Man City ignoring Alexis Sanchez could work out well for Guardiola
Manchester City's decision to pull out of a deal to sign Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez is a short-term risk for what could turn out to be a long-term reward. On the face of it, it seems wrong to concede the signature of perhaps the player best suited to Pep Guardiola's style for the sake of a few million pounds. However, there is method to the madness.
First off, to miss out on the forward this January is barely a gamble. City are 12 points clear of their nearest challengers and have been playing football most teams in Europe can only dream about, so clearly if their season implodes from here it wouldn't be because Sanchez didn't make the move to the Etihad.
The fans, of course, will be disappointed. The chance to watch a great player improve the team has now passed, barring any sensational late changes of heart from Guardiola, City's director of football Txiki Begiristain, and chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. After Sanchez and his agent tried to renegotiate the terms of a deal that had been pretty much agreed, it's unlikely City will go back for another attempt to bring the Chilean to the club.
In flat-out rejecting any attempts on Sanchez's side to better the offer, City are reinforcing the point they only want players who are committed to the cause. It had been thought the forward's desire to play for Guardiola was the driving factor. That's what nearly forced a move over the line in August, despite Arsenal messing around in the latter stages of the transfer window, and that's what made City go back for more in January.
From City's point of view, had it been the case that Sanchez was desperate to reunite with his former Barcelona boss, they didn't need to worry what anybody else was tempting him with. When his agent asked to renegotiate terms because of a better financial offer at Manchester United, City took that as an indication his heart wasn't fully in it and pulled the plug.
If Sanchez was that desperate to join City, he wouldn't have jeopardised the move by demanding better terms.
City's principled stand makes sense. They've spent the weekend judging what would be the bigger impact -- losing a player of Sanchez's quality to a rival club, or the detrimental effect on the dressing room a new arrival on massive wages could do. Ultimately, they couldn't justify meeting the forward's demands, especially with contract negotiations ongoing or looming with their existing players.
How would Kevin De Bruyne or Raheem Sterling, two of this season's star performers so far, feel if a newcomer arrived on a much bigger salary to piggy-back their hard work from the first half of the campaign? You can bet it would make their contract talks a whole lot tastier.
It's a message City have been painting for some time, only not quite so vigorously as they have done in this latest transfer saga. When Aymeric Laporte said no to a potential switch to the Etihad, Guardiola decided he'd not go back for a second attempt. The same happened when he tried for Hector Bellerin. They didn't try again there either.
That suggests that, should the unlikely happen and Sanchez end up staying at Arsenal this winter, City may not even try for his signature for a third time when he would be out of contract in the summer. Even with no transfer fee to worry about, Guardiola could look at options who he feels are desperate to work with him -- rather than just desperate to leave their club.
The lesson to take from this saga for any players that are involved in future deals with City is that it isn't about the money. Of course, the club could pay it but having spent years getting basic wages down and moving contracts onto a more bonus-driven model, they understand it's counter-intuitive to the dressing room to break that system for one individual.
They want stars that are willing to buy into the whole package, not players who will join the club offering the most or willing to use interest from another party to get himself a better deal.
This season, losing Sanchez to a rival will probably have little-to-no impact -- beyond City meeting whichever club he ends up at in one of the knockout competitions. However, it could have a knock-on effect in the Premier League for next year or the year after, but that's a risk Guardiola is happy to take to make his point.
Since the day he walked through the door at the Etihad, things have always been done his way. He's proved a point with Sanchez that may resonate with how the club does its business in the coming campaigns. Guardiola is renowned for having a tight squad with an excellent team spirit and he's not about to risk unbalancing that now.
Sanchez could have been a great addition, but his face will probably never fit the bill for Guardiola now.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney