Manchester City is a club with uncapped ambition and, following a let up in the Financial Fair Play rules, an increased freedom in this summer’s transfer window.
At the end of a disappointing season yielding no silverware, a major reshuffle is mooted. In order to erase Jose Mourinho’s trademark smirk, Manuel Pellegrini, or whoever may take his place should the axe fall, will have to spend not just big, but wisely.
The prevailing opinion is that the old guard that have seen the club to two Premier League titles in the last three years is waning, and an injection of youth is required to usher in a new era.
With this and the home-grown players quota in mind, we look at some of the top options for City this summer:
1. Paul Pogba
By far the least surprising inclusion on the list, the coveted French starlet is a prime target of a host of Europe’s top clubs.
His pace, playmaking and poise in the heart of midfield for Juventus this season has rendered him a likely candidate to become the most expensive player in the history of the game should he seal a move away from Turin this summer.
Indeed, reports in Italy have suggested that City’s courtship of the former United youngster is well underway, with a staggering £86m bid currently in progress.
His role as a dynamic box-to-box midfielder makes Pogba the ideal replacement for the possibly-departing Etihad hero Yaya Toure, who after attracting some rather excessive criticism this campaign, is a target for former City boss Roberto Mancini at Inter Milan.
However, with Juventus tilting at a first Champions League title in almost 20 years, there are question marks over whether their star attraction will have greener pastures to seek should they triumph over Barcelona in Berlin on June 6.
2. Kevin De Bruyne
Both Manchester clubs will have been alerted this week to the baby-faced Belgian’s reluctance to commit his future to Wolfsburg, along with hints that he would not be scared of a return to the Premier League after a brief and unsuccessful spell at Chelsea.
City’s interest will be further buoyed by De Bruyne’s assertion that he would not welcome a return to Stamford Bridge.
With dark clouds hanging over the futures of several high-profile attacking midfield options, including Samir Nasri, James Milner, Stevan Jovetic and the perennially disappointing Jesus Navas, there is a potential opening for a goal scoring playmaker.
The 23-year-old, labelled ‘unsellable’ by his German employers, will command somewhere in the region of a £35m price tag, but on this season’s form, could establish himself as a stalwart in City’s attacking arsenal.
3. John Stones
Martin Demichelis was a short-term solution to a long-term problem, that is, who should be Vincent Kompany’s first choice partner at the heart of the City defence in the coming years.
In an attempt to offer a more permanent solution, £32m was spent luring Eliaquim Mangala to the Etihad, which so far, has seen little return, the young Frenchman often looking lost and naïve as he attempts to come to terms with life in the Premier League.
While it might be too early bring the curtain down on Mangala’s time in Manchester, Demichelis advancing years and the lack of another solid option at centre back means City need to bring in a player of proven Premier League quality and stability, but the right amount of youth to build a future at Eastlands.
Stones has both deputised for and played alongside two of the league’s most seasoned and consistent centre-halves in Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin since his arrival at Everton, and has made an impressive start at Goodison Park, resulting in an induction into the England set-up.
While not a huge name on the world stage, Stones’ youth and experience thus far are in his favour, and he might not draw the colossal price tag and associated gamble that so far has not paid off with Mangala.
4. Raheem Sterling
Obvious choice given his impending availability, but the debate rages on as to whether Liverpool’s second most polarising malcontent is worth the fuss.
Sterling’s emergence last year in a Liverpool team in which he was eased in behind the all-firing Sturridge/Suarez combo meant that he was able to learn the ropes without being forced to shoulder responsibility for the team’s fortunes.
This season has been a different matter. On the field, he has taken on the role of main man comfortably, consistently Liverpool’s most threatening and productive player going forward.
Off it, he has shown his youth and handled many situations diabolically. However, he is right about one thing, and that is that Liverpool cannot match his ambition.
Sterling’s claims that it is not about the money have become more and more believable in recent months, and plenty of City fans would not turn their noses up at an exciting young English attacking talent who wants to win everything there is to win.
Ambition to a fault could be what is needed to jump start a City attacking line that at times this season has looked uninspired and short on ideas.
5. Ricardo Rodriguez
Another standout emergence in a strong season at Wolfsburg, the 22-year-old Swiss international is one of the most realistic options for City at left-back.
With the future of Aleksandar Kolarov hanging in the balance, the recently improved but often inconsistent Gael Clichy could be City’s only option on the left side of defence going into next season.
While many of the world’s top left backs are already first choice at their respective European giants, notably Jordi Alba, David Alaba and Marcelo, Rodriguez is likely to be looking to join that elite, and the blue half of Manchester could provide the answer.
Consistently strong defensively, his unique vision and passing ability means he has notched up more than his fair share of assists this season, many from inside the Wolfsburg half.
Main image courtesy of Alex Morton/Action Images, with thanks.