What you need to know about new City signing Eliaquim Mangala
Manchester City have finally completed the long-awaited transfer of Eliaquim Mangala from Portuguese giants Porto, for a reported £32m.
Now that the protracted transfer saga has come to a close, what kind of role does the 23-year-old Frenchman have to play in Manuel Pellegrini’s plans?
The answer is, a very big part.
Following City’s Community Shield loss to Arsenal, the blue half of Manchester finds themselves second-favourites for the Premier League title at 5/2 behind Chelsea. They also weigh in as fifth-favourites for the Champions League at 11/1.
Mangala might not be the gala name that Yaya Toure or Sergio Aguero represented upon their arrivals, but he is certainly one of the most talented young centre backs in Europe, if not the world.
The former Standard Liege man, the club where he scored a header against Arsenal in the Champions League aged 18, is a physically dominant defender, whose pace and power are as imposing as they are impressive.
Left-footer Mangala has an aggressive and committed style that helps him sweep up attacks nicely, and is sure to be a fine compliment to the ‘attack everything’ style of Kompany.
Although Mangala is certainly more renowned for his physical presence and athletic displays, he is comfortable with the ball at his feet. Though perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing as David Luiz (defensive enthusiasts might not consider him that pleasing), Mangala usually opts for the simple pass once doing his job.
Considering the vast array of stars that comprise the City ranks, the centre of defence has been an area for concern in recent times.
When the almighty Vincent Kompany is unable to lead the Citizens, a confidence shot Joleon Lescott or the statue-like agility of Martin Demichelis have been the viable options available.
Granted, Argentine Demichelis grew into the Premier League after an unimpressive start, and it should be commended that he excelled towards the business end of the campaign, which could have rightly exacerbated an already painful debut season.
Matija Nastasic was prophesied as the next, great centre half upon his arrival from Fiorentina, but City’s confidence has appeared to wane in the Serbian after a series of injuries and less than comforting performances upon his returns.
With Demichelis in the winter of his career at 33, Lescott’s departure to West Brom and uncertainties over the fitness of Nastasic – central defence was one area the champions really knew they had to address.
Mangala was born in Colombes, a suburb just over six miles from the centre of Paris, but at five-years-old moved to Belgium and the French-speaking city Numur.
After excelling as a striker throughout his youth career in Belgium, Standard Liege snapped him up in 2007 and converted him into a left back.
In 2008, Mangala was approached by the Belgian Under-18 team to represent them (as if they didn’t have enough young stars), but ultimately chose to stick with his native France, turning out for their Under-21s in 2009.
For a defender of his age and calibre in today’s market, £32m is a good price in reality. His fusion of overtly physical command and comfortable ball retention epitomises the modern day progression of football’s ideal defender. He’s also extremely well versed in the Champions League for his age.
Such attributes suggest the French international won’t struggle to adapt to the demands of the Premier League, and can go forward and create an all-conquering partnership with Kompany.
The must-have qualities of a centre half can be subjective. But, given the spread of attributes and balance between Kompany and Mangala, there is no reason they can’t form a Rio Ferdinand/Nemanja Vidic-esque partnership that thwarts and frustrates many a Premier League front-line for years to come. That must be a foundation City are trying to find.
Make no mistake, Mangala is arriving to play. Had Nastasic developed at the rate the City hierarchy had hoped in light of their financial fair play sanctions last season, they probably wouldn’t have reached for the cheque-book so readily.
Nastisic, at 21, will get enough games as a covering centre half and has plenty of time on his side. World Cup finalist Demichelis undoubtedly has some experience to lend to the camp too without being a first-choice starter.
As for the likes of Micah Richards and Dedryck Boyata – unless they can secure a move away this summer – they will almost certainly be set for another season in the lucrative wilderness.
Given the market, it’s hard to say there was a more realistic and certainly more cost effective fit than Mangala for City.
This summer has seen Dejan Lovren move to Liverpool from Southampton for a fee of around £20m, and Germany defender Mats Hummels linked to Manchester United in the same price bracket.
Both at 25, they have their own merits. Hummels boasts the power aspect in his game that Mangala does, but can’t even sniff his pace. Conversely, whilst Lovren is a committed and smart defender, he doesn’t quite have the intimidating power of the other two, but is probably the most effective out-and-out footballer of the trio.
It’s immensely doubtful that a World Cup-winning centre-half like Hummels, whose contract runs until 2017, would be allowed to move on for £20m, too. Borderline impossible in fact. So, when weighing up what City have actually bought for their money, it’s plausible to say they’ve acquired the most rounded player in his position on the market, who will also partner and grow alongside one of the finest centre backs in the world.
Mangala will be keen to ensure that his City career gets off to the smoothest start possible, however will still harbour international aspirations also.
After not featuring in a single minute of France’s World Cup campaign, dislodging Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane from the centre of Les Bleus’ defence must be a desirable target.
Sakho found himself in and out of PSG’s new oil-rich team, so sought pastures new to Liverpool last summer and has since established himself as a first choice starter for France.
If Mangala can play his part in helping City achieve their lofty goals, he will no doubt go on to usurp his incumbent compatriots.
City’s new £32m man is a fine talent on his own that will no doubt turn heads this season but, with captain Kompany in tandem, he could be that much better.