Gvardiol can become the best centre back in the world at Manchester City

Only one defender in Premier League history cost more than the £77m Manchester City paid to sign Josko Gvardiol from RB Leipzig last week. Harry Maguire still sits at the top of the list as the most expensive Premier League defender of all-time and most expect Gvardiol to far eclipse the achievements of the England international.

£77m for a player of Gvardiol’s potential could soon represent a bargain. The Croatian might be eased into City’s starting lineup, such is the strength of Pep Guardiola’s team, but he has been signed to be a dominant presence at the Etihad Stadium. Under Guardiola, Gvardiol can become the best centre back in the world.

Gvardiol has already proved himself at a high level. He earned a reputation as one of the best defenders in the Bundesliga over two seasons at RB Leipzig with the Croatian similarly shining in the Champions League. The 21-year-old also caught the eye for Croatia as they made a run to the semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup.

This led to links with Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Real Madrid with the latter particularly interested in Gvardiol last January. Ultimately, though, Manchester City’s sales pitch to the defender was the strongest one with Guardiola known to be a long-term admirer of the 21-year-old.

Guardiola’s shift to a back three got the best out of City as a team last season. Ruben Dias was installed as the dominant presence at the heart of the trio with Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake asked to cover a lot of ground out into the wide areas as the left and right-sided centre backs. The system allowed Guardiola to push John Stones into the centre of the pitch.

At RB Leipzig, Gvardiol most commonly operated in a back four, but Marco Rose’s team frequently played a high line and so the Croatian defender won’t be entirely uncomfortable playing for Guardiola’s Manchester City who like to use a similar approach. Gvardiol’s experience in Germany will serve him well at the Etihad Stadium.

“His physical condition is really, really good and his build-up with his left foot is also really, really good,” said Guardiola when asked to explain why City have spent so much money on Gvardiol. “He is 21 years old so when you buy, of course, it’s a lot of money, but when you are 21 years old, it is not a problem. He will be with us for the future and that’s what we think. We are trying to improve the team for the next seasons, not just this season, for the future.”

Some might argue City need a new attacking midfielder and wide player more than they needed a new central defence given their strength at the back. Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez’s departures this summer have left City somewhat light in these areas with Crystal Palace’s Michael Olise recently mentioned as a potential replacement for the latter.

However, Guardiola clearly felt Manchester City couldn’t afford to miss out on a generational talent like Gvardiol and pushed for the signing of the Croatian international. Gvardiol hasn’t just been signed to be an important figure for City now, but for the next decade to come. Guardiola is counting on him being a pillar to hold up the team even after he has left the club.

Guardiola has a reputation for honing the skills of midfielders and attacking players, but his recent track record proves just how good he can be for defenders too. Akanji, Ake, Dias, Aymeric Laporte and Stones have all improved under the Catalan coach and Gvardiol could be the best of the lot.

Author: Mark Hayes