When Manchester City dipped into the 2015 January transfer market to recruit Ivorian striker Wilfried Bony, there was a buzz amongst supporters that suggested the club had made an astute, though pricey signing. Indeed, they had brought in the player that had been top scorer in the Premier League in 2014. Just recently though, there has been a developing sense that Bony’s time in Manchester might not be as productive as Blues fans had initially hoped.
Having been unavailable throughout January due to international commitments, the £28m signing from Swansea City had to wait until February for his debut. Between then and the end of the season, he made the starting eleven twice as well as making a further 10 appearances from the bench, scoring two goals along the way.
In his two starts, against Leicester and West Brom respectively, he looked very good. His hold up play was excellent and it seemed he might give the team a fresh dynamic with his raw power and strength. Though his attributes are far from limited to those, City had been missing both. His two goals were well taken, though it must be said that more often than not, he was snatching at chances. With a forgiving fan base willing to give him time, this was attributed to a few nerves and wanting to make a good early impression.
In his appearances from the bench, Bony was less impressive. Being given ten minutes here and there did not allow him to get involved in games and, oddly, it was in these matches that his first touch was failing him.
When the summer came, City called time on Stevan Jovetic and Edin Džeko’s stay in Manchester, appearing to enhance Bony’s claim for regular football. Less encouraging for him was the aggressive recruitment policy that saw the club twice break their record transfer fee to bring Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne to the Etihad Stadium. With David Silva, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas remaining in the ranks, the Blues ensured they had a plethora of attacking options.
The start of the new term has shown that Manuel Pellegrini’s men now have a clear preferred style. A system with three creative players behind one striker is reaping rich rewards and that’s terrible news for the Ivorian. His key rival for the starting spot in the striker role is Sergio Agüero. Quite simply, he is not going to dislodge him naturally. That isn’t Bony’s fault, he just happens to be battling with the best striker in the league for his position. As long as City play this system (and they will do so more often than not), the only chance Bony has of starting regularly is if Kün gets injured.
Indeed, it was for just that reason that the Ivorian was afforded a starting berth for City’s opening Champions League game this week. With last season’s runners-up Juventus visiting Manchester, this was a huge chance for him to prove he belongs at this level and gain some much needed confidence in the process.
Instead, he went some way to proving the opposite. The problem does not solely lie with Wilfried Bony. It is true that he struggled to get into the game and that at times his first touch was so heavy it was like a ball being kicked against a brick wall, however the crux of the matter is that right now, he just doesn’t seem to fit.
If the problem was anything else it wouldn’t be so worrying. Bad form can be corrected – we’re talking about a proven Premier League goalscorer after all. At Swansea, he showed himself to be a natural in front of goal. But not fitting into the team could be a terminal problem. He is not so good that City can afford to change their style to suit him. Against Juventus, he struggled to win headers when the ball was launched at him. When he did, nobody was there to take advantage of the flick-on.
I’ve already touched upon this briefly and it’s a fairly obvious point, but because Agüero is going to be impossible to overtake, it means that in the limited playing time Bony does get he’s got to do a hell of a lot to make an impression. It is a harsh fact of modern football that, generally, extortionate transfer fees mean players are afforded less time by supporters before they become impatient. A strong mentality is required, as well as the ability to prove you belong. Bony’s struggles on Tuesday brought both into question.
It’s not that his performance was without its merits. In one instance he took the Juventus defence out of the equation with a gloriously deft first touch, but then he spooned his shot a long way wide.
If it seems harsh to judge him on such limited time on the pitch, it is worth bearing in mind that that is exactly what Manuel Pellegrini is currently doing. That skewed effort against Juventus is a snap-shot of Wilfried Bony’s Manchester City career so far. Such profligacy will not enhance his claims to start important games in the future.
Written by Richard Burns