Fernandinho has simply been a rock at the base of Manchester City’s midfield since his transfer from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013.
The Brazilian has played with a consistently high quality since his move to England, regularly featuring in over 40 games across all competitions and cementing his status as an integral midfield mainstay.
But he is 33, has missed only 41 minutes of Premier League and Champions League football combined this year, and is relied upon too much by a club so prosperous that all contingencies are typically catered for some years before they are likely to happen.
This is where we are with Fernandinho, a player who, over time, has quietly grown in stature as the significance of his dirty work has crept into the match notes of the country’s football commentariat.
As good as he is, a replacement needs to be found should Fernandinho get injured, become more injury prone or simply lose some zip in those legs. City have been on the lookout for a successor for a while; last summer favouring options Fred and Jorginho, though they notoriously went elsewhere.
So who are the options now? Read on for dream, realistic, wildcard choices, along with our own recommendation.
Dream: Frenkie de Jong
The Ajax starlet has unbounded potential at the moment, and at 21, he’s already being linked with a who’s who of top European sides.
A graduate of the Dutch club’s esteemed academy, De Jong seems to have all the building blocks of a Guardiola-type defensive midfielder, with excellent distribution and dribbling ability to go with defensive nous and size.
Last season, De Jong had a passing accuracy of 91.4% in the Eredivisie, and this term it’s 91.3%. Fernandinho has currently averaged 88.6% in the league so far.
The Dutchman also has a risk-taking dribbling ability that would add something new to City’s midfield; last season he enjoyed a 93.1% dribbling success rate.
So good is De Jong, or rather the prospect of him, that he’s wanted everywhere. Xavi said De Jong is “exactly what Barcelona need” and that “he does look like Sergio Busquets in terms of playing style”, according to Manchester Evening News.
What this means for the transfer fee of a player contracted until 2022 probably nudges De Jong into the ‘dream’ realm.
Yet reports have City as chief admirers in the youngster’s signing along with the likes of PSG and Barca, so watch this space.
Realistic: Ruben Neves
Realistic in that prizing him from Wolves isn’t beyond the financial muscle (even at £60m) and footballing pull of City, Neves represents a technically strong option as Fernandinho’s replacement.
Neves has made 14 league appearances, scoring two goals and assisting once. His pass completion rate of 84% is decent in a side not exactly having things their own way since promotion to the top flight.
It’s clear Neves is of a Champions League level already; the longevity of his tenure at Wolves was always going to be tethered to the rapid success of the club, who at present are 12th.
Might the Portuguese be persuaded to join the best team in the land? Probably. He’s also managed more tackles in the league per 90 (2.3) and interceptions (1.9) than Fernandinho’s 1.8 and 1.5 respectively.
Neves certainly seems to have the skills required to play the role for City, and he’s scored some real pearlers from distance, but at only 21 he naturally seems to have a way to go before he can truly control games. The Manchester club might fancy a more adventurous signing as they look to the future.
Wildcard: Adrien Rabiot
The talented Frenchman looks destined to leave PSG after talks over his new contract with the Parisiens have fallen through, and he is reported to be open to rejoining City after a stint there as a youth prospect in 2008, according to Manchester Evening News.
Rabiot certainly fulfils some of the prerequisites of the holding position at City in that he is positionally savvy and passes well, with a current success percentage of 93.1%. He’s also likely available this January – and probably for a cut-price deal given his contractual standoff – and he’s been left out by Tuchel in recent big games against Marseille in Ligue 1 and against Liverpool in the Champions League.
The problems arise however with his reported attitude problems. He infamously refused to go on Didier Deschamps’ stand-by list for the 2018 World Cup, which seems incredibly hubristic. Whether Guardiola will go in for this sort of player isn’t clear, especially given added suggestions Rabiot does not like playing at the base of the midfield and the problems which may arise from that.
That said, he may still sign an extension with PSG, making any such move difficult.
Squawka Suggests: Tanguy Ndombele
Ndombele is an impressive midfielder who will attract the interest of Premier League clubs sooner or later.
Deployed more as a No.8 at Lyon than a true holder, especially when alongside Lucas Tousart, the 21-year-old has all the tools to supplant or compliment Fernandinho’s dynamism in City’s centre.
Ndombele has put particularly dominant displays against City in the Champions League, both in Lyon’s 2-1 victory at the Etihad and again at the 2-2 at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, which has led to links, although in truth the move was being talked up before. He’s typically compared to Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele because of his propensity to carry the ball from deep positions past players – so far this season he’s averaged three dribbles per game in the Champions League – but he’s also positionally savvy, prepared to sit when necessary.
His intelligent ability to recycle the ball is borne out in his pass completion in the league of 89.1%, and he’s averaged 2.3 tackles per 90.
Ndombele would be a smart addition to the City side irrespective of Fernandinho’s future, but he also has the ability to directly replace him, but with an added incisive-running threat.