Treble winning Manchester City have already seen the same number of Champions League and Premier League winners depart this summer, but there’s something distinctly different when saying ‘goodbye’ to Aymeric Laporte.
Whereas Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez left of their own volition to go to Barcelona and Saudi Arabia respectively, ‘Eric’ – as he was affectionately known by City supporters – has reluctantly gone to the Saudi Pro League.
Yes, the 29-year old Spanish international centre back will be paid a handsome, tax free salary – rumoured to be an eye-watering £400,000 per week, on a three-year contract at Al Nassr – but despite the incredible wages, he’d have happily stayed at City if he’d been a regular starter in Pep Guardiola’s First XI.
The fact he’d fallen down the centre back pecking order behind Ruben Dias, John Stones, Nathan Ake, Manu Akanji, plus the recent acquisition of Josko Gvardiol, meant even less game time as he entered the last two years of his City contract.
Deemed surplus to requirements at the Etihad he’d have preferred a return to Spain and La Liga, where he’d initially forged his career with Athletic Bilbao before City acquired his talents for £57m in January 2018.
Despite rumours of interest from Villa, Spurs and West Ham in this transfer window, it’s believed he didn’t want to stay in England as City was ‘his club’.
Keen to safeguard his place in the Spain squad for the Euro 2024 Finals, Laporte wished – at the very least – to continue playing in a prestigious top-flight league in Europe.
The fact that City don’t appear to have attracted any bids, other than that of Al Nassr, is staggering, shocking and, not to put too finer a point on it, bloody ridiculous!
The transfer fee of £25m – some put the figure as low as £23.5m – is equally scandalous. A player of his ability, experience and comparative ‘youth’ should’ve commanded a fee of circa £40m.
With Al Nassr the only runner in a one-horse race, City had little choice but to accept the bid, but logically it still doesn’t add up. Eric could, should and would have been an asset – most likely a starter – in the defence of a host of Champions League clubs.
When Real Madrid’s Eder Militao suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury earlier this month, it looked as though the stars were aligning for the French-born, Laporte’s La Liga return – but there was no approach from the Bernabeu Stadium.
Amidst the celebrations of City winning their fifth Premier League title in six seasons after the 1-0 home win over Chelsea in May, Laporte slumped to the ground in tears. It was a bittersweet moment – a sight which truly resonated with the City fans. In their heart of hearts, they all knew he wouldn’t figure in Pep Guardiola’s future plans.
What made it even more difficult to accept was that only 12 months earlier, a clearly injured Laporte had put his body on the line during the 2021/22 title run in.
Once again City were locked in a battle with Liverpool and City’s defence was decimated with a distinct lack of functioning central defenders. Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kyle Walker were out injured for the rest of the campaign and Nathan Ake wasn’t fit to start.
As City walloped Wolves 5-1 at Molineux, Laporte went down under a heavy tackle and was forced off in the 61st minute. With City leading 4-1 at the time, the win was already in the bag, but what of the two remaining games of the season – away to West Ham and home to Aston Villa?
In different circumstances it’s a more than a fair bet Laporte would’ve been given time to heal and regain full fitness. As it was, he played hurt in the 2-2 draw at the London Stadium and the glorious 3-2 title clinching comeback over Villa. On that day, it was Pep Guardiola’s turn to shed tears - tears of relief and unbridled joy.
There’s a school of thought that playing through the injuries compromised Laporte’s ability to fully contest for a centre back birth in 2022/23. The arrival of Manu Akanji brought more competition for places and the £77.6m signing of Gvardiol was the final straw.
The affection for Aymeric is universal among the City support. His signing in January 2018 added defensive steel and resilience, as City went on to become Centurions.
The following season his headed goal put City 2-1 up on their way to a 4-1 win in the sun over Brighton, securing a consecutive Premier League title for the Fourmidables.
Two years later, it was another Laporte header which won City’s fourth consecutive League Cup, beating Spurs 1-0 at Wembley in front of 2,000 City fans. It was a showpiece event as football - and society in general - edged towards normality during the Covid19 pandemic.
An 11-minute appearance as a substitute in the 3-0 win at Burnley proved to be the last of Laporte’s 180 games with City, in which he netted 12 goals. His winners medal haul in five-and-a-half seasons is beyond impressive; with five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, three League Cups, before finishing off with the Champions League in June and lastly, the UEFA Super Cup this month.
Upon leaving City, Laporte spoke of his pride and affection for the club:
“I am proud to have represented Manchester City over the last six seasons.
“When I first joined, I was excited about the prospect of winning trophies. However, I could not have imagined the success we would go on to achieve together.
“I would like to thank the coaches, my team-mates and of course the brilliant Manchester City fans for all their support throughout my time in Manchester.
“I will always be a City fan and I look forward to seeing you again.”
He made a winning start in Saudi Arabia this week as Al Nassr won 5-0, lining up alongside his new team-mates, Ronaldo and long-time Liverpool foe, Sadio Mane.
Although Aymeric won’t be up there in the pantheon of the all-time modern day City greats, his contribution should never be underestimated.
Likeable, loyal, and accomplished, the levels of genuine sadness at his departure speaks volumes of him, both as a player and a person.
As City strive for an unprecedented fourth consecutive PL title it will be in the post Laporte - 'PL' - era.
By David Walker
Twitter @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu