Less than 24 hours after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley and completing a historic domestic treble, Vincent Kompany announced he was leaving Manchester City after 11 years at the Etihad.
The Belgian centre back, who captained the Sky Blues for the last eight seasons, is returning to his homeland and former club Anderlecht where he will be player-manager next term.
Kompany is synonymous with a hugely successful last decade at City, and Pep Guardiola now has the unenviable task of replacing him.
His status as an Etihad great is not in doubt, but filling the void both as leader and dressing room presence, as well as in the heart of defence is a key issue.
With the Sky Blues referred to UEFA over their finances, speed may well be of the essence as they could incur bans from European club competitions if found guilty of breaching FFP rules.
Here, we take a look at who could be potential Kompany replacements at City…
Leicester City and England defender Harry Maguire is set for yet another summer of intense speculation about his future. He only signed a new five-year deal with the Foxes back in September, but that will not deter suitors.
The former Hull City and Sheffield United centre back has been linked with leaving the East Midlands for the Northwest in previous transfer windows.
It’s not City but neighbours Manchester United, however, who were keen on Maguire. He has the size and stature to be a similar commanding presence that outgoing Sky Blues skipper Kompany has been at the Etihad for many years.
Another plus to any potential move for Maguire is he will help City fill their homegrown players quota.
Guardiola lavished praise on him following a 1-0 victory over Leicester in the penultimate game of the Premier League season, but Brendan Rodgers and the Foxes board are reluctant to sell one of their prized assets.
Maguire could command a fee in excess of the world record £75,000,000 Liverpool paid Southampton for Virgil van Dijk in January 2018.
City have been happy to spend big on defensive recruitment in recent years, however,, and he could be a leading candidate among Kompany replacements.
France-born Senegal centre back Kalidou Koulibaly was recently voted the best defender in Serie A. As he’s plying his trade with Napoli, who have lost out time and again on the Scudetto to Juventus, that’s some compliment.
Just like Maguire, Koulibaly is short on trophies but remains hugely respected. He has made Serie A’s team of the year for the last three seasons and, since Napoli sold Gonzalo Higuain, he is their most valuable player.
Koulibaly turns 28 over the summer and will once again put himself in the shop window as Senegal compete at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
Napoli’s hierarchy have resisted previous interest in his services, but the fact is they have eventually cashed in on other stars.
Edinson Cavani, Higuain, and Jorginho last summer are all examples in recent years of key players reluctantly being allowed to leave the San Paolo. Koulibaly could follow suit, but not unless Napoli get the price they’re after.
Again, he has the physicality and presence to replace Kompany in the City defence. The only question here is how will big spending look to UEFA investigators when Guardiola and the Etihad outfit are adamant over their innocence.
It’s not just Koulibaly who has earned rave reviews defensively in Italy. Slovakia international Milan Skriniar has enjoyed a meteoric rise at Inter Milan and, in a reference that Premier League fans will understand, is often billed as the next Martin Skrtel.
Strong in the tackle and taking a no-nonsense approach to defending, Skriniar cut his teeth in Serie A at Sampdoria before arriving at the San Siro in the summer of 2017.
He helped Inter get back into the Champions League after a six-year period out of that competition.
Contributions towards that and another campaign of further development in Milan this season mark 24-year-old Skriniar out as hot property. He’s still got further improvement in him and is less the finished article than Maguire or Koulibaly.
This poses another decision for City to make in any potential recruitment. Do they want to target readymade Kompany replacements, or try and bring in someone who still has defensive nous to hone?
Skriniar may represent a cheaper or better value alternative to some of the other names in the frame, though money is of course no object to the Etihad’s wealthy Middle Eastern backers.
West Ham and England youngster Declan Rice, and those advising him, have already showed plenty of ambition.
Brought through the Republic of Ireland’s youth ranks, he switched allegiance rather than nailing his colours to the mast in the Emerald Isle.
It was a bold decision, but such is his potential and progress made since graduating from the Hammers’ famed Academy of Football that he could well be a star in the making.
More tough choices lie ahead for Rice with Euro 2020 around the corner. Can he force his way permanently into Gareth Southgate’s plans if England qualify as expected, and is the London Stadium the best place for him to be playing his club football going forward?
There are no easy answers, but Man City are also looking at a long-term successor to Fernandinho as well as Kompany replacements.
Could they kill two birds with one stone? Rice has been adept in front of the back four as well as playing in it.
Aged just 20, it’s far too early to say what his best position is and he is clearly very highly-regarded at West Ham.
Rice has been the Young Hammer of the Year in each of the last three seasons. If City are going to recruit young, then he is well worth investing in and seeing whether or not he turns out as filling Fernandinho or Kompany’s boots.
Matthijs de Ligt
Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt is the talk of Europe following the Dutch giants’ run to the Champions League semi-finals.
Still a teenager, he won the Golden Boy award last year for the best young player in Europe. That puts De Ligt in some very elite company.
Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Aguero, Paul Pogba, Raheem Sterling and Kylian Mbappe are among those to receive the accolade since it was introduced in 2003.
One major difference, however, is De Ligt is a defender – the first in fact to be named the Golden Boy of European football.
Given what Ajax have achieved in the Champions League this past season, notably knocking out holders Real Madrid (who won the European Cup in each of the previous three campaigns) and Juventus, he is worthy of the honour.
As with many other possible Kompany replacements, City are highly unlikely to get a clear run at signing De Ligt.
Catalan giants Barcelona, who are looking to rebuild despite winning La Liga once more, could again raid Ajax after already signing Frenkie de Jong.
Guardiola has been linked with bringing De Ligt to the Etihad before, but there is every chance that a bidding war for his services will ensue.
He has the world at his feet and could join any club he wants to do, so the Netherlands’ great hope for the future holds the key here.