If Manchester City's aim this season was to emulate Chelsea, it was an unfortunate way of copying the champions. A few days after Antonio Conte had an unwelcome surprise when Romelu Lukaku, who he thought was set to sign, instead joined Manchester United. City could not beat Chelsea last season. They joined them in the group of those who have experienced public rejection when Paris Saint-Germain announced they were signing Dani Alves.
Up until then, City had remained confident Alves would join, probably this week, and that he would be on the plane to the United States on Monday. The deal seemed all but done. Then came an unwanted reminder that late drama is not confined to the pitch. It can come in cruel fashion in the transfer market.
It is tempting to revisit Alves’ recent statements. It seemed he had negotiated his release from Juventus to engineer a Barcelona reunion in Manchester. “Everyone knows my admiration for Pep Guardiola,” he said last month. He went further in an article he wrote for the Players’ Tribune. “If you turn the word football backwards, it spells Pep,” he said. “He is a genius. I’ll say it again. A genius.”
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Equally, and while such comments can make Alves seem duplicitous, focusing on the man who spurned them will not benefit City at a time when they require two right-backs, and soon, if the rookie Pablo Maffeo is not to be thrust to prominence. More than most managers, Guardiola needs time on the training ground to give his players an understanding of his methods and tactics. City's pre-season tour of America was supposed to offer an education to a remodelled squad.
City made a superb start to transfer window, with deals for the much-needed Ederson and the much-coveted Bernardo Silva tied up by the end of May. Yet they remain the only incomings, though some other targets – Alexis Sanchez, Benjamin Mendy and right-back Kyle Walker – are well-known.
Alves’ rejection certainly strengthens Tottenham’s bargaining position. Their chairman, Daniel Levy, is an infamously tough negotiator. There is unlikely to be a discount on Walker now. Equally, City should remember that Spurs have readied themselves to sell. Kieran Trippier was considering his future a few months ago. Now he has signed a new five-year deal after displacing Walker for the FA Cup semi-final and the marquee matches against Arsenal and Manchester United. They are planning for life without Walker, a detail Levy is unlikely to mention in talks.
But the fact remains that, after the departures of Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna and even the possible back-up Jesus Navas, City need two right-backs. In a summer when they may be making five other major signings, Alves’ availability on a free transfer formed part of his appeal. Now City’s budget will surely have to be stretchered further.
Alves had a further advantage. His knowledge of Guardiola meant he should have slotted straight in. He promised an immediate impact. He would not have been a long-term signing, but exceptions can be made for special cases. Alves was one such.
At 34, he still had the potency to determine a Uefa Champions League semi-final almost single-handed, with two goals and an assist over 180 minutes against Monaco. He could still prove a one-man right-flank. He had the athlete’s energy and the midfielder’s technical and passing ability that Guardiola demands in a full-back.
Try finding someone with his quality, his skill-set and his winning habit (35 trophies and counting). There are not many, even before most right-backs are disqualified because they do not meet Guardiola’s criteria. So City’s task is a tough one as they are in the unusual position of seeking to replace a player they never actually signed.