It’s rather surprising that Manchester City are letting go of Joao Cancelo, a key member of the squad, in the middle of a difficult season. At a time when rivals are strengthening, why would Pep Guardiola and City be doing the exact opposite?
It seems counterproductive; like a rash decision that may have ripple effects at the end of the campaign.
Cancelo has been one of City’s best players in the last few seasons and started this term strongly as well. It appears his problems started from the Liverpool match at Anfield shortly before the World Cup. Both during and after the tournament, he has not been in his usual form.
The Portuguese defender arrived at Manchester City from Juventus in a £55m deal back in the summer of 2019.
After initially struggling to break into the team, the right-back had to reinvent himself to fit into Pep Guardiola’s system. Through his dynamism, the City boss found he could use him in more ways than one.
As a right-back, left-back, midfielder and even a winger, the 28-year-old could perform. And he was so good he became Guardiola’s trump card. He literally used his versatility to create room for himself in the team.
Now well-established and a key member of the squad, the last thing that could happen was a departure from City due to a fallout with the manager.
But that is exactly what has happened with the player set for a move to German Bundesliga side Bayern Munich. This is definitely more than just a case of a player losing form. It’s deeper than that; a breakdown in the relationship between player and manager.
Why was the situation allowed to deteriorate to such a state that parting ways were the only way out? Having disagreements and misunderstandings is very much a part of life. Maturity is learning how to resolve them amicably.
Although Guardiola has a no-nonsense reputation when it comes to players’ discipline, sometimes burying the hatchet or finding a middle ground can prove to be the best option.
A disagreement between both parties does not have to result in separation, at least not that quickly. More so when such a move could have far-reaching effects on the team.
The Catalan boss has gained a reputation out of dispensing with important players when both parties are not in agreement and still do well. From Ronaldinho to Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all at Barcelona, to Joe Hart at Man City.
So based on the antecedent, it is difficult to criticize the manager if he’s trying to prevent any distraction or disruption in the squad.
But it’s quite possible that Cancelo’s departure will affect the team negatively for the remainder of the season. Although the manager has experimented with Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake at left-back in recent matches, they are better suited for their natural positions as centre-backs.
Sergio Gomez is a talented young player at left-back, but he is still one for the future. Playing him in the toughest games of the season to come, especially in the Champions League, could prove counterproductive.
Cancelo has spent several years in the City system perfecting his art as part of the setup. Disrupting that flow so abruptly at a critical time in the season because of a disagreement with the manager may not be the best course of action.
Although he is not the go-to guy for goals having scored just five times in his 98 appearances for the club, his all-round contribution to the team makes him an important member of the group.
With 63 ball recoveries so far, only Rodri can boast of a better return in disrupting opposition play and turning over possession to his team. Expertly marshalling either side of the full-backs as well as tucking into the midfield when necessary, Cancelo was a must-have.
City head into the business end of the season short of one more experienced player that could have being a vital part of the team in the most important matches of the campaign. That is certainly not a positive. It gives the opposition one less problem to worry about when facing City.
The real effect of this decision will arise in situations where two, three or four City defenders get injured and there is a need for replacements. Spread thin, the team will find it difficult to cope, especially when faced with a tough opponent in an all-important game. Imagine Rico Lewis and Gomez featuring on either side of the defence against Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Paris Saint-Germain.
Kyle Walker’s injury partly contributed to City’s failure in the Champions League final against Chelsea.
So yes, the player’s attitude may not have been right in the quest for more playing time, but sometimes there’s a better way to resolve issues than taking a hard stand.
However, time will tell if this is another masterstroke from Pep, or a needless mistake.