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Out with the old, In with the new - A Week in the City

Joe Butterfield

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Out with the old, In with the new - A Week in the City

Featured Image Credit: PA Images / Alamy

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for with baited breath since the end of last season. “Where is it,” you ask. "What will I do every week now?” Well, no need to panic anymore - A Week in the City is back. Oh, and the Premier League is too, I suppose.

When last season ended, I told myself I needed a break from football and, with the stresses of the final run-in of the season, I definitely did.

Two months later, however, like a drug addict going through a major relapse at the first sign of a bit of Charlie on a night out, I’ve well and truly tapped up my veins and started mainlining Barclays - well, it’s not Barclays anymore, but you get the jist - straight into my bloodstream. I went on a serious binge and am now suffering the consequences, only instead of a hangover it’s an unimpressive opening week as I sit eighth out of nine in the work FPL League. We move.

So, what did I miss? Let’s start with the outgoings.

Gabriel Jesus, with a year left on his deal, decided that it was finally time to join a club that would value him as a regular starter, rather than the squad player he had very much become by the end of his time at Manchester City - despite ironically picking up much more game time the moment he made it clear he was looking to leave the club than he had in the previous months.

He landed in the familiar embrace of Mikel Arteta at Arsenal and immediately became the player with the highest ownership on any Matchday One in FPL history after tearing it up in pre-season and convincing us all that he’d hit the ground running (thank Gabi, I’m definitely not bitter).

He’s a player who will always have that 100 point goal at Southampton. A moment which will be iconic in years to come and, though he doesn’t leave as anything more than a nice guy who fans liked and respected, he will inevitably be a name that children grow up knowing for that moment alone.

Gabriel Jesus won four Premier League titles at Man City
Gabriel Jesus won four Premier League titles at Man City

Zinchenko also joined Jesus at Arsenal and, whilst we’ll get into City’s decision to get rid of him at a later date, he’s another player who deserved to get the game time he’s gone to get. Zinchenko was very much in and out of the team, mostly out, throughout last season but he’s definitely not somebody I wanted to see leave.

His introduction during the final day of last season against Aston Villa proved pivotal as he set up the equaliser for Rodri, however it was his post-match interview where he proudly declared he would die for the supporters of the club that he cemented my already very high opinion of him. He’s a warrior, an underdog who had the unenviable (and, as yet, unreplicated) task of being signed as a loan farm player to make a profit on one day and turning himself into a firm first team player. His determination to stay at the club whilst loans and transfers were an option, even though it may not have been in his favoured position, is the grit that we all love to see.

Of course, his appreciation of the fanbase, particularly through the last six or seven months with everything going on in his home nation, only brought him closer to us. We’ve all rooted for Zinchenko and I personally will continue to do so. Because I’d probably die for him too (disclaimer: this is not a literal statement).

Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus has moved to Arsenal
Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus has moved to Arsenal

The final first team regular to leave the club was Raheem Sterling. Well, I say first team regular, obviously not regular enough for the man himself, as he left to become the shining jewel in the Todd Boehly Football Manager Career Mode.

Sterling only started 32 games in all competitions for City last season, which I think is a valid number for a player of Sterling’s ceiling to be pretty annoyed by (Gabriel Jesus, for comparison, started 28), especially as a player who’s experienced the riveting highs of once being Pep’s first name on the teamsheet a lot of the time. To go from that to being sat down by Phil Foden and Jack Grealish (the latter of which only managed 200 less minutes than him in the Premier League, despite having nowhere near the same output), must be a difficult thing for anybody to come to terms with.

However, let’s be real, Raheem Sterling’s numbers belie his performances over the last two years. It’s an odd thing to say about a player with 19 goal contributions in the league last season, with a further five in Europe, but for every game he played well there was another where he frustrated and, off the back of a summer transfer window last year where he had made plenty of noise about wanting to leave the club, it was easy to direct that frustration at him.

His performance levels for the last couple of years, to my mind, have been questionable to say the least. Again, it’s easy to point at his numbers to dispute this but there are plenty of examples of players whose story can’t just be told by their goal contributions. With a year left on his deal and a clear desire to leave, made even clearer when he sacked off the title-winning trophy parade for reasons which are still yet unknown, getting rid was a no brainer in my eyes.

In case you haven’t been able to tell by the change in tone over the last few paragraphs, I don’t feel quite as bad about Sterling leaving as I did about Gabi and Zinchenko. I’m quite indifferent about it. A debate sparked on Twitter amongst some about whether or not he would go down as a City legend (it was the summer, we had nothing else to talk about) and, to my mind, the answer is an obvious no.

Sterling is a top man. He took the weight of slanted reporting towards black footballers almost entirely on his shoulders and did well to turn a narrative which had been spun against him by scousers and tabloids (an ironic match made in heaven) into one which is mostly positive towards him nowadays, with many praising the impact he’s had. He briefly became the English face of Nike in the same way that Colin Kaepernick did for raising awareness to the racial inequality which still exists in society today, even in places where we think it’s been forgotten.

None have been more complimentary of Sterling, as both a player and a man, than City fans during his time at the club. The years between 2015 and 2019 were very much filled with City fans playing defence for Sterling against opposition fans and gutter press alike. We immediately took him in as one of our own. Yet I’ve never quite felt that warmth be reciprocated.

There’s been no shortage of media attention around Raheem, with countless interviews for fans (but mainly aggregators) to rifle through. Yet there’s been very little evidence that he loves us back. No rapport, no special non-footballing moments between him and us, nothing. I’ve never heard him gush about Manchester as a city, Mancunians as people, or even Manchester City as a club beyond the normal media-trained platitudes. He didn’t even do a farewell interview with the club, which he would definitely have been able to do if he had the desire. It sounds pathetic but stuff like that affects how people perceive you when you’re gone, certainly in the short term.

Ultimately, the move probably suited both parties. Sterling was clearly burnt out on Pep Guardiola, as the rumours of an altercation last season after being dropped for the Manchester Derby circled and Pep’s recent long interview with the club saw him focus on Sterling’s quality as a player, whereas he had spoken more about Gabi and Zinchenko as people, so the feeling was probably mutual between them.

Raheem Sterling and Pep Guardiola
Raheem Sterling and Pep Guardiola

It also feels like he was a bit burnt out on the club, whether that was solely due to Pep or just because he’d decided long ago that he wanted to leave. His post-match interview after the title win in May smacked of disinterest and boredom and he didn’t turn up for the celebrations the following day, despite Danny Jackson introducing him on stage for the celebrations (a mistake he did not make for Gabriel Jesus, who had taken the time off for the birth of his child, really gets your noggin joggin’). Combine that with no exit interview (which Jesus and Zinchenko both did), no farewell of any kind beyond an Instagram post literally anybody in his team could have written, and it just leaves me a bit cold.

Maybe I’d become a bit burnt out on him as a footballer. I must stress, I’m aware this all sounds totally mental to be saying about a footballer who was as numerically efficient as Sterling, and he gave me some great moments in the 2017/18 season, particularly Southampton at home, however there was only so many times I could see him bin simple chances before it started to grate. Lyon was the real turning point. I was all for defending Sterling missing the odd easy chance at the expense of scoring another one minutes later but I think Lyon probably broke a part of my brain that allowed me to make that trade-off.

In summary - if you think Sterling is a club legend then fine, somebody who is personally a legend to you might not be for everybody, but for me he’s just one of the many great players that have passed through the club in the last decade. He’s better than most, obviously, his numbers and performances at his peak for the club are higher than most could dream of, however a lack of real relationship with the fans will always hinder his claim to be a “proper” club legend in my eyes.

I’m sure plenty of people will read this and think me to be no different to a scouser, embittered by seeing one of his club’s top players join a league rival and quick to turn on a man we once embraced after receiving criticism on his way out of the door of his previous club. I still like Sterling as a person, he seems a nice enough guy. But that’s it. He’s not a Kompany, a Silva or an Aguero. We won’t have to go through years of trying to replace him in the way we did those players. He doesn’t leave a gaping hole in our dressing room, or even our squad. He’d become a bit-part player in his final years with us, as 32 starts from a possible 58 shows.

And who better to replace Raheem Sterling’s numbers than the Norse God, Erling Braut Haaland?

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Not many transfers in recent history have got me as hyped as this one - mainly because it feels so un-City. Lots of people will talk about the money the club has spent and whilst this is undoubtedly true, it’s rarely been spent to sign a genuine superstar in the making. The last time we did so was probably when we signed Aguero, the man Haaland replaces. We’ve had plenty of players who’ve had world class potential - De Bruyne, Sterling, Sane etc - but the vast majority of our business in the last 6-7 years (largely due to Pep) has been the art of signing players who are at that tier below, with the view to turning them into the elite players which Pep turns them into.

Haaland is different. He arrives as a player who is already elite. A player who can genuinely make a case already for being the best player in his position in the world at the age of 22. A player who was coveted by everybody else in world football, especially Real Madrid, and chose us. Money wasn’t even a factor.

Is he being paid a lot of money? Yeah, of course he is. Everybody who comes in with the dominant, gangly profile of Erling Haaland, both in terms of physicality and brand, demands that kind of money. When you’re choosing between Real Madrid and Manchester City, the money you’re talking about is the difference between being able to buy a Lamborghini or a Bugatti. You’re loaded no matter what.

Haaland has been sold on the sporting side of things, helped largely by the fact he’s been a City fan since birth, with plenty of pictures of him in old City kits doing the rounds. He sees a team which has won the league two years in a row with no striker and a gaping 6ft 5 hole in the team ready to be filled by a striker who eats Percy Pigs for fun and thought, “yeah, that’s the place for me.”

Is he likely to move around again in future? As things stand, obviously. He’s been cited in the past as wanting to have a career similar to Ibrahimovic, where he goes around Europe’s top clubs and becomes a legend at multiple of them, breaking league goalscoring records and then moving on, and there’s every chance he ends up at Madrid in 3-4 years time. That’s fine. He’ll no doubt move on elsewhere another 3-4 years after that and we’ll be making a tidy profit if the £150m release clause is to be believed.

We’ve only watched him play two games for us so far and, in both of them, it’s like watching an entirely different sport. I don’t know whether it’s just because I’m starved of watching an actual striker play for City, or whether it’s because he’s so massive that your eyes are simply drawn to him every time he moves, or a combination of both, but whenever I see him begin to make that instinctive striker’s movement behind the enemy lines when our midfielders get on the ball I suddenly have the strong belief that he invented football. It’s like he’s doing something magical.

Erling Haaland For Manchester City (Sportimage/Alamy)
Erling Haaland For Manchester City (Sportimage/Alamy)

The Community Shield saw him immediately nail down his place as certified flop of the season as he missed a chance from six yards out (I’m not burnt out on Haaland yet, give him several open net misses in crucial games and I might feel like we won’t miss him if he left) whilst the man who scousers and media alike are desperate to build a rivalry between, Darwin Nunez, bagged in that same game. City had clearly wasted their £50m on a lanky chump who will obviously never score goals in his life, whilst Liverpool had savvily spent £85m on a Uruguayan Lewandowski who is going to turn the Premier League into his back garden.

A week later and Haaland is already joint top goalscorer in the league, alongside the mighty Mitrovic and Gross, with two whole goals on his Premier League debut. One a precisely despatched penalty into the bottom corner, after some brilliant movement and acceleration to win the penalty in the first place, and the other a perfect example of why this club needed him, as some midfield play immediately became a dangerous goalscoring opportunity as his athleticism allowed him to gain three or four yards on West Ham’s defenders before he’d even touched the ball, laid perfectly on a plate for him by none other than Kevin De Bruyne.

Mark my words, come the end of the season people will be wondering why anybody compared Darwin Nunez and Erling Haaland. One is a player who has had one good season in Portugal and the other has goalscoring records at every one of his professional clubs that any player on the planet would be proud of. Nunez is the first one, just in case you didn’t know.

We may have got rid of a few players this summer and we’ve signed a few besides Haaland. But he’s the main attraction. He’s more than a player, he’s an experience. If you’re not hearing the Haaland song in your head every time he sprints clear of his closest defender, are you even doing football properly?

Topics: Manchester City, Premier League, Manchester City Transfer News & Rumours, Football

Joe Butterfield
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