Whether it’s the buying and selling of Zlatan Ibrahimovic or the ousting of Joe Hart in favour of Claudio Bravo’s ball-playing skills, Pep Guardiola has never been afraid of making shock moves in the transfer market.
For the most part, the moves have paid off for the Catalan, as shown with a bulging trophy cabinet that currently holds no fewer than 28 club honours.
His latest call, however, if made, could send shockwaves through the Manchester City dressing room, with Leroy Sane reportedly in the crosshairs of Guardiola’s former club, Bayern Munich, with a huge transfer fee being touted.
The rumours have been swirling for some time but what was a quiet whisper has now become a deafening noise among German media outlets.
The 23-year-old scored 10 goals and provided 15 assists during the 2017/18 Premier League season, picking up the PFA Young Player of the Year award as City’s ‘centurions’ stormed to the title.
“He’s a great player. They love him in England, they love him in Manchester City and we (Germany) love him too. I think he can be one of the best players in the world.”
The 2018/19 season was a completely different story, though. Sane was ruthlessly effective when called upon, with 28 direct goal involvements in the Premier League and Champions League combined, but he was often restricted to sporadic appearances from the bench.
In all three mammoth clashes with Spurs in April, Sane managed a total of just 50 minutes on the pitch and was an unused substitute four times in all competitions since the end of February.
A multitude of factors have led to Sane’s marginalisation. The rise of Bernardo Silva and the awe-inspiring form of Raheem Sterling are chief among them.
The aforementioned pair are far more versatile than Sane, capable of playing in any position behind the main striker and far more adept at creating space for their teammates with their superior intelligence and movement – something Guardiola values highly.
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Moreover, the rise of Oleksandr Zinchenko gives Guardiola the chance to fit Silva, Sterling, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne into the same team when fit and maintain that direct, 1v1 attacking threat on his left flank. The Ukrainian is naturally an attacking player and can provide the same width Sane does but contribute far more defensively.
None of this is to say that Sane isn’t a talented footballer, or any less talented than his City teammates. The Germany international is one of the brightest prospects in European football, a nightmare for full-backs and centre-backs when he drives at them with the ball and has all the tools to become the game’s ultimate winger.
It’s just that Guardiola doesn’t quite value out-and-out wingers in his starting XI as much as he does a playmaker or Raumdeuter (interpreter of space) a la Bernardo Silva and Sterling.
“He works so hard and the rewards are there. Right now with the way he plays I cannot do anything else but put him on the pitch and let him play. He’s so important for us. What he’s done for us is the best.”
Enter Bayern Munich. For years, the Bavarian empire that has mopped up Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal titles for fun, as well as the 2013 Champions League, has been massively predicated on lethal wingers.
Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery are the obvious names, but both will depart this summer. Along with them, the likes of Kingsley Coman, Douglas Costa and Serge Gnabry have been seen terrorizing out wide for the German champions. Hell, they even signed Canadian rookie Alphonso Davies from Vancouver Whitecaps in January to continue this trend.
Sane would be a perfect fit at the Allianz Arena and one can only imagine the havoc he could wreak on Bayern’s left, feeding the might of Robert Lewandowski or simply going it solo.
A return to his native Germany would, of course, suit the player personally and could also push him further into the national team spotlight having battled his way back into the reckoning after his shock 2018 World Cup omission.
Sane remains a brilliant ‘Plan B’ for Guardiola – as demonstrated with his goal and game-changing effect during April’s Manchester derby – but the player himself wants and needs time in the starting XI as he continues to blossom.
Unless the Catalan coach can offer him that, he may well be powerless to stop him leaving the Etihad, regardless of City’s billions.