Gabriel Jesus has signed for Arsenal and Raheem Sterling is almost certain to complete his planned move to Chelsea in the coming days. The two are intriguing transfers on their own, but together they represent something highly unusual: players rarely move between Big Six Premier League clubs, with all parties relatively happy with the deal. So what is it Manchester City to do with allowing two regular first-team strikers to join clubs that are, at least to some extent, direct rivals?
Examples of intra-Big Six moves are almost always marked with an asterisk. Willy Caballero left Man City for Chelsea in 2017 because reserve keepers are an unusual commodity. Juan Mata left Chelsea for Manchester United in 2014 because José Mourinho failed to rate him. James Milner left Man City for Liverpool in 2015 because his contract had expired, he was keen on playing for Liverpool and the feeling was (incorrectly) that at 29 he was entering the twilight of his career. Robin van Persie, Bacary Sagna, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri all left Arsenal as the financial pressure of the stadium move meant their contract demands could not be met.
It’s true that Sterling and Jesus only had a year left on their deals, and to that extent it was in City’s interest to sell them now, securing a total of around $90m in signing fees. transfer in rather than losing both on free transfers next summer. . But equally, City could clearly have met their wage demands. The city’s wealth is essentially unlimited, and Financial Fair Play regulations have been increasingly weakened. City clearly reasoned that both were expendable. And not only that, but so expendable that they didn’t mind handing them over to Premier League rivals.
Sterling is 27 years old and should therefore reach his peak. He has scored 58 goals in the last five Premier League seasons while registering 34 assists. He was England’s most effective attacking player as he reached the Euro final last summer. His likely signing was not met with much enthusiasm by at least some of Chelsea’s backing, but his goalscoring commitments were consistent over that period and he won four Premier League titles.
Gabriel Jesus is 25 years old. He has scored 51 goals in the last five Premier League seasons while adding 25 assists. He is a regular Brazil international and has proven himself to be a diligent presser during his time at City. He too has won four Premier League titles.
And yet, doubts remain about both. After the 2018 World Cup, Jesus told Brazil coach Tite that he himself didn’t seem like a number nine, preferring to start wide and drift down the pitch. It’s an effective role in the modern game, but in his case it seemed to speak to a lack of confidence, perhaps linked to the struggles of various Brazilian centre-forwards at World Cups. Since joining Arsenal he has said he is a nine but will surely spend most of his time leaving the front line to create space for Arsenal’s attacking fleet. The fact that Mikel Arteta worked with him as Guardiola’s assistant at Man City must be a plus though.
Scroll to continue
But like Sterling, we get the feeling that Jesus is not a natural finisher. Both, when short of form, can be prone to hesitation, and there are many YouTube compilations of Sterling’s misfires, including the effort he fired into an open net from eight yards in the loss. of the Champions League against Lyon.
And that perhaps explains City’s thinking. He decided to reorganize his line before this summer by bringing in Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund and Julián Álvarez from River Plate. No transfer is without risk, but Haaland’s quality is proven. Álvarez is 22 years old and is highly rated. Signings from South America may take time to settle in the Premier League, but that implies City believe they are ready.
Perhaps logic dictates that City continue to dominate key Champions League games but still lose, as they did in last season’s semi-final against Real Madrid. What he needs is not someone who will contribute 20-25 Premier League goals every season, but a ruthless striker who will take risks when they matter most.
And when it comes to selling to Arsenal and Chelsea (and defender Nathan Aké is also reportedly set to join Sterling on the way to Stamford Bridge), perhaps the feeling at City is that their only real domestic rival is Liverpool. . To some extent arming your other rivals makes them more likely to drop points. If City believe, as they should, that they still have a comfortably stronger squad than Chelsea and Arsenal, then increasing their strength may, paradoxically, make the league easier to win.
More football coverage: