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Forget the ban! Why Man City face biggest challenge of Mansour era

COMMENT: There's no quick fix here. Even with the Sheikh's money. Manchester City can't expect to simply throw cash at this one. And no, we're not talking about appeal lawyers and that UEFA ban...

The Champions League suspension - for two seasons - is a setback for City. But UEFA's ruling isn't the biggest hurdle now confronting the board and manager Pep Guardiola. This team is about to enter a transition. A change not seen since Sheikh Mansour bought out Thaksin Shinawatra over 11 years ago. And it will test the current manager like he's never been tested before.

Amid the chaos this week. The claimed crisis (give us a break). The positive was Guardiola's reaction and commitment to the cause. This UEFA suspension was just the cover the Catalan needed. Just the excuse to skip out on the club and find himself another job where things were all just about in place - only needing the finishing touch Guardiola can expertly provide.

But he's not done that. From him. From his agent, Jose Maria Orobotig. He's sticking around. And it won't be for the one season. It can't be. This job is a new three-to-five year project. Guardiola needs to build City's first team a new spine. Just as Roberto Mancini did all these years ago. Guardiola needs to put together a core of players the club can push off from for the next seven to eight years. Something which he has never been asked to do.

During his almost four years now in charge, Guardiola has overseen the departures of some genuine titans of the club. A few he did so hastily, others reluctantly. But Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure will all be regarded in the decades to come as greats of the club. Another, David Silva, will depart in June, and there's no guarantee Sergio Aguero, at 32, will be leading the line next season.

Great footballers. Real leaders. And bar Hart, no-one could argue this core has been adequately replaced during Guardiola's time in charge. Indeed, even with the goalkeeper, Guardiola had to have two bites at it. Discarding Hart. Falling out with his former Barcelona No1 Claudio Bravo - before finally landing on Ederson.

At centre-half, it's been even messier - but it must be said, not of all Guardiola's doing. Yes, John Stones' development has stalled. In truth, it's now in reverse. And the jury's still out on Aymeric Laporte. But the problems that have beset City since Kompany's age was beginning to catch up on him wasn't just down to the manager's coaching.

It is also down to bottle. The will at City to compete at the top level when the need demands. Twice we have on public record the board bottling the chance to fix the Kompany problem once and for all. First it was Virgil van Dijk and Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the City chairman, admitting the £75m Liverpool paid for the Dutchman was unrealistic.

"Come on, you cannot be serious," Al-Mubarak said to Txiki Begiristain. His conversation with the football director covered in the club's season doco a year ago.

"Ultimately, if it makes sense for us we will do it. If it doesn't make sense, we are perfectly comfortable in walking away. To do that, there's only a few clubs in the world that can do that."

And with that, City allowed Liverpool to step in, sign Van Dijk from Southampton and so set themselves on the way to Champions League glory.

Then last summer, with Harry Maguire available from Leicester, City again shied away from paying what was needed. Much to the frustration of Guardiola, Manchester United eventually agreed to meet the England international's £80m price-tag. And for the way it dragged on, it can't be said United didn't give City the time to step in and nick Maguire away from them.

Later in the season, Guardiola would lament: "He's a United player. He decided. They paid more than we wanted to pay and he's there. I think he's an exceptional player for United, for the national team, and he decided to go there."

Further into midfield and at least common sense has prevailed. At one stage, it really did appear the board was going to allow Fernandinho to run down his contract and leave. But with the 34 year-old Brazilian now secured for another 12 months, this at least gives management some breathing space to identify a successor.

But that player will have to be exceptional. As will the one tasked to replace Silva. Phil Foden, for many, should be granted that opportunity. But like the team as a whole, this will be no instant fix.

Guardiola, the board, and even the City support, they'll all have to give the likes of Foden the time and chance to make mistakes and learn from them. This won't be Raheem Sterling 2.0. There'll be no Kompany, Yaya or Silva to shoulder the burden as the likes of Foden settles in. Indeed, it will down to senior players like Sterling, even at 25, to take on more responsibility just as those titans did for him after his move from Liverpool.

And this is assuming, of course, that those players Guardiola selects in the summer live up to expectations. That they're more Ederson than Bravo. More Bernardo Silva than Danilo. With the added factor they'll be relied upon as the core of this new team.

Money can buy you a player. But it can't buy you time. For City, with Silva departing - potentially Aguero too - the end of an era has arrived. And this new core needs to be identified, signed and developed in an age of competitiveness never before seen in the Premier League.

No matter how much money City throw at it, there's no quick fix for this one...

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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