It’s no secret that Pep Guardiola has been a long-time admirer of Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez.
Well before now it was rumoured that the Spaniard was on his way to the Etihad and even the extortionate amounts being bandied around (€150m) seemingly hadn’t deterred Manchester City.
However, a move never materialised.
All that could be about to change now, however, with the Rojiblancos heading for a clearout in the summer.
Antoine Griezmann’s bumper new contract hasn’t gone down well at all in the dressing room, with Diego Costa just one to voice his disapproval.
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A year after making his ‘decision,’ the Frenchman might be on the way to City’s rivals United, and though that may appease Costa, strong rumours persist that he too could depart, with China a likely destination.
Diego Godin and Filipe Luis are getting no younger so fresh impetus is required in defence, meaning any moves for Atleti’s midfielders certainly won’t be welcomed.
But as we’ve seen many times before, what City want, they usually get, and they’ve not rebuffed any of the stories currently circulating which suggest they may be looking to replace a 33-year-old Fernandinho with Saul, nine years his junior.
It would be a stunning coup for City if they were able to conclude the deal and would at least be of some comfort to Guardiola who missed out to his former club, Barcelona, when going after his first-choice, Ajax’s Frenkie de Jong.
It’s for that reason why Barca, the former favourites for his signature, are no longer interested.
Another target, Jorginho, opted for Chelsea, but this alleged courting of Saul should not be seen as Pep going after a third or fourth choice because the player hasn’t been available to this point.
Now the landscape has changed significantly and Saul himself is alleged to have become frustrated with Atletico’s failure to consistently challenge for silverware and instructed his representatives to find him a new club.
When he signed a nine-year deal in 2017, evidencing the Madrid club’s commitment to him, and he to them, it was on the understanding that the club would begin to dominate domestically and in Europe.
However, true big-name signings haven’t been forthcoming, with the budget almost certainly being eaten up by Griezmann’s incredible new contract.
The Elche-born midfielder will be bought by City to provide defensive midfield services, but such is his vast array of skills, that he’s equally adept at playing in just about every other midfield role if required.
In a Pep Guardiola side, where fluidity and ‘total football’ are concepts to work with, Saul is a godsend.
It’s perhaps with that in mind that many City watchers, who’ve arguably only seen Niguez in fits and starts, have taken to social media to voice their concerns that he’s not the right man for the job which is needed. That he’s more an Ilkay Gundogan type player.
What they fail to realise of course is that Saul can – and has - done it all. And done it extremely well.
Since the start of the 2017/18 season, he has amassed the most tackles in La Liga and he’s even been asked by Simeone to fill in at the back when the need has presented itself, taking to the role with his usual aplomb.
Not once has there ever been an issue with his application nor his knowledge of what’s required from any given position.
Far from being a jack of all trades and a master of none, Saul has been studious in his learning, and he’ll bring that encyclopedic knowledge into play in Manchester if required.
There’s no issue at the physicality of the Premier League either. He’ll get his hands dirty if that’s what’s called for, and it’s an area of his game that he’s not given enough credit for. He’ll shut a few mouths that’s for sure.
At a reported €80 million, a little more than half the fee that any team was being quoted for Saul less than a year ago, the 24-year-old is a bargain who’ll quickly repay the outlay.
Sat alongside the likes of Kevin De Bruyne et al, it’ll be a midfield that can rule the English top flight for years.