Manchester City’s manager-in-waiting Pep Guardiola has targeted John Stones and Aymeric Laporte after deciding that centre-back is the priority for this summer’s expensive rebuilding programme.
Director of football Txiki Begiristain is already working on City’s list of targets and is close to completing a deal for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan. Guardiola wants signings in most positions, including a whole back four, but has identified central defence as the area that needs most work, even though it could cost £100million.
Guardiola’s teams build up from the back and he has identified ball-playing Stones as his preferred target this summer once he takes over after leaving Bayern Munich.
He won’t come cheap. Everton turned down a £30million bid from Chelsea for the 21-year-old last summer, but with even more interest this year, including from Manchester United, and as Stones still has three years remaining on his contract, he will now cost close to £50million.
As well as Stones, Begiristain has also been following Laporte, Athletic Bilbao’s talented 21-year-old centre-half. The Agen-born defender has a £39million release clause, which City are happy to pay, although any move has been jeopardised by Laporte breaking his ankle last month. That has ruled him out of representing France at Euro 2016, although he is expected to be fit for pre-season.
City’s desire to recruit centre-backs casts doubt over the futures of the four players in the squad who play that position. Vincent Kompany has started just 12 Premier League games after a season ruined by repeated muscle injuries. Nicolas Otamendi, a £30million summer signing from Valencia, enjoyed a good run alongside Kompany but has struggled without his captain, while Eliaquim Mangala has still not justified the £42million transfer fee City paid Porto for him. Martin Demichelis will leave the club when his contract expires in the summer.
Once the centre-back issue is resolved, Guardiola would also like to sign a pair of quick young full-backs, with the four players currently in those roles – Gael Clichy, Aleksandar Kolarov, Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna – all in their 30s.
Full-back is thought to be less of an immediate priority, though, than the players inside them. City are also looking for a goalkeeper, another midfielder, a winger who can play on either side and a back-up striker.
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