Saul Niguez is on his way to Manchester City. That’s according to reports in ESPN which suggest that the Citizens have now moved into pole position to sign the 24-year-old.
It was previously thought that Barcelona were all but guaranteed to sign the midfielder this summer, with Saul unhappy at Atletico after a particularly underwhelming season for the Rojoblancos. When Barcelona sold David Villa to Atletico back in 2013, they included a clause in the deal that gave them a first-buy option on Saul.
Yet it appears Saul is not interested in joining the Catalan giants, having had his ‘people’ tell Barca that he is instead intent on joining City.
Pep Guardiola has long admired his compatriot’s versatility in midfield and that will no doubt have had an impact on his decision. It’s a transfer that makes sense for City. Though on track for a second consecutive title, as well as still in the hunt for the ‘Quadruple’, if there’s one weakness to this side, it’s the ageing and injury prone central midfield.
Since the departure of Yaya Toure, City have lacked that one ball-playing midfielder that can do everything. Though Fernandinho has excelled under Guardiola, he’s now 34 and can’t have too many campaigns left in him. Ilkay Gundogan and Fabian Delph are both too injury prone to nail down a long-term starting spot, and Kevin De Bruyne is arguably better deployed in a more advanced position.
Saul would effectively take Fernandinho’s spot, with the Spaniard able to play at the base of a midfield three, in a more box-to-box position or even in a free-role across the middle. Though he has often played in more attacking roles, it is the defensive side of midfield in which he is most proficient, averaging 2.6 tackles per game in La Liga this season, the second-highest of any Atletico player this term.
He could be just the player City have been searching for since Guardiola took over, with the sky-blues missing out on the likes of Fred, Jorginho and now Frenkie de Jong – all of whom Guardiola had identified as targets.
Of course, a player of his quality and age will not come cheap. Atletico are touting a figure of around €120 million, though it’s believed an offer in the region of €80 million would convince them to sell. Though this is quite steep, City won’t be overly concerned paying such an amount if it secures a player who could dominate their midfield for the next decade – and if that were to happen, €80 million might one day even be considered a bargain.