Manchester City set to avoid big-spending January to focus on youth talent

Premier League champions not expected to enter the market unless right deal presents itself, with focus on resolving the futures of Silva and Gundogan and boosting the Academy

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Interest in the January transfer window has been cranked up to fever pitch by the winter World Cup but Premier League champions Manchester City look set to give it the cold shoulder.

City are wary about the benefits of paying a premium for players in the middle of the season and despite operating with one of the smaller squads in the Premier League - and facing a congested fixture list as they fight for four trophies - there is no firm intention to spend big on a high-profile signing in the next month.

A deal that they can’t refuse may still present itself, as it did in the past with Gabriel Jesus and Aymeric Laporte, but while domestic and European rivals fight over players whose values shot up after eye-catching performances in Qatar, City will likely look the other way and continue their quest to future-proof the quality of young players coming through the ranks.

Fiorentina’s Moroccan midfielder Sofyan Amrabat and his international teammate Azzedine Ounahi of Angers, Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram, Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix, Dinamo Zagreb's Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, and Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech are all expected to attract would-be suitors over the next month but City will be searching for young talent not necessarily on the global radar.

Last January, City signed Julian Alvarez for what now looks a bargain price of £14.1m and immediately loaned him back to River Plate in Argentina. That deal has worked out well already. The 22-year-old has already scored seven times in 20 outings for City and played a key role helping his country to World Cup glory, sending his own value in the market through the roof.

This window City will also seek to ascertain the future intentions of midfielders Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan.

Portugal international Silva has been a long-term target for Barcelona and Germany's Ilkay Gundogan comes to the end of his contract in June. He was the first player bought by Pep Guardiola when he took over at City and has started almost 300 games in his five-plus years. The decisions on where their futures lie will be crucial to City’s spending plans this summer.

Ilkay Gundogan, left, is out of contract at Manchester City at the end of the season, while Bernardo Silva, right, is a long-term target for Barcelona. AFP

Meanwhile, City’s scouts, backed by a worldwide network of clubs in the City Football Group, will be searching for players in January as potential candidates to be nurtured through to the first team under Guardiola, who himself boosted the club during the Qatar World Cup by signing a two-year contract extension.

City are in the fortunate position of having a cash surplus after a summer of business which saw them sign superstar striker Erling Haaland yet still register a profit. They were the only club in the Premier League’s ‘big six’ with a negative net spend in the summer of 2022 and banked in excess of £55m. But it is not burning a hole in their pocket.

Their focus on developing talented young players continues to reap dividends in the transfer market and on the pitch, with the Academy, run by former Premier League winner Jason Wilcox, itself accounting for more than £60m in profit over the past two seasons.

Julian Alvarez was signed by Manchester City this January and was loaned back to River Plate. He is now a World Cup winner with Argentina. PA

Phil Foden and Cole Palmer have emerged through the junior ranks into the first team squad, saving City a fortune and in Foden’s case turning him into one of the best young players in Europe.

The latest sensation to join those two in Guardiola’s plans is Rico Lewis. The defender shone against Liverpool in a recent 3-2 League Cup victory, drawing praise from his manager and one of his club predecessors at right back, Micah Richards, who went on to play for England.

“I’m absolutely really impressed,” said Guardiola. “It's not about how intelligent he is with the ball, but without the ball.

Rico Lewis, left, is the latest player to come through the Manchester City Academy who is tipped for a bright future. AP

“Rico will have a big decade and will be an absolutely incredible player for Manchester City for many years because he’s so intelligent, so humble, understands everything in one second and applies everything – he’s so, so clever.

“We have an incredible right full-back. He is 18-years-old and the way he played against a top team like Liverpool was outstanding.”

Richards was equally effusive, saying: "I think he's going to be a superstar. I rarely put that pressure on players because I don't think it's nice and if they don't make it to that level they say they're overhyped - but he is a special player."

Updated: December 29, 2022, 6:46 AM