Nolito to Manchester City: Pep's first mistake/masterstroke?
The summer transfer window had been rife with speculation over the future of former Celta Vigo forward cum winger Nolito. After a decent showing last season, Nolito had attracted a number of enquiries regarding his availability for a transfer. While a host of clubs were vying for his signature, Nolito chose the blue half of Manchester as his next destination. Turning 30-years of age in October, Nolito is no spring chicken and many pundits have been taken aback by new Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola’s willingness to part with 18 million euros for a 30-year-old.
Nolito is quite a well-travelled footballer, having played for Benfica, Granada and Celta Vigo before joining the Citizens. Having made an impression while plying his trade with junior teams, Nolito moved to Barcelona B in 2008. In 38 La Liga 2 matches, he scored 13 goals and also made 5 appearances for the senior Barcelona squad and scored a solitary goal.
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In 2011 he moved to Benfica in the Portuguese League. In 63 appearances for Benfica, Nolito scored 16 goals and provided 12 assists. During his stay at Benfica, he was loaned to Granada for a season in 2013. In 17 matches for Granada, he scored 3 and assisted 3 goals.
In 2013, he was shipped off to Celta Vigo for 2.6 million euros. The move really saw Nolito prosper and in 103 matches he scored 39 goals and assisted 23. Nolito made his international debut in 2014 and in 9 appearances for La Roja, he has scored 4 goals.
Manchester City’s woes down the flanks were all too apparent last season, Raheem Sterling has been a shadow of his Liverpool self ever since his expensive transfer to Manchester. He looks shorn of confidence and self-belief and the direct running with blistering pace at defenders has been replaced by sideways passing and a complete lack of penetration. Sterling was probably the biggest disappointment and most expensive transfer flop of last season.
Whether he can recover his form this season remains to be seen. Jesus Navas has been a more consistent performer than Sterling over the past season but he too has his limitations. While his performances are consistent to certain extent, Navas is extremely poor at goal scoring, scoring about one in every 25 matches.
The modern day winger can no longer be relied upon simply to put crosses into the box and hope for a striker to get on the end of it. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard have proved that the best wingers in the world are a regular source of goals for their club side. City have also deployed Kevin De Bruyne down the wings, but he seems to covet the attacking midfielders role, or the supporting strikers role than being deployed as an out and out winger.
It is probably this severe limitation coupled with unreliability and lack of consistency that forced Guardiola’s hand in pushing through Nolito’s transfer. Nolito definitely does not have a lot of pace, nor is he blessed with quick feet to mesmerize his opponents. But Nolito is well versed in the high pressing game favoured by Guardiola.
He was handed his senior Barcelona debut by Guardiola, and was managed by current Barcelona boss Luis Enrique at Celta Vigo and both managers love to deploy their forwards high up the pitch to ensure the opposition cannot play out of their defence.
Nolito has one attribute which will be vital for City under Guardiola. If productivity was an attribute, Nolito has it in abundance. Barring Aguero, Guardiola has no proven goal-scorers at his disposal and Nolito will be a welcome addition in this regard. His 12 goals and 7 assists for Celta last year, per whoscored.com, if replicated, will aid City’s push for the title this year.
He is very comfortable in possession, and can string passes together in the opposition's half, a quality which will endear him to Guardiola no doubt. Nolito also has the ability to spark a stale move into a threatening attack thanks to his quick movement. In Euro 2016, Nolito started off very promisingly with Spain and with him and Silva down the wings, Iniesta was having a field day, especially against Spain.
Nolito’s movement cause midfield runners to track back with him, allowing Iniesta a lot of space in the final third of the opponent, a situation where he is usually devastating. Whether Ilkay Gundogan, after reaching full fitness can have a similar impact remains to be seen.
What Nolito’s transfer implies, for many pundits, is the end for Raheem Sterling’s role as an important squad member under Guardiola’s tutelage. It seems the once much acclaimed Sterling will have to warm the bench for the major part of the season and watch Nolito and David Silva operate down the wings for City.