Manchester City’s hunt for the elusive defensive midfielder – Part 4

Left empty-handed in the last seconds of the summer transfer window, Pep Guardiola’s hunt for a new defensive midfielder looks set to continue. City Xtra takes a look at the most likely candidates to complete the Catalan’s tactical jigsaw.

First, to Germany. Second, to France. Then, to English shores and the Premier League. In pursuit of identifying the player best-suited to step into Manchester City’s midfield, our search has taken us across some of the world’s most competitive football leagues. Did we miss something though? It’s back to France’s Ligue 1 for today’s profile, and where best to look than the team that sits easily above the rest…

Paris Saint Germain, otherwise colloquially known as PSG, are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in France. It’s by some distance too. 16 wins in 18 games; scoring almost 3 goals a game; an overwhelming 13 point gap on second place with two games in hand. Put simply, PSG are an unbelievable side.

Surely logic would dictate then that the reigning French champions would have some very capable players in their midst, those who would be able to easily step into a top team in any league, not just the English top flight.

Unlike the other players in our investigation though, today’s player has arguably known nothing but dominance, having played for PSG in an era where they have won five of the last six French league titles. Before then, he had a little-known spell within Manchester City’s youth academy. One thing is certain: he has grown up knowing little else but success.

Adrien Rabiot – Paris Saint-Germain, 23

Manchester City FC v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Second Leg
MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM – APRIL 12: Adrien Rabiot of Paris Saint-Germain goes between Jesus Navas and Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (3) during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg match between Manchester City FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Etihad Stadium on April 12, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

‘On paper’ is a term that has a wealth of relevance to Adrien Rabiot. 

On paper, playing for one of the most dominant sides in Europe seems an attractive detail.

On paper, the ability to potentially be secured on a free transfer seems like a modern marvel in the current football landscape.

On paper, singing a player that has previous ties to the club seems like it comes packaged in a narrative of a ready-made success story.

In reality, of course, these factors tell a different story, one that gives more cause for concern than elation for those at Manchester City.

It has now been over ten years since Adrien Rabiot made an ephemeral appearance at the City academy, leaving less than six months after arriving due to a rumoured mix of homesickness and a family life fraught with hardship. Then 13 years old, the young Frenchman found himself bouncing around a couple of smaller French academies before finding a home at Paris Saint Germain, where he has risen through the ranks to become a starting name in midfield.

Having been in the senior set-up for the last six seasons, Rabiot has certainly enjoyed success, his first team debut almost perfectly coinciding with the PSG’s takeover by Oryx Qatar Sports Investment. Such has been the financial disparity in Ligue 1 since then, it is perhaps unsurprising to say that of the 21 domestic trophies available to him since becoming a first team regular, Rabiot and his team have won 15 of them. 

Does this domestic hegemony inherently demean Rabiot’s qualities as a footballer? Certainly not, but much like PSG’s European title credentials, it does cast doubt over how well he would stack up when playing in a more competitive scenario such as the Premier League.

Rest assured, the Frenchman is still young, and at such an age, he is not part of the Parisian line-up on mere merit. In fact, similar to Dortmund’s Julian Weigl, he can often boast of a passing accuracy above 93%. However, in a league where his side so regularly enjoy comfortable fixtures, how much merit can be given to such statistics? Admittedly similar to City, PSG often have possession in excess of 60% in their league matches, something that would seem to suit Rabiot in terms of adapting to a style of play. Nonetheless, there are sure to be fundamental differences between a team who ruthlessly enforce their superiority on the ball, and one where it can feel unchallenged.

Then there is the question of his current contract situation: how can such a regular part of a dominant PSG side, still only 23 years old, be allowed to leave on a free transfer? 

In truth, the French giants had been trying to tie the midfielder to a new contract, but tensions between club representatives and Rabiot’s camp has seen a move away from the Parc des Princes look almost a complete certainty. In addition to stories emerging about the player missing team meetings, Rabiot has not been entirely convincing when asked to perform in PSG’s Champions League matches, and it would seem the Parisians have concluded they could do better than those who occupy their current midfield. With the Frenchman’s contract expiring at the end of the season, he has been frozen out of Thomas Tuchel’s team until further notice.

Despite apparent shortcomings, Rabiot thus presents a transfer situation vastly different to the majority of City’s usual targets. As opposed to securing a definitive target and gradually haggling down a substantial fee, an approach for Rabiot could be a shrewd bit of business for the Manchester club, particularly with the increased scrutiny on finances since Der Speigel’s infamous Football Leaks.

If pursued, the biggest obstacle would be the queue of clubs lining up to do similar business. Barcelona have been said to have already agreed terms with the player, yet Bayern Munich, Chelsea and others are waiting to pounce should the deal fail to materialise. Interestingly, Liverpool are said to have been previously interested – the Merseyside club had been linked with a ‘powerful offer’ involving the return of summer arrival Fabinho to France. However, given the Brazilian’s recent increase in game time, this seems unlikely.

Ultimately unlike Manchester United, City should be less tempted to get one over on league rivals when it comes to the transfer market. Whislt Rabiot is a capable player, bar financial dealings, there is not much to say City would be missing out in the grand scheme of things.

City Xtra score: 6/10

In our final piece of analysis, we’ll be taking a look at the player we’re sure you’ve all been waiting for. A Dutch sensation wanted across the nation, it’s unlikely that being compared to Busquets and Beckenbauer by great players themselves can be all that bad…

Disagree with our critique? Reckon you’d give a different rating? Be sure to leave a comment down below!

Previously in this series:
Manchester City’s hunt for the elusive defensive midfielder – Part 1

Manchester City’s hunt for the elusive defensive midfielder – Part 2

Manchester City’s hunt for the elusive defensive midfielder – Part 3

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