Pep Guardiola started his summer holidays in Barcelona. Five days after lifting his fourth Premier League title, he was heading to a gig of one of his favorite groups.
Catalan band Mishima was playing. The singer is David Caraben, who’s not just a good friend of Guardiola but the grandson of Armand Caraben — the Barcelona executive who managed to convince a Dutch footballer named Johan Cruyff to sign for the club 49 years ago.
Caraben took a break in the middle of the band’s set to start a chat with the thousands of people standing in front of him:
“Guys, we are all the same. But we have a person in here that has won four of the last five Premier League, so let’s give him a warm welcome.”
Everyone turned their heads back to spot Guardiola in a reserved area. The crowd rapidly started clapping and chanting his name. The former Barcelona player and later head coach raised his arms in what looked like a sort of celebration, to thank the appreciation received.
Guardiola was enjoying himself and he could afford it.
Soon after that moment, Txiki Begiristain was taking a flight back to the UK. It might be celebration time. But this is also work time for him.
City’s director of football spent just one week in Catalonia with his family before returning to east Manchester. Guardiola and Begiristain had drawn up the plan for City in this transfer window.
In the arrivals department, there are two cases. There is Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips, as has been widely discussed. Then there is Marc Cucurella.
Brighton’s Spanish full-back is a top-priority signing on City’s wish list, as Guardiola could do with a weapon that he has barely had at the Etihad: a natural left-back.
As things stand, Phillips and Cucurella are the only two arrivals expected at the champions this summer.
The Athletic understands that City will start formal contacts with Brighton within days to discuss Cucurella’s signing. Brighton are aware of what’s coming.
They will want a big fee, expecting a final amount close to what they got for Ben White last summer when Arsenal invested £50 million to recruit the English centre-back.
City won’t get to those figures for Cucurella and if Brighton do not soften their stance and really demand a £50 million-plus deal, they’ll walk away.
Sources involved in the mooted transfer believe there is room for negotiation. They are confident an agreement can be reached.
Chelsea are also expected to be in the mix for Cucurella. Marcos Alonso looks on the way out of Stamford Bridge, pushing for a move back to his native Spain. However, The Athletic understands the 23-year-old full-back is intent on joining City after an impressive first season with Brighton.
From the player’s camp, there is a strong belief that signing for the English champions would elevate his game to the next level. Being managed by Guardiola is a big incentive, with Cucurella having come through the Barcelona youth ranks before moving on to Eibar and then Getafe. Personal terms are not expected to be a problem.
Guardiola and Begiristain both want Cucurella. He has not just impressed as an attacking threat — he created more open-play chances than any other Premier League full-back last season — but especially for his defensive stats.
He was the ninth in the list of outfield players for most ball recoveries (247) in the Premier League, and second among defenders in tackles (93). His ability to press high up the pitch and win duels is valued as well.
City youngsters could be used as makeweights in deals this summer.
As reported by The Athletic, Belgian starlet Romeo Lavia has already caught the eyes of Southampton and Leeds United this summer, which could aid the pursuit of Phillips.
It is also believed that Leeds are very keen to bring in 19-year-old midfielder James McAtee, whether permanently or on loan. City plan to keep him close to their first-team unit for next season and are not thought to be open to any departure, but their resolve may be tested should the Phillips pursuit drag on. Brighton had been interested in McAtee’s signing last summer, but it is not thought to be an option currently.
There are plenty of other young players in the ranks at the Etihad who could come into the equation.
There is another thing. Before any more new signings, City need to sell. Three players are widely considered to be on the departures list, and the club will not stand in their way.
Oleksandr Zinchenko is one of them. The Ukrainian has had plenty of interest from the Premier League in the past. Everton are understood to be keenest now. If the 25-year-old leaves, there would be a free spot for Cucurella at left-back.
The other two names are Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling.
Arsenal are still the most likely to lure the Brazilian out of the Etihad Stadium. City have set a £50 million asking price for the 25-year-old. Chelsea could be a potential suitor for Sterling, as the England forward enters the last year of his contract but there has been no contact between the two clubs yet.
Riyad Mahrez is another attacker whose contract is up next summer. However, the Algerian is expected to stay at City beyond this transfer window.
There is still work to do, and conversations to be held and deals to be signed but Begiristain does not want to waste time.
While they wait to close in some of the expected exits, City plan to keep getting closer to new signings. That is what they will do now with Cucurella and Brighton.
In the meantime, Guardiola is still on holiday but Begiristain keeps him in the loop with everything on a daily basis.
The City manager will now travel to New York with his family. A golf event is waiting for him there.
Who knows if there will be another gig to enjoy, as he did with Mishima in Barcelona.
If he does, Guardiola will have the peace of mind that Begiristain will be working in Manchester to try to tie down the left-footed full-back they have been craving.
(Top photo: Manchester United/Manchester United via Getty Images)