It appears as though Manchester City are about to add to their collection of galacticos with the acquisition of Sporting CP midfielder Bruno Fernandes.
The 24-year-old has experience in Italy – having played for Novara, Udinese and Sampdoria – as well as Portugal, blossoming into delightful attacking force since a move to Lisbon in 2017. With a total of 31 goals and 17 assists in all competitions this campaign, it is plain to see why a host of elite clubs have been chasing him.
It would no doubt turn out to be a superb signing for the Citizens, though there is one issue that arises from the Portuguese international’s arrival; what happens to Kevin de Bruyne?
We Need to Talk About Kevin
The Belgian is one of the finest players in the Premier League, that is an irrefutable fact. However, he has had his career at the Etihad Stadium hampered by injuries – the playmaker having been sidelined on four different occasions during this campaign alone.
With reports suggesting the equally brilliant Fernandes is soon to set foot on these shores, will there still be a place for De Bruyne in this majestic Manchester City machine?
Well, of course there will.
This is a man who has earned the adoration of teammates and supporters with his blend of tireless work ethic and sublime skill. He is capable of totally dictating a match and dismantling opponents at ease. Only a fool discards such talent.
The Gerrard-Lampard Conundrum
A problem seems to stem from the similarities of the two players, with both adept at threading a pass through the narrowest of gaps, firing in long-range bullets and everything in between. However, such likeness is not a disadvantage.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard – icons at Liverpool and Chelsea, respectively – were notoriously mediocre when lining up together for England, their partnership in the centre of the park failing to produce the expected fireworks. The ineffectual nature of that combination has perpetuated the myth that players with similar skill sets can’t play in the same midfield.
That was the era of 4-4-2, the revolutionary ideas of tiki-taka and a three-man midfield unit having not yet been made commonplace by the visionary Pep Guardiola. Unfortunately for Lampard and Gerrard, the latter was exactly what they needed.
Having an anchor in the engine room releases the other two, allowing them to freely express themselves and focus on matters at the far end of the pitch. Such is the system that Guardiola employs at City these days, suggesting Fernandes and De Bruyne can be used as the two forward-thinking players.
It evidently works rather well, the Spaniard’s side on course for an unprecedented domestic treble. Both David and Bernardo
So, we’ve established that there is no difficulty in Fernandes and his counterpart appearing alongside each other. Perhaps more importantly, however, they may be needed to play instead of each other.
The Citizens will have had over 60 competitive fixtures by the end of this year, a truly exhausting figure. With several team members picking up knocks and niggles over the season, squad depth has been crucial. The assumption is that 2019/20 will prove similarly taxing as the club look to secure a maiden Champions League trophy.
Therefore, adding another body to the midfield – where the demands are highest – is a wise decision. Let De Bruyne leave and that personnel boost disappears. The tough demands of a campaign fought both domestically and abroad mean Guardiola will need options with no drop in quality from one individual to the next.
Age is also a factor, not just for 27-year-old City genius but also for teammates David Silva and Phil Foden. ‘El Mago’ will be 34 and on the verge of making his Etihad exit this time next year, with De Bruyne the long-term heir to the magician’s throne. How illogical it would be to lose the influential duo in quick succession.
Meanwhile, Foden needs a mentor to guide his fledgling career, someone to help hone his already-marvellous skills. That teacher is the former Wolfsburg player. He has grown as a leader since a £54m switch from the Bundesliga, making him the ideal candidate to mould Foden into the formidable creative force he promises to be.
It is the respect the Belgium international has within the changing that hammers home the ridiculousness of suggestions that Fernandes could oust him from the Sky Blues’ starting lineup. All the great sides have had inspirational figures, with Roy Keane at Manchester United and Patrick Vieira for Arsenal being the archetypes.
Having such a strong voice removed from their ranks could prove a graver concern than losing the virtuoso talent De Bruyne possesses. United have never recovered Sir Alex Ferguson departure, Chelsea’s squad is mutinous following John Terry’s farewell and Real Madrid have fallen off a cliff in the time between Zinedine Zidane’s two tenures – leaders matter.
With captain Vincent Kompany yet to agree to a new contract, Guardiola could be about to hand the armband to someone else. There are many suitable candidates, but De Bruyne’s consistency and passion for the club mean he should be the one to pick up the gauntlet.