Pep Guardiola and Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain do not tend to have much time for second chances.
City’s squad has undergone a substantial refit since Guardiola’s appointment in 2016, but a small handful of high-profile names have slipped through the net in similar circumstances. Dani Alves, Alexis Sanchez and Jorginho all seemed set for moves to the Etihad Stadium before having their heads turned by offers from elsewhere. Begiristain doubled down on a take-it-or-leave-it stance and key targets signed for domestic and European rivals. Aymeric Laporte’s 2016 U-turn was slightly different in that he stayed at Athletic Bilbao to rebuild after a serious leg injury earlier that year. Nevertheless, it proved an inconvenient change of heart as Guardiola prepared for his maiden Premier League campaign. Why, then, did Laporte get another bite at this lucrative cherry, when he joined City for what was then a club record fee of £57million this January? “His quality, his mentality, he is a guy who wants to learn. He has enough of a point of arrogance – you need it to play at a high level,” Guardiola said when discussing the form of his defensive mainstay last week. Heading into Sunday’s Manchester derby, with Sanchez likely to be among the opposition, Laporte is yet to taste defeat in 20 Premier League games. Bolstered by the burgeoning centre-back partnership between John Stones and the 24-year-old Frenchman, City have conceded four times in 11 top-flight matches this season. Guardiola’s formidable attacking arsenal has long been admired. Now he has its most miserly backline and it is easy to see Laporte as the final piece in the puzzle – the left-footed central defender he desired for playmaking and positional purposes, to the extent marauding left-back Aleksandar Kolarov was often thrown into the role during 2016-17. Laporte’s father played second division rugby in his native Agen but encouraged his son to take a footballing path, wary of the toll wrought upon his own body. Agen’s location in the Basque region meant he fitted Athletic’s proud and traditional recruitment criteria. Laporte senior’s wish came true when young Aymeric made his debut under Marcelo Bielsa in 2012, becoming the club’s second French player after World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu. The 2012-13 campaign was tough for Athletic and ended with the famously nomadic Bielsa on his way, but Laporte’s smooth, ball-playing style had already started to show under one of Guardiola’s key mentors. Another man with common footballing DNA to Laporte’s current boss then played a vital role in his development. The towering defender became a fundamental figure at Bilbao under Ernesto Valverde, the future Barcelona head coach and former Barca player in the Johan Cruyff era. A dominant presence and a crowd favourite at a club informed to this day by their British roots, Premier League suitors were destined to arrive before long. There is a physical edge to Laporte – one clearly evident in his second City appearance, when Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy sought beneficial aggravation and squared up to him. The fresh-faced newboy stood his ground and glowered at Vardy, looking every inch the uncompromising son of a rugby player. Natural attributes and extra time on the training field, allowed by Didier Deschamps’ increasingly curious refusal to hand Laporte full international honours, have allowed him to lock into City’s intricate style. An ever present in the Premier League, of sporting stock, reared by Bielsa and a Cruyff disciple, accomplished in possession, comfortable defending the big spaces and with an exemplary range of passing. No wonder Guardiola decided Laporte was worth waiting for. Possible formation;