The announcement of the move came in protracted fashion, numerous parties offering confirmation and counter-confirmation, but we have a conclusion: Manchester City finally have their new striker.
“In January we will see if we need to replace [Negredo] or not, we are in that moment when we are going to make the best decision for the club,” was Manuel Pellegrini’s vague stance in December. Wilfried Bony is the answer to the question, £28m is the price.
The immediate assumption is that Bony is a short-term solution, City’s injury crisis dictating that reinforcement was needed to sustain the club’s title challenge and Champions League assault. However, the Africa Cup Of Nations means Bony will play a maximum of 13 league games for City this season. Instead, this is the new long-term strike partner for Sergio Aguero. He is the latest in a long line.
There is no avoiding the fact that Bony is an expensive roll of the dice from Pellegrini and City. Available for £19m last summer before a new Swansea contract (with minimum release fee clause excluded) was signed in November, this is a move that appeared out of left field. Financial Fair Play regulations meant that City could not afford to buy the Ivorian in the summer on top of their other investment, with that increasing the demand for £32m Eliaquim Mangala to prove that faith in him is justified. FFP stipulations should be satisfied by Alvaro Negredo’s permanent £25m move to Valencia, while Matija Nastasic’s loan to Schalke has freed up Bony’s place in the squad. City have just three front line central defenders left.
Pellegrini remains adamant that Bony is a replacement for Negredo rather than the underwhelming Stevan Jovetic or Edin Dzeko, both of whom have suffered with injuries over the past 18 months. “We are going to replace Negredo because it was the decision that we took in the moment we sold him,” the Chilean said last week.
It is clear that Bony provides an adequate replacement for Negredo’s physical attributes, so apparent during his early months in England. “I’m naturally strong – from my mother,” says City’s new striker. “She was a black belt in judo. I don’t do the gym. I’m already big. I’ve never pushed weights. I don’t have the technique for that.”.
“He gives you a play punch, but doesn’t realise that it really does hurt,” is Michel Vorm’s anecdote regarding Bony’s power.
Of course, there is also a finesse to Bony’s game, wonderful skill to complement the strength. “Bony is an intelligent footballer who has skill and power,” Pellegrini said. “His goals record has been excellent since he came to England. He adapted very quickly to the game here and I think he will settle in at City quickly.”
However, despite Pellegrini’s insistence that “we now have four top class strikers and I am looking forward to seeing them work together,” it is clear that Bony has not been bought as a reserve option. Dzeko and Jovetic are likely to further cement their positions on the Etihad bench.
For Dzeko in particular, this seems an unfair scenario. Rumours currently link the Bosnian with a move to Stoke. With only a little disrespect intended to Mark Hughes’ side, it would be fair to ask where it all went wrong. What has he done to deserve this?
There are valid comparisons to be made between Dzeko and Bony. They both arrived in the January transfer window after being top scorer in their respective league the previous calendar year, and both for fees of around £28m. It feels as if the signing of the latter is the final nail in the coffin of the former. “Sorry Edin, but we just don’t trust you enough,” is the perceived sentiment.
And yet Dzeko’s record at City is admirable (and I have often been his biggest critic). Since the start of 2011/12 (his first full season in England), he has scored a goal every 127 minutes in the Premier League. That trumps Bony’s record during his time at Swansea, and is almost exactly the same as his record at Swansea and Vitesse Arnhem combined. That surprised me greatly, particularly given that the Ivorian has enjoyed being the main man at both of his previous clubs. At City, he will not be afforded such a luxury. Everyone plays second fiddle to the majesty of Aguero.
The comparisons between Dzeko and Bony do not end there. Since Bony arrived in England, the pair have won an identical amount of aerial duels per 90 minutes, whilst Bony lost possession every 6.61 minutes, fractionally better than Dzeko (6.34 minutes), and created chances at a slightly higher rate (one per 85 minutes v one per 101 minutes). In terms of non-penalty goals over that time period, Bony has scored one per 189 minutes; Dzeko one per 140 minutes.
The obvious response is to suggest that Bony will get far more chances to score at Manchester City, but I have a snarky retort to that too: Dzeko boasts a better shot conversion rate than Bony since the beginning of last season. Excluding penalties, Bony has only scored 14.7% of his chances – Dzeko is at 18.8%.
Aguero and Dzeko also worked well as a partnership. Of the ten Premier League matches the pair have started together since September 2013, City have won eight, drawn one (to Chelsea) and lost one. In those matches, Dzeko (six) and Aguero (six) scored 12 goals between them and City scored 26. Their partnership has been limited due to injuries, rather than ineffectiveness.
This is not an attempt to condemn City’s latest purchase or besmirch a striker’s reputation. There is logical evidence to suggest that Bony will be a success at City, benefiting from better service than at Swansea and acting as a presence in attack missing since the departure of Negredo.
In essence, City are still searching for Aguero’s Mr Right. Carlos Tevez: Gone. Mario Balotelli: Gone. Negredo: Gone. Jovetic and Dzeko: Going? Those names constitute £125m of striking talent who have failed to act as the perfect long-term foil for City’s prized asset.
Pellegrini’s hope is that Bony will be the ideal solution to a three-year search. If it works, the title looks within City’s grasp. There is little doubt that their new striker has earned his chance. But Dzeko probably thought that too.