The revived all-stars: Manchester City

Stones is central to City's ambitions

Defender’s lucrative six-year deal a key part of Guardiola’s quest to revitalise his new side

LONDON • Manchester City finally completed the signing of John Stones from Everton yesterday, paying the Goodison club an initial £47.5 million (S$83.1 million) to make the 22-year-old the second most expensive defender in history after David Luiz (£50 million).

The England international has signed a six-year deal and becomes the eighth player to join City this summer.

"I am absolutely delighted to sign for City and now the deal is done, I'm looking forward to the next stage in my career," he said.

"I've obviously seen what's going on at the Etihad. It's an ambitious club with a great manager so I can't wait to get stuck in and help them achieve their goals."

So here it is then, the season City have been waiting for so patiently - the big-money signings and more crucially, the big-name manager in Pep Guardiola.

It has long been obvious, certainly since 2012 when the club imported Barcelona's infrastructure in Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain (chief executive and sporting director respectively), that the ultimate aim was to bring in Guardiola as well and reproduce some of his sparkling success in the north-west of England.

John Stones is the eighth player to sign for City this summer. "I'm looking forward to the next stage in my career," he said.
John Stones is the eighth player to sign for City this summer. "I'm looking forward to the next stage in my career," he said. PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

However, Guardiola comes to Manchester at a time when Manchester United supporters, owing to new manager Jose Mourinho, are more confident and bullish about their prospects than they have been for the best part of a decade.

And it is not only his rivals in his new home city that Guardiola has to worry about.

Liverpool and Tottenham also feel they have the right manager and players to mount a serious title challenge, and although Arsenal never quite seem to feel the same way, they at least have the theoretical financial capacity to improve their squad and build on last season's second-place finish.

Antonio Conte, like Guardiola, will need time to find his feet in a new league, though it is unlikely with a coach of his pedigree that Chelsea will be as far off the pace as they were last season.

On the positive side, City still have the eminently watchable Kevin de Bruyne to build a side around, will always carry a goal threat as long as Sergio Aguero is fit, have picked up Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Nolito to increase their midfield options. Their latest recruit, Stones, would be the icing on the cake.

Concerns for Guardiola include Vincent Kompany's uncertain fitness, Joe Hart's unconvincing performances for England at Euro 2016 and the thorny problem of getting the best out of Raheem Sterling.

Mildly interesting issues for fans to debate begin with whether Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi have any future at the heart of a Guardiola defence, and end with several questions that needs answering in attack.

Will there be scope for Kelechi Iheanacho to build on his promising breakthrough last season, is Wilfried Bony going to get a look in, and how much patience will Guardiola show with the speedy but inevitably disappointing Jesus Navas?

Perhaps what matters most in terms of setting the mood for the new season is what happens to Yaya Toure and David Silva, two stalwarts who have been around since the Roberto Mancini days.

MAN CITY ARE GOING PLACES

I've obviously seen what's going on at the Etihad. It's an ambitious club with a great manager so I can't wait to get stuck in and help them achieve their goals.

JOHN STONES, new Manchester City defender, looking forward to playing for his new team.

Toure is in the final year of his contract and, at 33, not the influence he once was. Silva, three years younger, is presumably a part of Guardiola's plans, yet there were times under Manuel Pellegrini when City ran out of ideas even with the Spaniard on the pitch.

City now have their dream manager for at least three seasons. The Premier League in general, and Manchester in particular, should see more than their usual share of excitement this season.

City's overall plan is to succeed in the Champions League, and Guardiola's main task is to instill that belief in his players, besides winning the Premier League.

The Spaniard probably is capable of revitalising City's team of stars and taking them to the next level, but first he must work out what he wants that level to be.

It would be asking a lot of a coach in a new country to progress on two fronts. Although improving on Pellegrini's record last season is clearly possible, City winning something big is unlikely to happen without careful planning and prioritisation. Perhaps four years of careful planning and prioritisation.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Stones is central to City's ambitions'. Print Edition | Subscribe