Pep Guardiola has started his summer vacation in Barcelona. Five days after winning his fourth Premier League title, he was heading to a gig by one of his favorite bands.
The Catalan band Mishima was playing. The singer is David Caraben, who is not only a good friend of Guardiola but the grandson of Armand Caraben – the Barcelona manager who managed to convince a Dutch footballer named Johan Cruyff to sign for the club some time ago. 49 years.
Caraben paused in the middle of the band’s set to strike up a conversation with the thousands of people standing in front of him:
“Guys, we’re all the same. But here we have someone who has won four of the last five Premier Leagues, so let’s wish him a warm welcome.
Everyone turned their heads to spot Guardiola in a restricted area. The crowd quickly started cheering and chanting his name. The former Barcelona player and later head coach raised his arms in what looked like some sort of celebration, to thank the appreciation received.
Guardiola was enjoying himself and he could afford it.
Shortly after this, Txiki Begiristain was on a flight to the UK. Maybe it’s party time. But it is also work time for him.
The City director of football spent just a week in Catalonia with his family before returning to east Manchester. Guardiola and Begiristain had drawn up City’s plan in this transfer window.
In the arrivals department, there are two cases. There’s Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips, as has been widely discussed. Then there is Marc Cucurella.
The Spanish full-back from Brighton is a priority signing on City’s wishlist, as Guardiola could do with a weapon he barely had at the Etihad: a natural left-back.
As things stand, Phillips and Cucurella are the only two expected arrivals at the champions this summer.
Athleticism understands City will begin formal contact with Brighton within days to discuss signing Cucurella. Brighton are aware of what is coming.
They’ll want a hefty sum, expecting a final fee close to what they secured for Ben White last summer when Arsenal invested £50m to land the England centre-back.
City won’t hit those numbers for Cucurella and if Brighton don’t soften their stance and really demand a £50m+ deal they will walk away.
Sources involved in the mooted transfer believe there is room for negotiation. They are convinced that an agreement can be found.
Chelsea should also be in on the action for Cucurella. Marcos Alonso watches the exit from Stamford Bridge, pushing to return to his native Spain. However, Athleticism understands the 23-year-old full-back intends to join City after an impressive first season with Brighton.
From the player’s side, there is a strong belief that signing for the English champions would take his game to the next level. Being managed by Guardiola is a big incentive, with Cucurella having come through the Barcelona youth ranks before moving to Eibar and then Getafe. Personal terms should not be a problem.
Guardiola and Begiristain both want Cucurella. He didn’t just impress as an attacking threat – he created more open play chances than any other Premier League full-back last season – but more importantly for his defensive stats.
He was ninth in the list of outfield players for most ball recoveries (247) in the Premier League, and second among defenders for tackles (93). His ability to press high on the pitch and win duels is also appreciated.
The city’s youngsters could be used as heavyweights in deals this summer.
As reported by Athleticism, Belgian starlet Romeo Lavia has already caught the eye of Southampton and Leeds United this summer, which could make it easier to pursue Phillips.
Leeds are also believed to be very keen to bring in 19-year-old midfielder James McAtee, either permanently or on loan. City plan to keep him close to their first team for next season and do not appear open to any departure, but their resolve could be tested if the pursuit of Phillips drags on. Brighton were interested in signing McAtee last summer but are not believed to be an option at the moment.
There are plenty of other young players in the Etihad ranks who could fit into the equation.
There is something else. Before any new signings, City must sell. Three players are widely considered to be on the departure list, and the club will not stand in their way.
Oleksandr Zinchenko is one of them. The Ukrainian has attracted a lot of interest from the Premier League in the past. Everton are considered the sharpest now. If the 25-year-old leaves, there would be a free spot for Cucurella at left-back.
The other two names are Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
Arsenal are still most likely to lure the Brazilian out of the Etihad Stadium. City have set an asking price of £50million for the 25-year-old. Chelsea could be a potential suitor for Sterling as the England striker enters the final year of his contract, but there has been no contact between the two clubs yet.
Riyad Mahrez is another striker whose contract ends next summer. However, the Algerian is expected to stay at City beyond this transfer window.
There is still work to be done, conversations to have and agreements to sign, but Begiristain does not want to waste time.
While waiting to close some of the expected outings, City plan to continue closing in on new signings. That’s what they’re going to do now with Cucurella and Brighton.
In the meantime, Guardiola is still on vacation but Begiristain keeps him updated on everything on a daily basis.
The city manager will now travel to New York with his family. A golf test awaits him there.
Who knows if there will be another gig to enjoy, like he did with Mishima in Barcelona.
If he does, Guardiola will have peace of mind that Begiristain will be working in Manchester to try and secure the left-back they’ve been craving.
(Top photo: Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images)