City's summer will close with Mangala
It's been a long to-and-fro tussle, but it looks like Eliaquim Mangala is going to arrive at Manchester City very soon -- a move that may signal the end of the Blues' transfer dealings despite the window having been open for a meagre fortnight. City's policy has been decisive: set targets early and negotiate firmly.
Mangala has the potential to be the final jigsaw piece for the 2014-15 season. The striking situation last year was pretty much the only area of the pitch where the Blues didn't encounter some sort of issue, despite long injuries to Stevan Jovetic and frequent injuries to Sergio Aguero. In goal, the club needed to rotate to give Joe Hart a kick up the bottom, while there was a defensive crisis at the start of the campaign and a central midfielder issue whenever Fernandinho and Yaya Toure weren't combined.
It's still unclear whether Micah Richards will be with the club next season. The Englishman had been offered a new deal but turned it down. City are keen to keep him around, although the full-back is well aware he has slipped down the pecking order significantly.
With all that in mind, the additions of Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna and Fernando have bolstered those aforementioned positions. Mangala, meanwhile, will be around to develop alongside Matija Nastasic, who Manuel Pellegrini hopes will have a less injury-hit 12 months. Throw in Javi Garcia, who proved he could adequately deputise at centre-half, and everything's looking rosy -- unless Toure decides the club has done something else wrong and wants to leave.
Quite rightly, the Blues seem to be taking great care with how they are going forward for Mangala. He was reported to be in Manchester this week for a medical evaluation with City's doctors, although nothing has been formally announced. Perhaps that's mainly due to the defender being on the French World Cup squad, even though he didn't make an appearance at the tournament. It seems like all that needs to be done is to dot the i's and cross the t's, which is encouraging.
But here comes the complication. While Mangala may have agreed to join the club in principle and Porto may have agreed to let the player go, he is also subject to third-party ownership, which could put an obstacle in City's path. Along with the rumoured 11th-hour interest from Chelsea, Pellegrini is right to be wary about having all his eggs in the one basket.
That said, there is a backup plan. Should the Blues miss out on the Frenchman -- despite chasing him and Fernando since January -- they are believed to have a deal ready to be completed for Mehdi Benatia from Roma, according to the Daily Mirror. The newspaper reports that the Blues would prefer the younger Porto centre-half, but they are certainly not going to allow themselves to be in a similar panic position at the start of 2014-15 as they were last August.
In terms of the sort of player that Pellegrini will be acquiring, it's easy to see why the Blues have been chasing the Frenchman's signature for six months. Large parts of last season were spent with fans calling for the now-departed Joleon Lescott to replace a seemingly hapless Martin Demichelis, but the manager persisted because of the Argentine's better ball skills. Once the latter had settled, he looked at home next to Vincent Kompany, but now the manager is on the hunt for a younger (and quicker) model, with fewer miles on the clock.
Mangala is just that. He is happy to have the ball at his feet and is perfectly willing to play his way out of trouble -- a principle that will suit the City skipper well, since that seems to be his default mode too. While it might cause the odd goal, it is in keeping with Pellegrini's football philosophy; all last season he was explaining that he wanted his team to play his way to win, preferring to win "ugly" as a last resort.
The biggest problem that the Mangala transfer would throw up is that of the Champions League squad. Because of UEFA's restrictions following the financial fair play ruling, the Blues are limited to 16 overseas players with five homegrown. The club will have more than that 21 looking to fill the spots.
That's where Pellegrini's man-management skills will come into play. After all, the Blues are once again aiming for an assault on four trophies, and perhaps a little more seriously than they were last season.