It was only a matter of time before Manchester City stars were linked with moves to other clubs owing to their European ban by Uefa which, if upheld, means they will miss the next two years of Champions League and Europa League competition.
The latest name linked to the exit door is Riyad Mahrez, whose transfer away was mooted last week.
Paris Saint-Germain are the club said to be chasing the former Leicester City wideman, who would depart the blue half of Manchester after two trophy-laden campaigns under Pep Guardiola. The latest development comes weeks after Europe’s football governing body sanctioned the Citizens.
While the four-time Premier League champions seem outwardly confident their appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport will prompt either a reduction or the ban getting lifted altogether, the uncertainty as regards the club’s position will surely have crossed the players’ minds.
For Mahrez, he joined Pep’s army in the summer of 2018 and was part of the side that claimed all three domestic titles in the land – Premier League, the FA Cup and League Cup – in what was an unprecedented domestic treble win.
While the Algerian didn’t play as much of a leading role as he’d have liked, this year has been different with the Africa Cup of Nations champion kicking on from his success in Egypt last year to play a more important part this season.
Their league campaign may have failed to take off, and could end disappointingly with Liverpool so far ahead in the table, but further success in the Carabao Cup and progress in the sport’s oldest cup competition means more titles could be on the cards when the season resumes.
In addition, and perhaps importantly, claiming the Holy Grail this year will be the club’s imaginary little finger to the competition’s governing body, having endured a tricky relationship over the years.
Ironically, if they do claim their maiden Champions League crown, players like Mahrez might feel it best to move on, ban or otherwise, having claimed every title possible for the Citizens. Their hopes were boosted with a dominant 2-1 win over Real Madrid in the first-leg of their Round of 16 tie, a game the African champion thrived in despite not scoring or assisting.
On the other hand, though, if Man City fail to win this season’s European title and their appeal at the CAS fails, will stars like Mahrez stay at the club without continental football for two years?
Besides the obvious financial ramifications the lack of UCL football will have on the Algerian’s bumper contract, it may not be reasonable to wait it out in Manchester given his age. The ex-Leicester man clocked 29 in February and could be 31 in two years when City are back in Europe.
The alternative, of course, is to leave the Citizens when the transfer window re-opens, get one last rewarding contract, and another shot in the continent’s premier club competition.
This is the opening PSG are reportedly offering, but whether their interest materialises into something concrete will be determined by the Manchester outfit’s appeal.
Still, it would be worthwhile to consider how Mahrez fits into the current setup at the Ligue 1 side owing to the presence of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in Thomas Tuchel’s team.
The German tactician has made use of a few formations this season, from the 4-3-3 to the 3-4-3, before finally finding a bit of balance with the 4-2-2-2 in the last few months, which lets him shoehorn all his attacking talents into the side, while having a fair bit of balance in midfield.
If the North African is signed, game time would be hugely dependent on how Tuchel wants his side to play long-term: is the current 4-2-2-2 formation a means to an end or a tactic that’ll be largely maintained next season?
In the aforementioned tactic, Mbappe doesn’t block Mahrez’s path into the XI as he plays up top alongside an out-and-out striker.
In a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, however, the exceptional Frenchman mainly starts wide right, thus limiting the Afcon winner’s time on the pitch.
Will PSG be willing to spend a considerable amount of funds on a rotational option, while handing him eye-watering wages to boot?
The recent coronavirus outbreak which has brought football to a standstill has understandably taken the limelight off Uefa vs Man City at CAS, but things will surely become clearer when the dust settles.