Manchester City transfers: Sterling’s future uncertain as City chase Phillips and Cucurella

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“I can confirm that there will be more players coming in,” Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak said this week.

It’s always useful to start with something official when it comes to discussing transfers because of the general amount of skepticism there is surrounding the market as a whole.

That said, Al-Mubarak said similar to Sergio Aguero’s replacement last summer and things did not go to plan. Not at first anyway: “They are very hard shoes to fill but I’m confident that we will find the right player to fill those shoes.”

They got their replacement eventually, and that pursuit of Erling Haaland – which required a considerable amount of effort behind the scenes – has meant that other transfer plans had been put on hold.

City have made up ground in recent weeks, but while Al-Mubarak can promise additional new arrivals, there are no plans to make the squad any bigger – despite City finishing last season with “13.5” players, as Pep Guardiola put it, in light of a few injuries.

It is interesting to note City have suffered a big setback in the market already. Partly because the news seemed so unusual and partly because so many of the fans seemed to be against the idea, it went slightly under the radar that Paul Pogba crossing town from United as a free-agent signing had been a big part of their planned squad refresh but changed his mind and backed out.

City have been in similar territory before – with Harry Maguire, Alexis Sanchez, Jorginho and Lionel Messi, to name but a few – and they have been unable or unwilling to find alternatives, so a setback regarding somebody they had offered a contract to is a less-than-ideal way to start the summer.

And earlier in the year, City had been lining up a new left-back but then changed their mind as they focused on Haaland, and are now looking for one again.

So between Pogba’s decision and the Haaland push, City have been making up for lost time.

Erling Haaland, Borussia Dortmund


City announced a deal to sign Erling Haaland on May 10 (Photo: Alex Gottschalk / vi / DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Their targets are no secret now, though, and they have quickly got to the stage where two stand out above the others. Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips is the man they hope to replace Fernandinho in midfield, while Brighton left-back Marc Cucurella is the other major option – and that would be all.

“We will try to go as fast as we can, but it depends on the market,” Al-Mubarak added without specifying names, of course. “If it was up to me, they would all be done on July 1.”

No doubt, Phillips ‘potential arrival has been complicated by Leeds’ Premier League survival. Avoiding relegation puts them in a stronger position financially, so City lost a fair bit of leverage. It is still very much on the cards, but a move is not as easy as was previously hoped within City’s offices.

Cucurella has been a revelation for Brighton after moving from La Liga club Getafe last summer and they won’t let him go without a fight, although there is confidence at City the 23-year-old will be attainable, despite rumored interest from Chelsea and others.

City struck a £ 14 million deal for Argentinian club River Plate’s striker Julian Alvarez in January and have paid just over £ 1 million to bring him this summer, largely so they can assess him properly during pre-season and work out exactly how – or whether – he will fit into next season’s squad.

The 22-year-old fits the profile that City have been looking for – a deadly finisher who can drop deep and link play with midfield – but the leap from playing in Argentina to England is considered huge, and it is simply unknown how he will adapt. There is an element of “wait and see” around Alvarez’s arrival, and that is something that also applies to several current City players with uncertain futures.

Guardiola talked of a need to “shake” the squad last summer and later confirmed “four or five” players were open to leaving, but Harry Kane was not signed and nobody left, meaning Jack Grealish was City’s only significant piece of business, in or out, which was far from what had been anticipated a couple of months earlier.

One year on, several players’ futures are uncertain; in most cases due to their contracts expiring next summer – but that does not guarantee there will be movement.

Gabriel Jesus is the likeliest to leave, with Arsenal firmly in the frame, although other suitors, certainly ones in Italy, could take advantage of the Londoners’ failure to qualify for the Champions League.

“About my future, it’s still uncertain,” Jesus said, after City clinched the title by beating Aston Villa 11 days ago. “I have a contract with City and I have already expressed my desire to the City people, and to my agent. I have in my head (an idea of) what I want. ”

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It is understood that that idea is to find a new club, as the Brazilian would like more regular football, having started less than 50 per cent of Premier League matches over the past four seasons.

City would not block a player’s exit if they expressed a desire to leave – especially one with a year left on their contract.

Raheem Sterling, 27, is in a very similar situation. His contract expires next summer too, after he asked for time to get his personal affairs in order when City attempted to open talks over a year ago.

Since then, England forward has not played as much as he would have hoped for, either, and actually asked for a loan move last autumn, although it was around the time that previous interest from Barcelona cooled. He got back into the side over Christmas, was named Premier League Player of the Month for December, but was conscious that his run in the team may not last as the season got towards its conclusion.

That is how things transpired, and so a new deal is far from a certainty. That said, so is a transfer.

Sterling only wants to join an elite club but there are not a host of options currently available. That may sound non-committal but it is how City’s summer panned out 12 months ago, with several players actively pushing for exits that never transpired because serious potential buyers did not come forward.

Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Manchester City


Both Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez are out of contract at the end of the 2022-23 season (Photo: Matt McNulty – Manchester City / Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Ilkay Gundogan is another whose deal expires next summer and it is understood he would be open to a new challenge, although he is not desperate to force a way out either.

The 31-year-old has said himself that he would have liked to have played in more games towards the end of last season and it is understood he believes more game time – and a more consistent role in the team – would help his chances of making Germany’s squad for the World Cup in November and December.

Both Gundogan’s camp and City were outraged over the timing of a story saying that he would be allowed to leave this summer, coming as it did the week before the season ended, but a move away is still a possibility.

Riyad Mahrez, also 31, is out of contract next summer too, although his situation is less active than those of Jesus and Sterling.

The other uncertainty is Oleksandr Zinchenko, who has attracted interest from Everton, Newcastle and, reportedly, Arsenal, with those clubs seeing him as an option in midfield, which is where he plays for Ukraine.

If City sign Cucurella and keep Zinchenko, that would leave them with three left-backs, given Joao Cancelo plays there when Kyle Walker is fit, meaning the Ukrainian’s opportunities could become even more limited next season than they were in the one just ended, when he started five out of six league games either side of Christmas but then only another five, all in the final weeks, mostly when Cancelo was required on the right because of Walker’s injury.

If all goes to plan on the incomings, Phillips would replace Fernandinho and Cucurella would arrive, possibly to replace Zinchenko. Haaland and possibly Alvarez, if he settles well, would replace Ferran Torres, who left for Barcelona in January, and Jesus, if he leaves. It could even be argued that Aguero is being replaced, too.

It is considered unlikely that anybody else would be signed to replace any further departures. Cole Palmer, 20, can expect more opportunities and 19-year-old James McAtee will be hoping for an increase in minutes. With Haaland and Alvarez, City’s front line could suddenly look very different, although not necessarily any deeper.

Overall, City believe Haaland alone is capable of freshening up the atmosphere around the squad and expect him to make a major impact both on and off the field, given its quality and the buzz around them signing one of the best young players in the game.

He has got broad shoulders, after all.

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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