The CIES Football Observatory has produced its verdict on the top performing players in the major leagues of Europe in 2017-18. Although it is hardly surprising to see so many Manchester City players, it remains quite an eye-opener to find that three of the top five and no fewer than six of the top 10 are from the Etihad.
With Ederson, Kyle Walker and Young Player of the Year Leroy Sane all absent from the list, City could realistically have occupied even more spaces in the top 20.
While experts debate where this fabulous multi-record-breaking City side fit in the greater historical scheme of things, it is obvious that the present squad contains some of the best players ever to grace the sky-blue shirt.
In almost 125 years of gloriously uneven output, the club has been the home to many brilliant players. In a world where even the relatively recent years before the onset of the Premier League are often discounted — see Harry Kane’s ascension to Tottenham top scorer, ignoring the great historical feats of the likes of Jimmy Greaves and Gary Lineker — going back even further into the mists of time is not always a trip met with universal appreciation.
It is intriguing to ask the question, however, how many of Pep Guardiola’s squad would make it into an all-time City XI.
For a goalkeeper just completing his inaugural season in England, it seems incredible to discuss Eedrson’s talents in the same breath as City giants Frank Swift, Bert Trautmann and Joe Corrigan, but his unique skillset put him alongside the best the club has seen. For all the agility and longevity of the other three, Ederson perhaps merits inclusion after a whirlwind first 12 months in Manchester.
Kyle Walker and Fabian Delph have also been absolute top quality in their role as attacking full-backs. Memories of Tony Book, City’s legendary captain in the 1967-70 trophy-winning side, match the exploits of Walker, while ’70s stalwart Willie Donachie edges Delph and a number of other candidates on the left side.
Who can deny the merits of the Nicolas Otamendi-Vincent Kompany tandem in the middle of defence? Perhaps only legendary FA Cup-winning skipper Roy Paul plus ’70s stoppers Mike Doyle and Dave Watson even come close.
In midfield, Fernandinho has been a powerhouse in all directions. His is a role that perhaps bares least comparison to any former players, while Kevin De Bruyne is a clear reincarnation of the ancient No. 8 role so vividly fulfilled by Colin Bell, the club’s greatest player outside the current era.
Any all-time team would have to be unbelievably strong to deny the claims of David Silva, Yaya Toure and De Bruyne himself. City have been lucky enough to count some incredible midfield talents among their number, including Scottish stalwart Asa Hartford, the captain England never had Paul Lake, as well as the mercurial skills of Georgi Kinkladze and Ali Bernabia.
Wide men Mike Summerbee, the original hard-tackling winger, Peter Barnes — like Sane also a PFA Young Player of the Year wide on the left flank in 1976 — and Dennis Tueart, an exuberant goal-scoring right winger, who sandwiched two long spells at City with a time in New York playing for the Cosmos with Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto, may stake their claims alongside those of Sane and Raheem Sterling.
Upfront, Sergio Aguero’s record goal scorer tag makes him an obvious choice too, although England hero Francis Lee, Manchester icon Brian Kidd, whirling dervish Carlos Tevez and graceful scorer Neil Young might push him close.
As memories dissipate and only faded footage reminds us of the yesteryear skills of those that have gone before, the tendency is to laud the present-day heroes above the latter-day stars. The joy of building best-ever teams will occupy pub patrons, match-going fans and armchair viewers alike for many years to come. What is clear in City’s case is the team that broke so many records this season contains more quality spread from front to back than any that has gone before it.
In the initial days of Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, the stated aim was to build a squad that had strength in depth. It was seen as an almost impossible task to have two equally talented players for each position. It may well be that this utopian dream has still not — and may never be — achieved. The nature of the very best players does not allow them to be content to sit idly by the wayside whilst a player of equal power and grace occupies his spot in the team.
This then is the embarrassment of riches open to Guardiola as he settles into a close season of planning and plotting. If he succeeds in upgrading the 2017-18 Manchester City vintage, he will have worked another minor miracle.
All-time City team: Ederson; Book, Kompany, Doyle, Donachie; Bell, Silva, Toure, De Bruyne; Aguero, Lee. Subs: Trautmann, Watson, Tueart, Tevez, Fernandinho, Kinkladze.
Simon is one of ESPN FC’s Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.