Pep

Erling Haaland’s predictable move to Manchester City seemed to have been predetermined long before he had even kicked a football and now the stars look to be aligning to make Jude Bellingham the club’s next obvious transfer target.

Pep Guardiola doesn’t usually talk much about opposition players but when asked about Bellingham ahead of City’s clash with Borussia Dortmund he couldn’t help but talk like a lover of the game rather than a diplomat. The glint was in his eye as he heaped praise on the young star.

“Dortmund is a perfect place for the young talented players to come. Maybe if Jude Bellingham had gone to City, United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham, the top teams in England, maybe he could not get the minutes that he has had and the best thing for a young player to be a better player is to play minutes,” he said.

“I said when he was 17, it wasn’t just the quality, it was about he was shouting, leading, kicking, and going to the referee. I thought this guy was something special in terms of the mentality. Now, at 19 years old, he is already one the captains of the team, and when that happens at 19 years old it is quite impressive.

“The quality and skills, everyone knows it, but it’s not just about that. It’s about the whole package. He’s really good. He’s already in the national team playing with them at 19. That is quite impressive. We know the quality he has but we will try to impose our quality on the game and win the game.”

City will have to deal with the dynamic, all-action midfielder on Tuesday but before long he could be putting his skill to use for the Blues rather than against them. All the top teams that wanted Bellingham two years ago when he chose Germany would kill for him now and that doesn’t even include the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

City won the great arms race last summer by brushing aside competition for Haaland and now they have a new frontier to fight on. Just like the Norwegian sensation, recruiting Bellingham makes almost too much sense. The stars are shifting.

Just like how a striker was required this past summer, a midfielder looks to be City’s main area in need of improvement in 2023. Though they have plenty of quality there, they don’t have much quantity.

Kalvin Phillips was signed to replace Fernandinho but has been injury-ridden so far. Ilkay Gundogan’s contract expires in 2023 and an extension is not a foregone conclusion. Bernardo Silva has been looking to return to mainland Europe for the last two years and likely will again.

There’s a very real scenario in which City’s midfield is severely depleted after the season and as well as the fact that Kevin De Bruyne will be 32 when the next campaign starts.

There have been no signs that his powers are close to waning but City have always stayed ahead of creeping age and looked to refresh and rejuvenate their squad before replacements are absolutely necessary. Rodri was signed two seasons before Fernandinho left, as an example.

City will almost certainly need at least one new midfielder next year and there isn’t one in the world right now that would fit in better than Bellingham. He has all the technical qualities needed to slot straight into the side, with Gundogan’s controlling and carrying role screaming his name.

And he’s still just 19! He made his debut at such a young age with Birmingham that he’s become a part of the furniture but he’s still developing, growing and learning. Imagine if Guardiola was his next teacher. All of his palpable potential will get even higher. The Blues boss clearly has such a great appreciation of Bellingham already, for his personality as well as his quality, and looks to be a player he would relish coaching.

Then there’s the fact that Dortmund to City has been such a fruitful move for three players now, with the football practised at Signal Iduna Park making it an easy transition. Bellingham already has a well-established and quality understanding with Haaland as well.

Bellingham is also clearly heading for the top and there are not many clubs that share that pedestal with City. Real Madrid would be an obvious rival but they have already significantly future-proofed their midfield with two exciting prodigies. Liverpool may not have the cash to pull off the move, Barcelona almost certainly don’t.

Bayern Munich don’t tend to spend the sort of money Dortmund will demand, either. PSG could be a contender, but then City also have the edge as they’re in the much more alluring Premier League.

Everyone knew who Manchester City were going to sign last summer and it should be just as obvious next time around.

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