THE BLOG

Why Fernando Is Manchester City's Best Signing This Summer

29/07/2014 16:24 BST | Updated 28/09/2014 10:59 BST

Just two years have passed since Manchester City, Roberto Mancini and Brian Marwood acrimoniously limped through the 2012 summer transfer window, but a makeover at boardroom level, led by the arrival of Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, has transformed the Blues' transfer activity.

Without a clear strategy just a couple of years back, the club hesitated in the market, panicked as the transfer deadline approached and wastefully splurged on the likes of Maicon, Scott Sinclair and Javi Garcia. However, following the arrival of the former Barcelona man, City's dealings since then have been organised, methodical and have injected a real sense of quality - and value - to the squad.

Last season, as the club aimed to reclaim the Premier League title, Begiristain, along with Manuel Pellegrini, identified pace, creativity and mobility as the key characteristics which would result in a successful charge to the top. In attacking areas, Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo arrived, all possessing those coveted qualities. And crucially, thanks to Begiristain's efficiency and negotiation skills, they were signed quickly, enabling them to settle in to the club and produce their best form from the outset.

The same process has happened this time around. The manager and Director of Football earmarked the areas of the squad which needed strengthening and they have been precise and ruthless in executing their plans.

A right-back was required to provide support for Pablo Zabaleta, so Bacary Sagna, on a free transfer, with plenty of Champions League experience and with an attacking manner perfectly suited to Pellegrini's style, agreed to join well before the transfer window officially opened.

Joe Hart, it was felt, needed stiffer competition to keep him alert and with Costel Pantilimon having been released at the end of his contract, Pellegrini turned to his former club, Malaga, and recruited Willy Caballero, another player to have experienced the pressure of top European competition.

Then there was a vacancy at the base of midfield, a need for someone with class who could sit deep and protect the defence whilst allowing the more gifted players to cause problems further forward. From FC Porto, with over 40 Champions League and Europe League appearances to his name (there is a theme recurring here), came Fernando. He could well be City's most important signing of the season.

The Blues' search for a holding midfielder has gone full circle in recent times. Just three seasons ago, as Roberto Mancini built the defensive foundations upon which City's FA Cup and then Premier League successes were built, Nigel De Jong's reputation could not have been higher. He was the destroyer in central areas, the pitbull in front of the defence who was charged with breaking up play and then moving the ball on to his more inventive teammates. With his no-nonsense approach he quickly became a fans' favourite.

Nevertheless, it was soon decided that he was too one-dimensional. The Dutchman was perfectly adept at stifling the opposition but he was limited on the ball and as City aimed to display a more aesthetic side, he was pushed away.

A midfield three became a midfield two and Gareth Barry was given the role of protecting the defence whilst simultaneously starting attacks and providing balance. It was a job he performed superbly, especially in City's 2012 title-winning season, when his understated authority allowed Yaya Touré and others to flourish.

And yet that still wasn't enough. At the start of last season, Pellegrini decided Barry didn't possess the energy and mobility required for his style of play, so the Chilean cast him aside, sent him on loan to Everton and replaced him with Fernandinho.

The former Shakhtar Donetsk star was outstanding. Arguably one of the Blues' players of the season, he fought his way into Brazil's squad for the World Cup thanks to a series of strikingly consistent and influential performances. He introduced an added layer of enthusiasm to the City midfield and was often the catalyst for Pellegrini's high-intensity pressing game.

However, with Yaya Touré pushing forward alongside him, the defensive burden was sometimes too great for him to carry single-handedly and City's back four were occasionally overwhelmed. For all his numerous qualities, Fernandinho is not blessed with a natural defensive instinct and he struggled in certain games to shield the defence.

So City were back at square one, looking for a purely defensive-minded midfielder to operate in a deeper role, screening the backline and thus releasing the likes of Fernandinho and Yaya to advance into positions from where they can threaten opposition defences.

Javi Garcia was called upon last season to sit in there and close out games, but whilst he improved upon an inept debut campaign at the club, his revival was marginal. He may be powerful in the air, but with no pace, no positional sense and no purpose to his passing, he is far from the level required at City and could well move on this summer.

In Fernando, Pellegrini hopes he has found the missing piece of the jigsaw.

As it happens, the man known in Portugal as 'o polvo' (the octopus) for his leggy style and ability to wrap his bottom half around opponents as he dispossess them, may not start too often. There will be times against inferior opposition when Pellegrini will dispense with defensive thoughts and look for his side to pour forward in attacking waves. As such, Fernando's defensive barrier won't be called upon.

Where he will prove his worth will be in the Champions League and tough domestic encounters, when the manager will operate with three in midfield to add solidity. Fernando will sit deep, Fernandinho will have greater freedom to bomb forward and Yaya will operate from his more advanced position just behind the striker, liberated from his defensive duties. With David Silva, Samir Nasri, Stevan Jovetic, Jesus Navas, James Milner and City's trio of deadly strikers all pushing for a place in the side, it's a frighteningly powerful prospect.

Fernando is not the most eye-catching signing, but away from the limelight and operating in the shadows of a game, he may well turn out to be the best addition City have made this summer.