Ilkay Gundogan might not be the only legend Manchester City wave goodbye to this summer.
The transfer window should pick up speed in the upcoming weeks as players gradually return to their clubs after a well-earned vacation, and there is still plenty of time for deals to be completed. When his contract expired, Gundogan moved for Barcelona, but the futures of Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte, Joao Cancelo, and—most significantly—Kyle Walker are all still up in the air.
Walker in particular appeared to be moving toward City’s exit after six extremely successful seasons there. The defender has achieved everything at the Etihad but became upset after losing his starting spot last season when Pep Guardiola switched to an all-centre-back defense.
In the last weeks of the season, Walker managed to claw his way back into the starting lineup, although his absence from the squad for the Champions League final was only moderately shocking.
Even though he was thrilled with the victory over Inter, he was disappointed to be sitting out the game.
“Having leadership. I’ll always be unhappy when I’m not playing, but I’m 33 now, and the younger guys look up to me. After the historic victory, he told BT Sport, “I made the speech before they walked out and I was true to my word.
Walker leaving City would mark the end of an era under Guardiola. His acquisition in 2017 marked the official beginning of City’s era of dominance because he provided the manager with the much-needed boost at full-back. The £50 million price tag was laughed at by many, but he proved he was worth every penny.
Guardiola spent £130 million on full-backs alone that summer, so it is a significant adjustment and demonstrates how far his club has come for him to play without them entirely. If Walker does depart, it would not be unexpected in the slightest if City took its time finding a replacement.
Josko Gvardiol is the prime candidate to replace Ruben Dias at center back, which would free up John Stones to take over right back permanently and continue advancing into midfield to assist teams win games.
Right-back is one defensive position that Manuel Akanji has shown he is capable of playing, while youngster Rico Lewis is another. However, Guardiola will undoubtedly need to think about adding another full-back, particularly if Cancelo departs as anticipated.
After a shaky start to the campaign, City ultimately found their new system in the latter part of February. A defender moving into the middle of the field compensated for the loss of an offensive midfielder who could drop back and help control possession while also bringing creative players closer to Erling Haaland. But if management figure out a way to halt it, the system may just as quickly quit operating.
If Guardiola decides to switch back to a traditional back-four at that point, he will need the flexibility of having full-backs who are natural full-backs. However, if Cancelo and Walker both depart and aren’t replaced, that choice won’t be an option.
Lewis has a lot of potential, but he is still very young and has a lot to learn, while Sergio Gomez, who was converted from a striker to a left-back, did not appear at ease there in his first season.
Since they missed out on Bellingham and Rice, City has already struggled to replace Gundogan in the way they had hoped. If Walker leaves, they will face yet another decision about whether to stay in the market or change it.