exit.

The English powers-that-be have often been criticised for not helping out their teams in Europe, but will surely have to put this game on the Saturday (February 15), or else City will be playing Chelsea on Sunday (February 16) and Barcelona on Tuesday (February 18).

Chelsea have no European game that week, so don’t have that worry and will be able to field their strongest side no matter what.

Either way, this is a season of blockbuster games for City! And those on the FA Cup scheme are assured that tickets will be priced no more than £25 for the Chelsea game, as stipulated by the club.

Yaya Toure has admitted that he may quit international football after this year’s World Cup.

Yaya, who turns 31 in May, has been considering his international career for some time, especially after back-to-back African Cup of Nations tournaments in 2012 and 2013 meant City were without him for many important games.

The World Cup would be an ideal time for him to bow out and would mean he could skip the 2015 African Cup of Nations in Morocco.

Africa’s best footballer said:

“I will see what happens at the World Cup. It’s a very difficult decision and I want to do it at the right moment.

“I am thinking about it, but I haven’t decided when it will happen.

“I want to leave with a good name, in a good moment. The generation of players we have has always been regarded as something special, so we all want to give something good to remember.”

City are long-term admirers PSG and France midfielder Blaise Matuidi and according to Canal+ in France, have offered him a bumper £8m signing-on fee to snub PSG’s new contract offer and join the Blues on a free transfer next summer.

26-year-old Matuidi is an excellent holding midfielder who Carlo Ancelotti described as one of Europe’s best last season, and PSG’s president was recently adamant that he will sign a new deal.

It’s thought that some legal issues with his former agent are holding up the new contract and that City are using this time to try and convince him to swap Paris for Manchester, with wages of around £100,000-per-week said to be on offer.

Matuidi is very happy in Paris and it has been expected for a while now that he’ll stay, but City’s offer of a big signing-on fee, a good wage and playing in a superior league may tempt him.

City have dealt with his current agent, the notorious Mino Raiola, before, when signing and selling Mario Balotelli, and Txiki is reported to have been in dialogue with him.

Garcia has improved considerably lately, but City still rely too much on Yaya and Fernandinho, and the addition of a top level midfielder like Matuidi would give Pellegrini more options.

Another midfielder linked with City today is Benfica’s highly rated 20-year-old, André Gomes.

Benfica have just sold Gomes’ rights to super-agent Jorge Mendes for £12.5m, giving Mendes full power to sell the Portugal U21 international to another club this January.

A Bola names only City as a potential destination for Gomes, described as a technically excellent young prospect, while UK-based sources suggest he has been offered to Liverpool.

Gomes is not yet a regular for Benfica, playing mostly for their B team in Portugal’s Segunda Liga, and is a work in progress, so whoever signs him is likely to loan him out or put him into their reserve team.

City’s signing of Bruno Zuculini, another highly rated midfielder who will join in June, may limit their interest in a player of a similar age and position.

Two months ago I wrote an article on the FA Youth Cup winning side of 2007/08.

One of the stars of that team was Vladimir Weiss, who City staff and fans had huge hopes for. But at the age of 24, the Slovakian winger is becoming something of a journeyman and his latest move has left many startled.

Weiss has been a regular this season for Greek champions Olympiacos, who have just signed Abdisalam Ibrahim from City, even playing regularly in the Champions League and scoring a wonder goal against PSG.

Yet he has made the strange choice to join Qatari side Lekhwiya SC. No doubt the money will be good there, but at 24 surely he should be wanting to play in Europe and in the Champions League.



City set to move for a midfielder… but who?

Manchester City's Yaya Touré and Fernandinho
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
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.

The chances?

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
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.

The chances?

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
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.

The chances?

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.

The chances?

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
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.

The chances?

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.

The City Weekend Summary (November 16 & 17, 2013)

Could Lionel Messi join City after the World Cup? That has been a big talking point of the weekend, even though the idea sounds pretty far-fetched on paper.

It all started with Rob Shepherd’s “Football Grapevine” in the Daily Mail where he reckons that such a transfer may not be as unfeasible as it sounds.

The line to pique one’s interest is this: “And I understand several super agents and brokers are actively looking at piecing together a deal.”

It’s all very vague and lacking details, but it’s hard not to get excited at the very thought of it. Messi to City would be one of… no, probably THE biggest transfer in football history as the world transfer record would have to be broken.

Not one to get your hopes up about yet, but there are certain Spaniards in power at City who have dealt with Messi and his camp before and if Messi does opt for a new challenge, City will be right at the top of the list of suitors.

The Sunday People’s top City story this weekend was news of a possible swoop for Real Madrid and Spain star Sergio Ramos.

27-year-old Ramos is locked in a contract dispute with his club, and apparently wants wages more in line with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (good luck with that…).

The People reports that PSG could rival City for him, but that City will make an “opening offer” of £32.5million for the versatile defender.

This all sounds a little suspect (“player wants more money” = “link him with City” has been done a thousand times), and that is no surprise coming from the Sunday People which rivals the Daily Star for seemingly random transfer rumours.

The Sunday People also ran another City transfer story, but so did the Sunday Telegraph and in a little more detail. Jason Burt of the Telegraph claims that City are planning a January move for QPR and Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who doesn’t fancy life in the Championship and is out of favour with Harry Redknapp.

Cesar is 34, not too old for a goalkeeper, and would be available for a small fee or even on loan, but his wages of around £90,000-per-week may make even City think twice, unless he is willing to take a drop.

Cesar’s ready availability is reportedly what makes him a strong option for City, but the Telegraph adds that he could demand guarantees that he joins as first-choice goalkeeper.

Two Frenchmen linked with the Blues have made interesting comments in recent days about their future prospects.

Kurt Zouma, who as my blog colleague exclusive revealed on Tuesday City have made an £11million bid for, has admitted that there is interest from the Premier League: “There is contact from the Premier League. The physical side of the game is appealing to defenders.”

Meanwhile, PSG and France midfielder Blaise Matuidi has refused to rule out a move away from the French giants, despite admitting his first wish is to stay there. Matuidi is struggling to agree fresh terms with PSG, and with half a season left on his contract could become one of Europe’s hottest free agents if he opts to leave. City are interested in him, but both Chelsea and Barcelona could offer competition.

City continue to scout Spain U21 winger Carles Gil according to SuperDeporte. Gil, who is currently impressing at Elche on loan from Valencia, is being watched by City scouts regularly and has a modest release clause of £6.7million.

Valencia are desperate for Gil to pen a new deal, but scouts from City, QPR, Atlético Madrid and Sevilla have returned to their clubs with very favourable reports and Txiki Begiristain could make his move before too long…

One of City’s Ghanaian continent signed from the Right to Dream academy, Bismark Adjei-Boateng, has signed a new contract with City after a successful year on loan at Norwegian partner club Strømsgodset, where he recently won the league along with City pals Abdisalam Ibrahim and Razak Nuhu.

Boateng scored 8 goals in 20 games from midfield for the new Norwegian champions, a very impressive return, and his reward has been a new deal.

City have a growing number of youngsters from Ghana on the books, but all of them are farmed out abroad, mostly to Norway at first, as UK work permits are impossible for them to get right away.

The most high profile of the Right to Dream crew so far has been Mohammed Abu, who City have loaned to Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), Rayo Vallecano (Spain) and FC Lorient (France) in recent years. Abu has also won his first 4 caps for Ghana while on City’s books. But having struggled to make an impression in top European leagues, Abu is now on loan at Aarhus in Denmark.

“Ruining football”, they moan over and over again. Meanwhile, City continue to work on an academy with a scope and vision unprecedented on these shores. But even before the completion of the new City Football Academy, there has been a great effort to improve the standards of youth development in recent years.

Some proof of that can be found in recent England under-16 call-ups for the Victory Shield. City’s Cameron Humphreys, Will Patching and Lukas Nmecha are in the England U16 squad for the final Victory Shield game against Scotland on the 29th.

This means that over the three Victory Shield games, a total of SEVEN young English lads from City’s academy will have played a part in England’s U16 Victory Shield campaign. Not bad for a club that, according to some, doesn’t care about developing English talent.

And City’s youth revolution is still in its early stages and just getting started…

Finally, Manuel Pellegrini has visited Abu Dhabi and met up with City owner Sheikh Mansour. In this photo, he (left), Mansour (middle) and chairman Khaldoon (right) look very amused by something. Maybe they were watching a re-run of September’s derby massacre.

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