Manchester City are expected to complete a £57 million deal for Aymeric Laporte before the close of the transfer window next week after the Athletic Bilbao centre-half signalled his desire to join the Premier League leaders, 18 months after turning his back on a planned move to the club.
City moved to activate the €65m (£57m) release clause in Laporte’s contract after deciding to renew their interest in the 23-year-old in the belief he represents a better long-term option than West Bromwich Albion’s Jonny Evans.
Athletic have tried to persuade Laporte to stay until the summer but the defender has indicated he wishes to move to City now at the second time of asking, with Pep Guardiola determined to bolster his central defence this month.
Given the complexities of Spanish buy-out clauses, City are rushing to ensure the deal is formally completed by next Wednesday’s transfer deadline. If Laporte joins, as anticipated, it will take Guardiola’s spending to almost £450 m in just under 20 months at City.
City thought they had secured a deal for Laporte in the summer of 2016 after agreeing to meet his release clause, which then stood at £39.6m. But Laporte, who was sidelined at that time with a broken leg and dislocated ankle, ended up backing out of a deal late on and signed a new contract with Bilbao, in which his release clause was increased to €65m.
Explaining the decision some months later, Laporte said: “How did I say no to Pep? By looking at the pros and cons. I spoke with him for a long time, as well as with my club. I also looked at my family, my entourage. It wasn’t too early. It was just pros and cons – amount of time on the pitch, me recovering from injury. These aren’t easy things to think about at my age.”
City had a £21m bid for Evans rejected in August and had resumed contact with West Brom this month after missing out to Liverpool for Virgil van Dijk, their primary target. However, City did not follow up their initial inquiries about Evans, the 30-year-old former Manchester United centre-half who is now likely to join Arsenal. Instead, at a transfer meeting on Saturday, City’s hierarchy formally decided to make another move for Laporte, who had remained on their radar and continued to be scouted.
A left-footed ball-playing centre-half, Laporte has been tracked by several leading clubs but he has yet to win a senior cap for France, with coach Didier Deschamps yet to be convinced he is ready to make the step up.
It remains to be seen how Laporte would cope with the physicality of the Premier League, although he is considered a better prospect than the last French defender City paid big money for, Eliaquim Mangala, a £42m signing from Porto. Mangala is likely to leave in the summer, and with Vincent Kompany also facing an uncertain future as he continues to battle perennial injury problems, Guardiola wants quality cover for John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi.