Pep Guardiola and Man City may have another summer transfer priority – Alex Brotherton

Manchester City have reportedly agreed personal terms with Erling Haaland, though the club remain tight-lipped on the topic., A striker has been a key target of Pep Guardiola’s for some time, though there might be another equally important transfer priority on his mind at the moment.

While Guardiola’s decision to rest some of his key players during Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool suggested City do not have the quality in depth that many claim they do, there is no doubt that City’s squad has been carefully assembled. The group have all constituent parts which fit perfectly together – and not just in a purely footballing sense.

City are a brilliant football team because they have high-quality players playing a brand of football coached by a genius of the game. But those are far from being the only two important factors.

READ MORE: Why criticism of Man City’s empty seats at FA Cup semi-final is tone deaf and out of touch

For any football team to achieve any degree of success, there needs to be a good team spirit and morale in the dressing room. One of the main threats to that is the disruption caused by players who feel they are not playing as much as they should, so it’s vital to create a squad of hard-working professionals who do not moan and work for the good of the collective .

As City’s cross-town rivals have shown, that can be easier said than done. Yet at the Etihad, Guardiola, City’s scouting team and director of football Txiki Begiristain manage to hit the sweet spot year on year.

Manchester City’s Nathan Aké

“The scouting takes a look at these behaviors,” Guardiola said ahead of City’s league match against Brighton on Wednesday when asked about the importance of off-the-pitch dedication. “Football isn’t just skills. The other parts are much more important than that.”

One player in particular who embodies the kind of selfless dedication essential to City’s success is Nathan Ake. The Dutch defender has endured a tough couple of seasons at the club, a combination of injuries, the form of others and poor performances limiting his game time to substitute appearances and cup matches.

However, in recent weeks Ake has come to the team’s aid on a number of occasions, particularly when deployed as a left-back in City’s Champions League quarter-final first-leg win over Atletico Madrid. He made a vital clearance after coming off the bench in the second leg, and was arguably City’s best player during Saturday’s disappointing FA Cup defeat to Liverpool.

“He’s so reliable, especially when you behave in your life like him he will always do good,” Guardiola said of Ake. “In the bad phases always helping, exceptional person. When he does not get the minutes he deserves and then gets the minutes, he’s thinking about the other ones and has done well. The older I get, the more aware of this kind of behavior I am. Your life is better when you behave like this. “

The same can be said of Oleksandr Zinchenko and other ‘fringe’ players from recent seasons, like Fabian Delph. They might not play anywhere near as much as they like, but they conduct themselves in such a manner that when needed they are ready to step in and help the team.

In Madrid last week, Zinchenko showed the lengths to which he is willing to go to fight for his team-mates when he rushed to defend Phil Foden from an out of control Stefan Savic.

Elite-level footballers are incredibly driven individuals, so perhaps it is not surprising that many tend to moan and sulk if they do not get the minutes they desire. What is difficult – and rare – is to find individuals who are talented enough to play for City but who are also great characters willing to put the team first.

Reports last summer linked both Ake and Zinchenko with moves away from the Etihad, so it’s conceivable that both could seek pastures new in the coming months. Should that happen, then Guardiola and his recruitment team will need to find replacements with similarly selfless outlooks.

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