For a player who only played 12 times for Manchester City this season, there might not be a player in the squad who divides fans more than Eric Garcia.
The 20-year-old Spaniard, who has finally secured his expected return to Barcelona, was a popular addition to the first team over the previous two seasons, performing at a level far greater than his age and stepping in admirably when the defence was stretched.
Garcia wasn’t a perfect replacement for the likes of Vincent Kompany, Aymeric Laporte or John Stones when they were out, but he stepped up when City needed him and repaid them with plenty of effort and some good performances.
However, when he announced he wanted to leave City, fans understandably turned somewhat. It’s harder to get behind a player who actively wants to leave. His performances this season have been below the standards he set the previous year, and he found himself limited to a watching role for the most part.
As a result, when Garcia did play, he received the brunt of City fans’ frustrations – even if his inclusion was often in a much-changed side with other fringe players.
In hindsight, maybe City should have accepted an £18m offer from Barcelona on deadline day at the start of the season.
Given he has played just 12 times since, at that valuation, Garcia has cost the Blues £1.5m per appearance in 2020/21 – or nearly £21,000 per minute. He didn’t play in any big games, and only started three times in the league after Ruben Dias arrived (two of those starts coming after the title was won).
When it’s laid bare like that, the decision to turn down that offer doesn’t look worth it – it was a gamble that didn’t pay off.
However, City made a calculated decision when presented with that deadline day bid.
Firstly, the Blues refused to sell below their ‘bottom line’ valuation of Garcia (£20m), and had made a clear call to stick to their guns as Barcelona tried their luck. It was agreed that anything less than £20m wouldn’t be worth the value of keeping Garcia around the squad in a difficult season where the threat of Covid-19 was clear and the previous year had seen a number of centre-backs sustain injuries.
As it happened, Ruben Dias arrived and made a bigger impact than anyone expected, John Stones made a revival and remained fit, while Aymeric Laporte avoided much time in the injury room. The addition of Nathan Ake, even though he had injury problems himself, also limited Garcia’s game-time towards the end of the season. If Garcia was to play more, he needed the four centre-backs above him to experience some misfortune, and they didn’t.
Garcia was kept in part to account for a worst-case scenario that never happened. If those injuries had hit and Garcia played a bigger part, City would have been praised for their defiance against Barcelona’s bid (and criticised if they accepted it).
Should City have sold Garcia last summer? Let us know in the comments here.
So the fact that he wasn’t needed shouldn’t be held against them. As Pep Guardiola says regularly about his team selections, if they win he is labelled a genius, if they lose, he has tinkered too much. It’s the same logic.
If Txiki Begiristain and co had a crystal ball on deadline day, they might have decided that £18m in the bank was worth taking. But instead they only had the previous year’s experience, where they lost the Premier League title due to a lack of depth in Garcia’s very position. Nobody was complaining too much at the time.
Whether City should have cashed in or not is a debate that might take up a few minutes of conversation in the pub this week, yet in the grand scheme of things, £18m won’t trouble the City accountants too much.
And in the long term, City sent a message that could be worth far more than a mid-range valuation of a player who was going to leave anyway.
That is – they won’t be held to ransom in the transfer market. If they set an asking price, they expect to meet it, and they have calculated that anything below is not worth selling. It will also send a message to players thinking of rejecting contract offers to force a move – they must be prepared to see out any current contract and sit on the bench if needs be.
This gamble might not have worked as City or Garcia might have hoped, but his loss of game time this season could be City’s gain in future negotiations.