Almost as soon as Manchester City’s title-winning celebrations had been replaced by World Cup preparations, doubts over Yaya Toure’s future at the Etihad Stadium surfaced.
First the Ivory Coast midfielder’s agent was quoted saying he could leave the club after they failed to acknowledge his birthday. And then the player himself said he would say more after this summer’s tournament.
Some suspect it is simply a case of negotiating a new deal after Toure’s outstanding individual campaign for City. While others feel this really could be the end of the player’s time in Manchester.
So if he really is set for a summer exit, how would Manuel Pellegrini replace him? And is that even possible given Toure’s influence on the pitch?
In truth it is certainly possible, although it may take two men to replace him.
City have long been linked with FC Porto’s defensive midfielder Fernando. Reports back in January suggested he could make a move during that transfer window, and while he did not, the suggestion is he could still be heading for Pellegrini’s side this summer.
In a defensive-midfield role, there are few better players currently plying their trade in Europe, and Fernando could certainly replace the defensive role Toure carries out, especially with Fernandinho alongside him – a player who has quietly shone since his move just under 12 months ago.
But what about the goals? How do City replace those, given that Toure contributed 24 this season, and provided 12 assists on top of that?
Well there is a player out there who could be even more effective than the Ivorian in front of goal. And while he will not come cheap, he would be an outstanding addition to City’s squad.
That man is Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino, who at just 22 had a hand in a remarkable 38 goals this season, scoring 22 himself and setting up a further 16.
And that was in just 37 appearances, meaning Firmino directly influenced more than one goal every single game he played.
Having only recently signed a new deal with the Bundesliga side, it will take an almighty bid to tempt their hand. But if Toure does leave, Firmino and Fernando could fill the void he would leave behind.
In fact…and perhaps just whisper it for now…the Blues could even be better as a result.