Media coverage of Manchester City’s £120m spend on flying wing backs is a joke – one as lame as the old chestnut that has a dodgy defender selected at ‘left back…in the changing room'.
The £45m acquisition of Kyle Walker from Spurs is readily ridiculed and used as a negative benchmark for this summer’s crazy transfer market.
Pundits and media outlets alike are quick to quote: “Well if Kyle Walker’s worth £50m (sic) then ‘so-and-so’ must easily be worth £100m.”
Not only is it disrespectful to Walker – widely lauded as one of the best full backs prior to his switch from Spurs to City – it serves to once again illustrate the media’s insatiable desire to undermine City.
Alexandre Lacazette’s £52.5m move to Arsenal, Nemanja Matic's £40m transfer to Manchester United or, God forbid, Romelu Lukaku’s £90m transfer from Everton to The Swamp, is never cited as a highly questionable misuse of the funds belching into the coffers of Premier League from Sky and BT Sports.
So why is Walker the media’s whipping boy?
We’ve already established it's a chance to have a pop at City, but it’s as if the media are dismissing the right and left back roles as secondary to every other position on the field of play – as if they're not important.
Just ask the fans at Barcelona and Bayern Munich if the full back positions were of little or no consequence to the success enjoyed by both clubs under Pep Guardiola.
Were Dani Alves and Eric Abidal at the Nou Camp, and David Alaba and Philipp Lahm at the Allianz Arena, simply bit-part players as Pep ran up a treasure trove of trophies in Spain and Germany?
Not only is it unnecessarily divisive to cast aspersions on Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo, it’s also displays a certain ignorance.
Whether deployed as attacking, overlapping wing backs, or ‘inverted’ in a more defensive formation, the full backs are fundamental to the success of Pep's philosophy.
The media would have us believe it's a £120m folly – more fool them.
A friend of a friend happened upon Spanish football expert and Pep Guardiola’s biographer, Guillem Balague, in a Malaga bar earlier in the year.
Balague was happy to chat and he emphasised the full back roles – above all else – were Pep’s priority at City this summer.
Forget any chat about Alexis Sanchez, Kylian Mbappe or any marquee signings, the priority was full backs.
Hardly surprising when you consider City had spent the grand sum of just £39m on full backs since September 2008 until this summer.
Now that level of neglect warrants justifiable criticism, not just from the media, but the City faithful as well.
In the nine years leading up to June 30th, 2017, City acquired Wayne Bridge £12m, Sylvinho free, Kolarov £17m, Clichy £7m, Maicon £3m and Sagna, also on a free.
Last season Pep called upon Sagna, Clichy, the legendary, but sadly slowing, Zabaleta, occasionally Kolarov and, at a push, Fernandinho in the full back slots.
The four ‘usual suspects’ had a combined age of 129 years, and simply couldn’t meet Pep’s technical and physical requirements.
Guardiola’s wing backs have to stretch the opposition defence, thereby creating room inside for the likes of De Bruyne, the ‘Silva Brothers’, Aguero and Jesus to exploit.
Key factors are speed, stamina, acceleration to get past defenders and provide quality crosses and cutbacks. The idea is often to create two-on-one overloads on defenders.
Mendy and Walker should revel in these roles and it'll facilitate three at the back e.g. Kompany, Stones and, as things stand, Otamendi.
If the occasion demands, and Pep wants to play a less expansive game, he can have his full backs come infield, creating a five man block behind an attacking front five, forming a more solid and compact unit.
Guardiola’s football genius was questioned last season in some unenlightened quarters.
The City boss was never without brilliance, intellect or wisdom.
He was perhaps guilty of a lack of pragmatism and a touch of naivety, as it became glaringly obvious that his inherited full back corps weren’t of the requisite standard.
It needed rectifying and Pep has done just that. It just happened to cost £120m – so what?
Walker and Danilo have both looked the part on City’s US Tour against Real Madrid and Spurs.
Yes, they were only pre-season matches, but there's every reason for optimism.
Mendy’s grand entrance is scheduled for a more competitive environment arena in August, once he’s overcome a thigh muscle injury.
But those who continue to mock City and their expenditure on full backs, do so at their own peril.
As for Pep, it’ll be a case of he who laughs last.
By David Walker