If you look at the basic facts that Manchester City sold Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko to Arsenal in the summer and that Arsenal are now looking very good at the top of the Premier League while City are five points behind having played a game more, then it is easy to say it was a mistake to sell them to the north Londoners.
There’s been a lot made of these two transfers in recent months and no doubt it would become part of Premier League history if Arsenal do go on to win this season’s title — although it might never get mentioned again if City close the gap and are crowned champions for a third year in a row. Makes you think.
But yes, City sold two players to a direct rival for domestic honours and they have helped spark an unexpected title challenge at their new club.
So, what should City have done instead?
This is where the ‘mistake’ element doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.
It’s not an ideal situation for City by any means and indeed they would probably be better now if they had kept Zinchenko, but there are legitimate factors to take into account that might be more long-winded and boring than simply writing it all off as a massive error, but hey, you subscribed to The Athletic for a reason.
In short, if a Manchester City player asks for a move, the club’s answer will be, ‘Thanks very much for your service. If you bring us a good offer, you can leave.’
That way, if no good offer arrives, all parties can sit down at the end of the summer and have an honest conversation. The player will know the club did what they could to sell them and can then focus on the season ahead.
This has happened a lot over the years — when it became clear at the end of last summer that no serious bids came in for Bernardo Silva, he sat down with the manager Pep Guardiola, they hugged, and he said he would continue to give his all for the club.
What would Bernardo’s reaction have been had City instead actively blocked a dream move to Barcelona?
“If you force one person to stay when he doesn’t want to stay, how can you get the best from him? It’s impossible,” Guardiola said in August when he was first asked about his summer departures, which also included Raheem Sterling to Chelsea, another rival for trophies at home and in Europe.
In October, with Arsenal looking good at the top of the league, he was asked again.
“What they gave us, they deserve to choose where they want to play. If they don’t want to go to Arsenal or Chelsea, they would stay here. But if (we made them) stay here, how could we say, ‘You cannot be there?’.
“All the people they care about (is) their family. Who are we to say to their family, ‘You cannot go there?’. I don’t like it.”
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That makes it sound like an overly benevolent approach — one that might keep Guardiola on these players’ Christmas card lists, but one that might cost him a Premier League title (or two).
Read More: Why Man City were happy to sell Zinchenko and Jesus to Arsenal — and would do it 2023-01-27 21:44:11