Graeme Souness believes Pep Guardiola will regret not signing Virgil van Dijk before he joined Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, with Van Dijk being one of the primary reasons they are soon to be crowned champions.
Were City close to signing Van Dijk? Five things to know…
- The centre-back position has been a problem for Guardiola since joining City.
- John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi have gone off the boil in recent times.
- Man City were said to be ‘closing in on a deal’ for Van Dijk two years ago, but Klopp ultimately won the bidding war.
- City’s go-to partnership at the end of last term has been broken up with Kompany leaving for Anderlecht and Laporte suffering a lengthy injury.
- Fernandinho, their key holding midfielder, has been forced to play at the back since September.
City and Guardiola were reportedly keen on Van Dijk during his time at Southampton but were put off by his price tag. The £75m fee which Liverpool paid was deemed too much by the City hierarchy.
Since then, however, Liverpool have got their money’s worth. They’ve reached two Champions League finals, winning the coveted silverware once, whilst also clinching the Club World Cup and Super Cup along the way. Without Van Dijk, it is highly unlikely that those aforementioned cup triumphs would all have transpired.
However, had City signed Van Dijk, then they could have gone on to reach a similar level of global dominance that Liverpool have achieved this season.
In his column for The Times, Liverpool legend Souness reiterated just how crucial that signing has turned out to be.
He wrote: “If Guardiola could turn back the clock two years, to the January transfer window of 2018, he would pay a premium to sign Virgil van Dijk, topping the £75 million that Liverpool paid Southampton for him. I said at the time it was a no-brainer.
“It’s not the last piece of the jigsaw because Guardiola would never be happy with his lot, but there was never a question of how Van Dijk would handle the Premier League because he had already shown he could after moving south from Celtic.
“For City, with their owners, there will always be a premium to be paid for a player, it’s how big that premium is. There are deals they just have to take on the chin, and Van Dijk was one of them.”
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Does Guardiola need to spend better?
What Guardiola has done at City is sensational. He has invested in some excellent players and helped transform some already elite-level talent into world class stars – Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Fernandinho, to name a few.
However, his defence has always been an issue. Yet, for some reason, this summer saw Guardiola sign no central defenders, despite Vincent Kompany returning to Belgium and John Stones, as well as Nicolas Otamendi clearly struggling for form.
Souness pointed to this bizarre fact too as reason for City’s struggles. He added: “From the outside, it seems Guardiola is never sure of his best central pairing in defence. When he spent £60m on signing Joao Cancelo, a right-back, from Juventus last summer, I would have thought a centre- back was the priority.
“He did not have a settled partnership even with Vincent Kompany there and Aymeric Laporte fit because he could not rely on Kompany being there all the time.
“Guardiola loses Kompany, then the season starts and he also loses Laporte to injury. He knows there’s a player in John Stones, but he is not 100 per cent sold on him. Nicolas Otamendi does a good job when he comes in, but we all know his shortcomings.
“Then there’s a chain reaction. You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul by taking Fernandinho out of midfield and using him at centre-back because he is a lot better than Rodri. That is the crux of City’s problem.”