Liverpool had won the race. It was established that their main transfer target wanted to join, a weekly wage had been agreed, and Southampton had named their asking price, as tough as the numbers involved in the deal were to stomach for many.
He had been courted by both the Premier League champions and next season’s early title favourites, yet Virgil van Dijk chose to back the relative dark horse in Liverpool. The Saint would come marching into Anfield soon. It was a case of when, not if.
Then, in publicly declaring their victory mid-sprint in as loud a voice possible, they contrived to trip over their own shoelaces mere inches from the finish line, the rest of the runners having already abandoned the chase. This was a special kind of incompetence.
For the Reds, this was a disaster; for Manchester City, it was a slight bump in an otherwise smooth road. Van Dijk was the main target for the former, who now must source alternatives – second or third choices at best. He was simply one of many options for the latter, who continue their pursuit for improvement unabated.
Liverpool spent their Wednesday evening issuing grovelling apologies and recovering from the embarrassing nature of their failure. Less than 24 hours later, City had already moved on from the fiasco. The signing of Ederson, coupled with the purchase of Bernardo Silva, takes their spending to £77.9million. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and City were the only Premier League sides to spend more in the entirety of last summer, and the transfer window does not officially open for another three weeks.
That the cure for a season of chronic under-performance is a prescription of heavy spending will leave some uninspired and unsatisfied. The combined outlay on Silva and Ederson will mean that only three individuals – Jose Mourinho (£1.08bn), Carlo Ancelotti (£876m) and Manuel Pellegrini (£795.67m) – have spent more on transfers throughout their managerial career than Pep Guardiola (£722.63m). For a man who has not yet been managing for a full decade, that is remarkable.
But it is City’s efficiency thus far in the market which is just as surprising. Mourinho is often credited with taking a ‘surgical approach’ in transfers, but it is Guardiola who has taken a knife to his squad with ruthless precision.
It was not City but United who had been most heavily linked with Silva until May, when the Portuguese was reported to have flown into Manchester. It was only then that we discovered he was in ‘advanced negotiations’ with City. The deal was announced a day later, three days before the English league season had actually ended. The contrast with that transfer and Liverpool’s fumble over Van Dijk shows one club used to the limelight and one blinded by it after years of darkness.
Even United have been cast into the shade by their neighbours. Their attempts to persuade Antoine Griezmann into leaving Atletico Madrid failed but were expertly masked with all the transparency of a brick wall. The public leak that they had changed priorities and were now targeting an ‘out-and-out striker’ came just hours after the announcement of Atletico’s transfer ban, and was blamed on an injury Zlatan Ibrahimovic had suffered in April.
It had been made clear that they were happy to spend upwards of £80m on Griezmann, and so both Real Madrid and Torino feel comfortable requesting similar fees for Alvaro Morata and Andrea Belotti. United have made their bed, and must decide whether they want to spend the money necessary to acquire someone to lay in it.
Liverpool were the braggadocious young man who boasted about getting the attractive girl’s number before having a glass of water thrown in their face. United spared themselves of similar embarrassment, but their claims that they didn’t want her anyway fell on deaf ears. City did not indulge in posturing, they simply got the job done.
Yet this is just the start. Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Ryan Bertrand have been identified as targets at full-back. The meticulous search for a central midfielder continues. An audacious move for Alexis Sanchez could yet materialise as Guardiola and his team will not rest until reinforcements are purchased. And don’t expect many new first-team signings after the end of July. There will be no late panic at the Etihad Stadium
“I am planning,” said the manager as far back as March. “We have to have one eye on the short, the medium, the long term. But of course, as young as possible is much better.” A man of his word, the five players released by Guardiola this summer had an average age of 32 years and eight months. Silva and Ederson are 22 and 23 respectively.
The final game of the last Premier League season was on May 21; the fixtures for next season are released on June 14. Many clubs will use this three-and-a-half-week interim to rest and recuperate, but City are doing the precise opposite. They have made giant strides while their main rivals are standing still, if not being knocked backwards.