Aymeric Laporte: Guardiola's latest signing perfect for Manchester City's project
While there were more eye-catching deals done in January, few may have the long-term significance of the Frenchman's move to the Etihad
Manchester City finally completed the signing of long-term target Aymeric Laporte on January 30. Barely 24 hours later, the versatile 23-year-old defender found himself in Pep Guardiola’s starting XI to face West Brom in the Premier League.
A 3-0 victory marked the conclusion of a whirlwind few days, which saw him move from Athletic Bilbao for €65 million – the release clause attached to his contract with the Basque club, thereby making him the club’s most expensive defensive recruit ever.
But his lavish transfer fee will not guarantee game time at City. Instead, it will have to be earned.
Laporte, however, is likely to have the luxury of time to bed into Pep Guardiola’s first team.
His arrival has been hastened by a long-term injury to left-back Benjamin Mendy, who is still some weeks away from being able to feature again. Guardiola went into the campaign in the risky position of having just one recognised player in that role, so when injury struck the France international, Fabian Delph was employed in his stead.
But a further injury for the stand in meant a longer-term replacement was required. Laporte is that man.
“The people who said he was too expensive will eventually say he was pretty cheap,” Guardiola argued after the Frenchman’s debut. “He’s done 45 minutes of training, I put him in and watched him play. I kept saying: ‘Wow! What a defender!’”
It might have been his chance to look at him in depth first hand, but Guardiola would not have been surprised; Laporte was nominated into La Liga’s Team of the Season after the 2013-14 campaign when he was just 19.
Indeed, he was the only non-Atletico Madrid player to earn a place in the back five as Diego Simeone’s men won the title with a defence-driven approach.
His background, too, offers him the kind of physicality that is required to succeed in the Premier League. Born in Agen in the Basque region of France, he was brought up playing both football and rugby, so has grown used to carrying bumps and bruises.
Indeed, he very rarely misses games, despite suffering the heartbreak of a broken leg in March 2016, which ended his hopes of playing that summer’s European Championship in his homeland, a tournament he may well have gone to, and it could have delayed his move to Manchester somewhat too.
He has battled back and has shown surprisingly few after-effects of the problem. Indeed, it has been close to a whole year since he last missed a game due to injury.
He may only be 23, but he offers a good deal of top-level experience considering his young age. His first-team debut was made way back in 2012 under the guidance of head coach Marcelo Bielsa, whose offensive style has been refined by Guardiola.
Indeed, the Argentine has been called “the world’s greatest coach” in the past by the Catalan, who models his system on that of the former Chile boss, meaning Laporte should be able to slip into Pep’s system with relative ease.
Given his similarities to John Stones, who continues to suffer occasional lapses, it is no surprise that questions have been raised as to whether they can both hope to play together.
As one might expect of a Guardiola, and indeed Bielsa, player, Laporte is comfortable with the ball at his feet and is technically very able. Defensively, meanwhile, he reads the game well and his pace makes him useful at recovering ground, allowing him to make last-ditch tackles that others may not have accomplished.
And making him an even more attractive option is the fact that he is eligible to play in the Champions League for the first time since the Basque outfit last qualified in 2015 only to be eliminated in the group stages by Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Additionally, this move represents a terrific opportunity to work his way into the France national side that he was so close to reaching a couple of years ago. With the World Cup looming, head coach, Didier Deschamps will be keen to explore numerous options.
Laporte has always had the versatility and quality to play at international level, and now with a giant club like City, he has the opportunity to show that he has the mentality to play on the biggest stage. Moreover, at the Premier League champions-elect, he will also enjoy more visibility in the spotlight than was possible at Athletic.
Deschamps is notorious for waiting until players are at the biggest sides before fully integrating them into his squads, with Lyon duo Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso overlooked for so long until they switched to Arsenal and Bayern Munich respectively last summer. Laporte is liable to receive similar treatment.
“If I was playing with the same level in another team, it’s more than likely I’d be in the France squad,” he grumbled in October before hinting that he could turn the back on his homeland, which he captained at youth level, to instead play for Spain.
Laporte has already set about making waves in England and after rapidly impressing Guardiola for City, it is only a matter of time before Deschamps takes notice too.