Manchester City have made Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez their key transfer target for the summer, as they look for a long-term replacement to Fernandinho.
Now 33, Fernandinho is undoubtedly approaching the latter stages of his career, but he still remains one of City’s most important players. The side has looked vulnerable when Fernandinho is not on the pitch, with many fans calling for Pep Guardiola to target another defensive midfielder in the transfer window.
However, Saul still has seven years remaining on his current contract with Atletico, who also inserted a £130m buy-out clause into his deal.
City are reportedly unprepared to spend such a fee, but they remain determined to negotiate with Atletico to see whether the La Liga side would be prepared to accept a lower offer.
Guardiola has identified the defensive-midfield position as an area of weakness in his squad, and even attempted to rectify the problem last summer with a failed move for Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred, who eventually joined cross-town rivals Manchester United.
He has since pursued moves for the Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong and Lyon pair Tanguy Ndombele and Houssem Aouar, but was priced out of deals for all three players. As a result, Guardiola has turned his attention to his native Spain, and is now set to explore whether Saul has any interest in making the move to the Etihad Stadium.
The 24-year-old has been one of Atletico’s standout performers in recent seasons, making 234 appearances since his debut for Los Rojiblancos in 2012. This season, Saul’s versatility has been on show, with Diego Simeone fielding him as a central midfielder, a winger and even a left-back on several occasions.
This quality should be appealing to Guardiola, who has used midfielders like Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko as full-backs since his arrival at the Etihad.
However, given Saul’s long-term commitment to the club, Atletico will be in no rush to part ways with the Spanish international, and Guardiola will likely face an uphill battle if he chooses to pursue this deal.