Fernandinho might have played his final game for Manchester City.
As he led City to collect their medals in Porto and continue on past the Champions League trophy, he will have been aware that he may never play for the club again.
With his contract up at the end of this month, Fernandinho will discuss a new deal with the club now the season is over. A one-year extension makes sense – he’s shown countless examples of his leadership this season and rolled back the years with some influential performances when needed.
But he and City will know he’s only one serious injury away from the end of his career, and despite his impressive fitness, he’ll be 37 by the end of next season. If it’s not this summer, his tenure at the Etihad could well be over this time next year.
Rodri was brought in two years ago as Fernandinho’s long-term replacement, and has shown his progression in that key position. Now City need to start thinking about who they can bring in as a back-up to Rodri when Fernandinho is no longer around.
And in that search, maybe signing a player adaptable to play further forward could be useful. Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne have been first choice in midfield this year, but are both now among the oldest five players at City now Sergio Aguero has departed.
De Bruyne, who turns 30 at the end of this month, is under contract until 2025, while 30-year-old Gundogan has another two years. Beyond that, City will need a new generation to come through, even if that’s to push Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden.
They could well turn to the transfer market for such a player. Houssem Aouar will always be linked, and there are plenty of other talented midfielders at the top of world football to pick from. City’s success in signing De Bruyne, Gundogan and Rodri in recent years should encourage fans that they will get the next midfield addition right.
But there’s another option available. An option that could cost nothing at all.
City’s academy has progressed so much in recent years. From developing players to sell, there are now a talented bunch knocking on the door of the first team dressing room to follow Phil Foden from the CFA to the Etihad.
And lucky for the accountants at City, there are some talented midfielders catching the eye.
U23s captain Tommy Doyle is the most obvious name, and is under contract until 2025. A classy midfielder, who at 19 is already outgrowing under-23 football, Doyle has spent plenty of time in the last two seasons in first-team training. He’s done enough to feature for the first team in the domestic cups, Premier League and Champions League already.
Doyle has City running through his blood, and told MEN Sport last month of what it means to be a captain for a club like this. Whether he makes it or not is up to him, but it won’t be for the want of trying and he fully deserves that chance in the coming years – whether in defensive midfield or further forward.
So does Claudio Gomes, the Frenchman who came to City highly-rated from PSG, played in the Community Shield and dropped off the radar. A loan to PSV Eindhoven’s youth setup came and went, and he re-emerged this summer in the academy to put in a string of impressive performances.
Similar to Fernandinho in style of play, Gomes can play across the defence or in midfield. He was a feature in some first team squads as a result of his academy performances this season, and feels like a player suited to Guardiola’s demands.
And then there’s the new EDS Player of the Season, Romeo Lavia.
Arriving last summer, Lavia started in the under-18s and impressed enough to earn a promotion to the under-23s at just 17. He helped both sides to their respective league titles, and was a feature in City’s EFL Trophy campaign against senior Football League opposition.
Lavia won’t be in line for a first team call just yet, just a year after moving to England, but his first season at the club has seen him catch plenty of eyes. If he’s anchoring the midfield of the under-23 side after just turning 17, that goes to show what kind of an impressive footballer City have on their hands.
The task will be to keep Doyle, Gomes and Lavia grounded, while encouraging them and developing them to be as good as they can be. After all, playing for City’s first team isn’t easy.
If City are weighing up whether to invest millions in a new midfielder or two over the next few years, though, they should certainly consider seeing what is coming through the academy before signing any cheques.