At one point in time, the FA Cup final was the centrepiece of the football calendar. It was the culmination of the English season and the last stop before a summer of mundanity and anticipation. It was an event watched by tens of millions of people and represented one of the sporting highlights of the year.
That bygone era feels like it existed in a parallel universe though. 2017 is a different proposition entirely. This year’s edition had yet to be even played and thoughts had already switched to the resumption of the Premier League in August.
On Friday, the day before Chelsea and Arsenal contested for the world’s oldest club competition, Manchester City struck the first proverbial missile of the transfer window by signing Bernardo Silva from AS Monaco. The Portuguese winger is an outstanding talent, possessing fleet of foot, acceleration and a silky left boot reminiscent of his older namesake who wears the number 21 shirt at the Etihad. In Bernardo, they have the heir to David’s throne.
Silva was one of the key figures for Monaco as they enraptured neutrals on the way to a Champions League semi-final and a first Ligue 1 title in 17 years. Rumours had outed him as a target for Manchester United, but their cross-town rivals promptly acted. He offers Pep Guardiola variety in attack, and with both Silvas, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne, City have the most potent forward options in the country.
Guardiola’s pull was the key factor in persuading Silva to trade the principality for the warehouse city. “Of course when you have the opportunity of being trained by Guardiola, you don’t say no. If not the best coach in the world, he is one of the best.” The deal – reportedly in the region of £43 million – sets in motion an arms race amongst the Premier League’s top six clubs, all of whom are battling for prime real-estate at the summit of the table.
City completed the campaign in third place and improved on the total achieved in Manuel Pellegrini’s last season by 12 points, yet still found themselves 15 points behind champions Chelsea and trophy-less. However, Guardiola has frequently and confidently asserted though that City would get better in the long run, and early indications are positive.
The purposefulness of the Silva transfer along with the ruthless culling of the squad’s deadwood suggests the manager and board have a blueprint agreed upon. Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Jesus Navas and Willy Caballero were released as soon as the whistle had blown for full-time in their final league game and loan exiles Joe Hart and Wilfried Bony will in all probability follow them.
According to local reporters, Guardiola has identified as many as six potential targets and the board are willing to sanction up to £300 million on transfer activity. Kyle Walker is expected to journey north from Tottenham Hotspur and occupy the problem right wingback position. A defender on the opposite flank, a goalkeeper, another centre-back and a holding midfielder are also on the agenda.
This swiftness mirrors the summer of 2014 and the approach of Guardiola’s old adversary Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. After falling short of the title, they recruited Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas quietly and efficiently – Fabregas posing with a Chelsea shirt in the unglamorous setting of his hotel room in Brazil midway through the World Cup. Both marquee additions were pivotal in bringing the championship back to Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho will desire similarly decisive business from his current club in order to bridge the gap to the sides ahead. Two trophies have masked a hugely disappointing domestic finish and he will have identified the areas they need to improve. United are pursuing Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic and a plethora of major names.
United will most likely match City’s financial expenditure and one can expect nine figure outlays elsewhere. The spending at the top end of the table will only grow more exorbitant as the summer progresses. As United and other clubs have discovered in recent years, market inflation becomes more pronounced based on the figures spent early on.
The capital and quality of players involved only accentuates the pressure on the league’s superstar coaches. Given the gross imbalance of his squad, Guardiola received a pass for City’s inadequacies this season. Now he has a greater understanding of his squad, there will be no excuse in 12 months time.