Pep Guardiola pleaded unconvincing ignorance over whether he will go back in for Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez during the January transfer window as one of Manchester City’s recent big-money recruit prepares for a reunion with his old employers.
Kyle Walker comes face-to-face with Tottenham on Saturday for the first time in a competitive game since swapping north London for east Manchester.
The England full-back’s arrival was one of five major signings secured early in the close season by City – a coordinated and efficient approach that paved the way for their on-going unbeaten start to the Premier League season and 11-point lead at the summit.
As August moved towards September, a protracted and ultimately fruitless pursuit of Sanchez took centre stage.
Arsenal managed to stand firm but the 28-year-old Chile star remains out of contract at the end of this season, meaning speculation linking him with long-established admirer Guardiola is unlikely to go away.
Reinforcement at centre-back, with Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk and Real Sociedad’s Inigo Martinez reported to be the names in the frame, is understood to be City’s priority next month but, when asked whether there would be another move for Sanchez, Guardiola replied: “Good question.”
Some giggles followed before he added: “[Ask me about matters] on the pitch, you know ….transfer window is for winter time.
“I don’t know, believe me, I don’t know what we are going to do because it’s not…”
Guardiola tailed off and departed his news conference with a grin. He had earlier been more forthcoming in his praise of Walker, a player he considers to be among the best right-backs in world football.
An amazing achievement from the boys, the club and the fans. Jobs not done yet and we will keep pushing until the end! #mancity #kw2 @ManCity pic.twitter.com/aak4aH41qY
— Kyle Walker (@kylewalker2) December 14, 2017
“Right now I’d rate him as one of the best, definitely,” said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach. “His energy, he is so strong defensively.
“I’d like to help him solve not just [defensive] problems through his physicality but also through his thinking.
“When you are so strong physically, you solve all the problems that way but when you get to a certain age – 29, 30 – after that you need to think more about what will happen.
“Always I encourage him to think first. Of course, against United [City’s 2-1 Manchester derby win last weekend] against Rashford and Martial, who are so fast and so good one-against-one running 40 metres, he was able to control them.
“Few players in the world can control players like Martial and Rashford like he did. That’s why he’s so, so important to us.”
Walker once seemed similarly valuable at Tottenham, where City youth product Kieran Trippier’s progression last term made it easier for Mauricio Pochettino to sanction a £50million deal.
Pochettino is looking forward to the reunion and does not fear the financial power of City and others picking further holes in a highly respected squad.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 15, 2017
“It’s always good to see the players that were with you and players that did a lot for the club, or did a lot for myself, to try to help achieve all that we wanted,” he said.
“It’s human nature that the players always want to improve and have different challenges and ideas but I’m not worried.
“We know how our project is, who we are and we try to develop our project. We need to win today, tomorrow and in one year, two, three and four years. That is the plan for Tottenham.
“It may be completely different than other teams, where the most important thing is to win today. That is a good point for the debate when people assess us and compare with another team.”