The Biggest “What If” Signings of the Pep Guardiola Era at Manchester City

The American Cityzen
5 min readJul 26, 2021

We are near the end of July and roughly halfway through the transfer window with Manchester City not yet having signed a first team player. As it stands, Manchester City’s two biggest targets are Jack Grealish and Harry Kane, but summer transfers don’t always go to plan. This article is going to discuss a couple of the biggest transfers that almost happened, but took last-minute turns, and now have a profound effect on the team today.

Dani Alves

After Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge of City, it was well-known that City needed to completely overhaul their fullbacks. That summer saw four fullbacks leave in Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, and Pablo Zabaleta. The plan in the beginning of summer of 2017 was to sign four fullbacks to take their place. In their plans, City was keen on signing Kyle Walker, Dani Alves on a free transfer, Benjamin Mendy, and Ryan Bertrand. Walker and Mendy obviously signed, but Alves and Bertrand did not. Bertrand coming to City hinged particularly on Dani Alves. City had an agreement with Dani Alves to come to Manchester, sign his contract and complete his medical after coming home from his vacation. However, a last minute attempt by PSG eventually convinced Alves to come to Paris rather than Manchester. This late shift from Alves forced City to change their approach, as they expected to sign Alves without paying a transfer fee. Now that they could not do that, they did not want to sign a fourth fullback having paid for four transfer fees. This forced City to sign Danilo instead, who can play on both sides, and not sign a fourth fullback at all. This ultimately left out Ryan Bertrand, who stayed at Southampton. Now the question remains: What if all went to plan and City did sign Dani Alves?

The first difference in the squad that is immediately evident is the signing of a homegrown left back, namely Ryan Bertrand. The signing of another left back would have effected two players in a big way: Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko. Both Delph and Zinchenko moved from their natural positions in midfield to slot in at left back. With two left backs that season, it is entirely feasible that neither Delph nor Zinchenko made that move to left back. There is also possibility that Mendy does not have his season-ending and career-altering injury that he had against Crystal Palace which ultimately forced Delph and Zinchenko into that left back spot. In the 2017/2018 season, Delph performed as well as he possibly could given the new position. He proved to be a solid starter in the Centurion season at left back. In the next year, Mendy sustained another injury with no viable backup, and Zinchenko took the reigns at left back. Now, Zinchenko is City’s starting left back and has not looked back. However, if City signed another left back in 2017, much of this may not have come to fruition. Zinchenko may have gone out on loan again and Delph could have stayed as a squad player, and neither of them move to left back. This would have major implications on today’s squad, as it would be entirely possible to see Zinchenko not be playing for City at all. Not only that, but Mendy would be a completely different player had he not sustained major injuries. Mendy was a world class talent in the beginning of his career at City as well as previously at Monaco. It is entirely possible that Mendy could be a clear first team starter at City had he not sustained those injuries. Instead, he is now an afterthought at that position due to never recovering that same form pre-injuries.

Not only would the left back position be different, but right back may have changed as well. Dani Alves would have come to City at 34 years old, so it’s safe to say that he was not a long term option. It’s entirely possible that João Cancelo may not have been signed as the successor, depending on the time Alves were to leave City. The fullback positions would be much different today if Dani Alves were to sign for City, and the squad still feels the effects of missing out on Alves today, whether it be positive or negative.

Alexis Sanchez

As many know, Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez was very close to coming to City as well. The deal fell through when Arsenal failed to secure a replacement for Alexis and would not let him leave. Eventually, in the next transfer window, he ended up moving to Manchester United. However, the squad makeup today would be vastly different if Alexis were to sign for City instead.

The first noticeable effect is that City would not have signed Riyad Mahrez. Mahrez is an integral part of the team today, and he would not be here if not for the Sanchez deal falling through. There would also be an effect on Leroy Sane, as he wanted to leave when he felt that he was not a first-team starter. This circumstance could have changed if Mahrez was not there and Alexis began declining as he got older. Later on, this failed signing could have affected the signing of Ferran Torres as well, as it would be unknown when City would be in the market for a new winger. The unknown effects in this area have so many variables that it would be hard to even speculate.

Another major consequence that the Alexis transfer could have had is at the striker position. Alexis Sanchez was not only a winger, but could also play as an effective striker. If Alexis took minutes at the striker position, the effects for Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero would be different today. Aguero may have not sustained a serious injury, or Jesus may have wanted to leave as a result of less game time. The effect could also be that Pep Guardiola could decide to play more of a two-striker system, which would affect the playing time of some midfielders as well.

This failed deal could also affect this summer’s market. Given the fact that City are looking to spend over £100 million on Harry Kane this summer, Alexis previously playing some of those minutes could have affected the timing that City move to sign a new striker. They may have tried to move earlier, or decided to keep Aguero for longer. This could effectively have ruled out Harry Kane from being an option in this team.

The failed transfers of Dani Alves and Alexis Sanchez have had a profound effect on today’s Manchester City squad and will continue to have an effect moving forward. This goes to show that one or two deals could alter the history for a team for many years to come. Whether City are better off not signing Alves and Sanchez is unknown, but it is clear that City have done well even when they do not sign their first option.

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The American Cityzen

I’m a City supporter providing analysis and thoughts on all things City