City open door for club-record Laporte fee after paying €65m release clause
Pep Guardiola's drastic 19-month overhaul of Manchester City's defence was nearing the £300 million (€341m) mark last night as the Premier League leaders secured a club-record £57.1m (€65m) deal for Athletic Bilbao centre-half Aymeric Laporte.
Laporte is expected to complete the formalities of his move to City today after Bilbao confirmed yesterday that his €65m release clause had been triggered and the 23-year-old issued a farewell message to the Basque club.
The deal will be a club record for City, eclipsing the £55m they paid Wolfsburg for Belgium midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in 2015, and takes Guardiola's outlay in fewer than two seasons in Manchester to £450m (€512m), more than half of which has been spent on defenders.
Laporte's arrival follows the signings of England centre-half John Stones, a £47.5m recruit from Everton, and full-backs Benjamin Mendy (a £52m arrival from Monaco), Kyle Walker (a £50m purchase from Tottenham), and Danilo, who joined from Real Madrid in a £26.5m deal.
Once the respective £34.7m and £13.75m signing of goalkeepers Ederson and Claudio Bravo are factored in, City's billionaire owners have committed almost £282m to completely remodel the back line under Guardiola.
Laporte's impending arrival will mean City - who face West Bromwich Albion at the Etihad tomorrow - have now spent £250m on 10 centre-backs since Sheikh Mansour's takeover in September 2008. With Vincent Kompany facing an uncertain future and Eliaquim Mangala expected to be sold, City are likely to sign another central defender in the summer.
They are also in advanced talks with Shakhtar Donetsk over the £40m-rated Brazil midfielder Fred, with a view to the 24-year-old joining the club at the start of the summer. Furthermore, Guardiola wants to sign a pedigree forward in the summer after backing out of a deal this month for Chile striker Alexis Sanchez, who instead signed for rivals Manchester United. City were linked over the weekend with an ambitious move for Chelsea forward Eden Hazard.
The capture of Laporte brings an end to Guardiola's protracted search for another centre-half.
Laporte pulled out of a planned £39.6m move to City in June 2016 after deciding to stay at Bilbao and the Manchester club subsequently pursued deals for various defenders, including Leonardo Bonucci, Virgil van Dijk and Jonny Evans, before eventually reviving their interest in Laporte.
Didier Deschamps has yet to hand Laporte a senior cap for France, unconvinced the player is ready to make the step up, but Guardiola believes the youngster - a natural left-footer with an excellent short and long passing range - has the intelligence, awareness and ability on the ball to thrive for City.
City sent a delegation to the La Liga offices in Madrid yesterday as Laporte's release clause was triggered. The player was due to fly to Manchester last night ahead of a formal announcement. It is unlikely he will feature against West Brom, but he is expected to be at the Etihad to watch the game.
City, meanwhile, said scans yesterday had confirmed Leroy Sane has suffered ligament damage to his left ankle following an awful challenge from Cardiff's Joe Bennett that forced the winger's substitution on Sunday.
City offered no update on Sane's anticipated absence after Guardiola had said the 22-year-old could be out for up to a month. "I think it isn't as bad as it looked," Sane wrote on Instagram. (© Daily Telegraph, London)