The close season has barely begun and already we are being bombarded with stories about the future of Emi Buendia, some clearly clickbait nonsense but some from sources that are generally fairly reliable.
It is hardly a surprise that a player who bestrode the Championship like a colossus this season and has just been picked by Argentina for the first time, should be in demand (in fact, I’d be more surprised if he wasn’t.)
I have no idea whether he will still be at Norwich come August and have no inside information and, while I fervently hope that he will, I’m fully accepting of the fact that he may not, and with that in mind I would like to pose three questions:
- What is likely to tempt him away?
2. Why would City not just put a ridiculous price tag on him to deter suitors in the same way Villa did with Jack Grealish last summer?
3. How could City cope without him?
Let’s start at the top. Despite the usual arrogance from Arsenal fans, the fact that the Gunners have failed to qualify for even the most Mickey Mouse of European competitions would seem to rule them out.
Playing in Europe would obviously appeal to Emi, but that may be problematic in that it is hard to see where he would fit into any of the top four’s midfields as a guaranteed starter, and it’s significant that none of them have been linked with him so far.
A Europa League qualifier might be the best he could hope for currently as a player who has yet to prove himself at Premier League level, but so far Leicester, Spurs or West Ham have yet to be linked to him.
Would a move to a mid-table Premier League team really appeal that much? There has been talk of Aston Villa, but would a side that has been totally built around Grealish work for Emi?
Of course, there is also the possibility of a return to Spain and that would obviously have the advantages of climate and language and shouldn’t be ruled out, but I think the key will be how Emi sees City’s ambitions for the coming season, as another relegation battle, particularly an unsuccessful one, won’t do much to raise his profile.
However, a stellar season from him for City in the Premier League might be a stepping stone to one of the biggest clubs.
Moving to the second question of simply pricing him out of a move, there are two very simple reasons why it won’t happen. The first is that there is no benefit in keeping a player who wants out (the example of Grealish was chosen deliberately because he has spent his career at Villa and has a huge emotional attachment to the club), but the more important second in Emi’s case is that the self-funding model dictates that selling to buy will always be central to how the City system works, and hence every player will have their price.
While that will remain an unpalatable fact for some, the fact is that it has worked pretty well so far. Whilst James Maddison had to be sold to clear the debts accumulated when City did spend big to try for success, the sales of Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis brought in funds which allowed Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke to develop a squad that has dominated the Championship.
While not every newcomer has established themselves, the purchases of Ben Gibson, Dimitris Giannoulis, Jacob Sorensen and Kieran Dowell have ensured that City return to the Premier League as a much stronger proposition than last time, which leads us nicely on to the final question.
When City last went up there was huge pressure on Emi to make the side tick. Todd Cantwell was still establishing himself and Marco Stiepermann and Onel Hernandez were finding the Premier League a big step up from the Championship and struggled to impress. Basically, if Emi and Teemu Pukki weren’t on top form City had little cutting edge.
This time Cantwell is much closer to the finished product and Dowell has already shown both his goalscoring ability and his ability to create chances for others. Kenny McLean has also taken his game to another level this season and while neither of the current wing options have torn up any trees it seems likely that the Club will be looking to upgrade that position in the summer.
If Emi were to leave it would mean that City’s style would need to change but that could actually be an advantage, as in their last Premier League season neutralizing Emi largely neutralized City and that, along with the crippling effect of injuries on squad lacking real depth at that level, pretty much sealed the Club’s fate.
Clearly there is much greater strength in depth this time around, but more importantly the Club is in a much better financial position than last time and any sale proceeds will largely be invested in squad development.
Before the 2019/20 season most of the available resources went into improved contracts for the players who had won promotion but that won’t be repeated, although it is hard to call it a mistake as it meant that the younger players were tied to the Club for longer periods so increasing their transfer values. It did also, however, mean that the likes of Moritz Leitner and Tom Trybull became harder to shift.
Webber has already made it clear that City will be active in the transfer market and that the emphasis will be on increasing City’s physical presence, but how much extra quality can be brought in will be dictated by whether or not any of the “crown jewels” are sold.
If the sale of Emi funded two or three Premier League quality players would that strengthen or weaken the team? Of course, the answer is that it depends on the players, but in simple terms that is what the self-funding model is all about.
There will, of course, be those City fans who believe that Emi is simply irreplaceable, just as there were when Kevin Reeves, Chris Sutton and Maddison, amongst others, were sold and, just as in those cases. it’s not true.
Webber and Farke know that this time City need to stay up and are not going to weaken their chances of doing so simply to cash in on a star player when money isn’t a primary concern for the Club.
You can be sure that there are contingency plans in place should any of the big players leave both in terms of replacements and how it would impact City’s style of play.
Of course, we all hope it won’t come to that, but if it does, I trust the people at the top of the playing side of the Club to make the best possible decisions.