This is Pep Guardiola 3.0

Pep Guardiola had a busy summer on the transfer market – GETTY IMAGES

There is a degree of bewilderment at Manchester City over the reaction to the sale of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus and the theory that it will hurt the Premier League champions.

After all, Sterling was told he could leave last summer with City pushing Tottenham Hotspur to accept him as a counterweight in a proposed deal to sign Harry Kane. Spurs wouldn’t do business and Sterling insisted he wasn’t interested, but it proved his City career was in its twilight.

And while Jesus was also praised by Pep Guardiola, he never became Sergio Aguero’s true heir. In fact, he was bought to take the forward’s place in 2016, one of Guardiola’s first purchases, as the manager quickly grew frustrated with the Argentine’s initial reluctance to follow his tactical instructions.

Similar to Sterling, Jesus was told he could go last summer if he wanted and Juventus showed interest before being delayed by City’s asking price – an amount Arsenal ended up paying.

Both Sterling and Jesus had one more year left on their contract at City and so it made sense that they would leave now. Extracting £100m for the pair seems like a decent enough deal, even if there’s the unusual state of affairs they’ve sold to ‘rivals’ at Chelsea and Arsenal. Ultimately, they were the ones with the means.

No one doubts that the signings have strengthened both London clubs. A Premier League manager declared this week that he confidently expects Jesus to score 20 goals for Arsenal, while Sterling’s pedigree – only Aguero has scored more goals than he has under Guardiola at City – is unquestionable.

But City’s strategy did not falter. Out came Sterling (27), Jesus (25) and Fernandinho (37), as expected, and came on Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez (both with 22) and Kalvin Phillips (26). The club would argue – not without reason – this by any measure that represents a clear upgrade.

The final part of the summer update was to sign a specialist left-back and allow Oleksandr Zinchenko to leave, and although City have walked away from their first choice Marc Cucurella after Brighton’s asking price of more than £50m showed too high and Chelsea intervened, there are other targets. Even so, Guardiola told City he can handle the situation even if another player is not signed.

Overall this means City spent £97.9m and earned £166.4m, with the sale of peripheral and younger players added. It represents a profit of £68.5m – remarkable for a top club with such ambitions. The numbers, of course, are skewed because of Haaland’s £51m release clause, which is arguably a quarter of his market value.

But it’s not just about personnel or finances. It’s also about evolution and the effect it has on the dressing room. It’s been six years since Guardiola joined City and this has been the busiest summer since he joined. It’s also been the summer Guardiola has wanted for the past two years as he looks to bring new energy – and youth – to a squad that has clearly reached its peak. It needed a jolt.

City thought about it last year, but there was no value in the market or they couldn’t push their targets away. One deal they could make was to trigger the £100m clause in Jack Grealish’s contract with Aston Villa, but that was in part because they were warned that if they didn’t, Manchester United would. The effects of the pandemic also complicated negotiations as City would not sell cheaply.

That means we’re looking at Pep 3.0 at City. There is still a core of 12 players who have been part of at least three champion teams since the 2016-17 campaign – Kyle Walker, Kevin De Bruyne, Ruben Dias, John Stones, Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, João Cancelo, Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez – but there are newcomers who will give a new impetus. And keep some of the others on their toes.

There’s also a new dynamic: the Haaland focus. It’s the first time City have signed such an absolute star, that every major club in world football wanted, and no matter how big you are – even a player like De Bruyne – adding the most exciting young No. have to impress.

What about City’s style of play? Guardiola’s answer to that question is simple: “Why should we change the way we play when we’ve done so well these past few seasons?” Nobody expects a drastic change, or a lineup change, even if it’s strange not to sometimes pass the ball faster to Haaland.

Of course, there are legitimate concerns: how quickly will new actors become established and integrated? Guardiola has also deliberately delayed the pre-season return and City have played fewer warm-up games as they examine the demands of this unique season with a World Cup midway through. City can start slowly, as evidenced by last week’s Community Shield defeat to Liverpool.

The reboot is also a show of faith in Foden, who is now consolidated as a starter, Mahrez, who has won a new contract, and Grealish. Cynics might argue that City have no choice but to stick with Grealish, but Guardiola has faith and, interestingly, points to the bravery and threat the forward showed as a substitute despite missing last season’s Champions League semi-final. for Real Madrid. That trophy remains the unfulfilled goal, as this third City signing of Guardiola is eyeing a fifth league title in six seasons.

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