Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City in the summer of 2016 was heralded as the start of a new era at the Etihad Stadium. His predecessors, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, had succeeded in bringing intermittent silverware to the blue half of Manchester but had failed in their attempts at moulding the club into a genuine superpower of European football. It was time for Sheik Mansour to invest in a world class manager – enter a certain Spaniard who had completed trophy-laden spells with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
Guardiola’s first season in English football has not been a failure, but neither has it been an overwhelming success. There will be no trophy celebrations at the Etihad Stadium at the end of the campaign and The Citizens have yet to guarantee their spot in next season’s Champions League with places in the top four still up for grabs. However, the team have progressed, the style of football has entertained and, on the whole, the Spaniard’s dealings in the transfer market have proven to be a success. You get the sense that a foundation has been laid over the course of the year that Manchester City will build on next season.
One of the main criticisms levelled at Guardiola has been his treatment of England international Joe Hart and his general approach to the goalkeeping situation at the club. ESPN are reporting that Victor Valdes is being lined up as a potential target for the summer following the Middlesbrough’s relegation and the 35-year-old is likely to be on Manchester City’s radar after spending four successfully years working with their current manager at Barcelona.
Victor Valdes has made 28 appearances this season, keeping eight clean sheets, for Middlesbrough this season and has proven himself more than capable of performing in the English top-flight. The 35-year-old still has one year remaining on his current contract, but the Teeside club will be looking to cash in and free up the Spaniard’s substantial wages.
However, a move for Valdes would do little more than highlight the long list of mistakes that Pep Guardiola has made when it has come to the goalkeeping department this campaign.
In the summer Joe Hart was frozen out and shipped out on loan to Torino whilst Claudio Bravo was brought in as his replacement under the pretence that England’s most prominent goalkeeper lacked the technical proficiency to fit into Guardiola’s total football philosophy. But the decision has backfired quite spectacularly.
Bravo has failed to impress in his debut season at the Etihad and, regardless of his ball-playing ability, has looked increasingly incapable of doing his primary job – making saves and keeping the ball out of the net. Poor performances resulted in the 33-year-old being dropped and replaced by reserve team goalkeeper Willy Cabellero, who is no superstar but looked like a definitive improvement on the helpless Bravo.
The end of the season presents Guardiola with a serious problem. Bravo looks ill-suited to the rigours of the Premier League, Cabellero is out of contract, and Hart is set to return from his season-long loan.
So what now? Does he keep faith in Bravo? Offer Cabellero a new deal? Reintroduce Hart? Or push all three to one side and purchase a new goalkeeper?
It would appear that Guardiola is opting for the latter.
But signing Valdes would present more questions than answers. The goalkeeper may have experienced a relatively successful campaign, at least on a personal level, with Middlesbrough yet is he truly the world-class player that should now be characteristic of Manchester City’s playing squad?
This is the same man that was incapable of breaking into the Manchester United first team just two years ago and there is no question that the 35-year-old is dwarfed by the talents of the Premier League’s leading goalkeepers such as David de Gea, Hugo Loris and Thibaut Courtois.
A statement of intent
The goalkeeping issues at Manchester City have the potential to overshadow the positive work that Pep Guardiola is currently undertaking at the Etihad Stadium. The focus should be directed towards the exciting attacking talents of Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne and yet the emphasis is shifting once more towards who will be wearing the number one jersey next season. The manager needs to be concise and decisive in the summer and put to bed any questions surrounding the goalkeeping department.
Surely the choice is simply.
Guardiola must either admit that he made an error by exiling Joe Hart and reinstate the England international as the club’s first choice goalkeeper or spend big on a genuine world class replacement.
Signing Victor Valdes will be little more than a statement of uncertainty – what Manchester City need to do is demonstrate that they genuinely want to become one of Europe’s footballing superpowers.
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