It is a transfer no-one saw coming 48 hours ago – Manchester City full-back Joao Cancelo has joined Bayern Munich on loan for the rest of the season.
The 28-year-old has played an integral part in the Premier League titles Pep Guardiola’s side have won in the past two seasons, but has fallen out of favor and will move to Germany with an option to join permanently for 70m euro (£61.5 m) in the summer.
The Portugal defender, who moved in 2019 from Juventus for £60mhas played more minutes for City than any other defender this season.
So why has he been allowed to leave? How has he fallen out of favour? Where does it leave Manchester City? What do pundits and fans think?
‘This is Guardiola flexing his muscles’
Cancelo has played 1,866 minutes across all competitions this season – 68 more than Manuel Akanji, City’s second most-played defender. He has featured in 26 games, and was on track to play a similar level of games as in the past two seasons – 43 and 52.
However, only 256 minutes have been since domestic football returned after the World Cup, with him taken off at half-time at Chelsea. His other two starts were defeats at Manchester United in the Premier League and Southampton in the Carabao Cup.
His dip has coincided with the emergence of 18-year-old Rico Lewis, and Nathan Ake’s improved form.
With no replacement likely in the January window City will be going into the remaining four months of the season with just 19 senior outfield players.
Winger Cole Palmer, 20, and left-back Sergio Gomez, 22, are also included in that number, with the pair only playing a combined 216 minutes in the Premier League this season. They only have two recognized full-backs in Lewis and Kyle Walker.
With the Blues still competing on three fronts – they are five points behind Arsenal in the Premier League and in the last 16 of the Champions League and FA Cup – does it leave them short for the rest of the season?
There are reports of Cancelo being frustrated with his lack of minutes and arguments with Guardiola, and former Blackburn striker Chris Sutton told BBC Radio 5 Live that is the only reason he could understand City permitting a transfer.
“I am shocked about Joao Cancelo because Oleksandr Zinchenko was sold and the lack of options that Pep Guardiola has in those full-back areas,” said Sutton.
“From the outside it looks like some sort of altercation or bust-up because why would Pep Guardiola risk that?
“It just seems to me that this is Pep Guardiola flexing his muscles. It looks like there has been some sort of fallout.
“At this moment in time Manchester City fans will be thinking ‘blimey, we’ve got a lot to do in the Premier League because Arsenal are absolutely flying’. They would consider Cancelo still as their best full-back so this is a real surprise.”
‘I wanted to play but I don’t see it as a final departure’
Cancelo addressed the reports in a news conference, stating that his main reason for leaving was a desire to play more.
“There was speculation that my relationship with Pep [Guardiola] was not the best, but the fact is I wanted to play more,” Cancelo said.
“I wanted to start this new adventure as soon as possible. I enjoyed my time at City and I am still under contract with the club so I don’t see it as a final departure.
“Bayern is a great club, one of the best in the world. I know this team lives for titles and it’s enormous motivation for me to now play alongside these extraordinary players in a team.”
Bayern Munich sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said: “Joao is a player we’ve been thinking about for a while now because we very much appreciate his qualities.
“He’s the optimal fit in our system with his attacking style of play and dynamism, and his mentality and experience fit very well in our team. I’m convinced Joao will help us in the coming weeks and months where we want to win titles. “
Analysis – move shows Guardiola’s bravery
Simon Stone, BBC Sport
Pep Guardiola has never made any secret of the fact he won’t keep an unhappy player and Joao Cancelo is not happy at his limited game time.
The brutal truth is in a season where City have struggled to find the consistency and effectiveness of recent campaigns, Cancelo is one of those who have not reached the required levels.
Erling Haaland’s arrival has triggered some tactical tweaks and Cancelo is no longer the force he was.
There are question marks over the fitness of John Stones, Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias, so this move is not without risk.
But Guardiola has led City to four titles in five seasons, and in sanctioning this move has shown he is brave enough to make decisions he believes will give the club the best chance of continued success.
What will City lose in Cancelo’s absence?
Cancelo, who signed to compete with Kyle Walker for the right-back slot, has largely been used as a left-back over the past two and a half seasons.
His ability to slot into midfield and act as a double pivot alongside Rodri, while also being able to attack down the wing and cut back in and cross the ball, has made him integral to the way Guardiola has set his side up.
However, a tactical tweak that sees City often play three centre-backs across a back four, allowing one of the full-backs – often Rico Lewis in recent weeks – to drift into midfield has limited Cancelo’s involvement.
He has contributed 20 assists in the Premier League since the start of the 2019-20 season, behind only Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold (44) and Andrew Robertson (42), and nine goals.
‘A strange decision’ or ‘potentially great business’ – how social media reacted
Andy: Joao Cancelo was an unbelievably talented attacking footballer, but I’ve never trusted him defensively. Controversial perhaps, but I’m not sorry to see him go.
Graymanuk: Sad to see Joao Cancelo move on – he adds something different to Manchester City and can play left and right. Rico Lewis is promising but still too raw for big games. At least we didn’t loan Cancelo to Arsenal!
Aaron: Nobody is bigger than the club. For all the criticism of Pep, he is a serial winner and if Cancelo was n’t pulling his weight it’s simply not good enough. Pep demands commitment as a minimum. I have no sympathy for anyone that criticizes Pep’s philosophy about him.
VC: Not a Man City fan but could potentially be great business. The young lad Rico Lewis looks a great prospect and potential 70m euros incoming in the summer for a 28-year-old full-back would be a very good fee.
Charlie: Feels a strange decision and some of Pep Guardiola’s team selections, formation and tactics have been a bit unusual in the last few months. But Pep has plenty of credit in the bank so we’ll just have to trust and hope he gets it right.
Sickbeggar: Terrible move. Selling your best defender never works out, but if he’s had enough of Pep’s bizarre team selections this season then you can’t blame him.