Aymeric Laporte’s long-mooted move to Manchester City is just about finalised, after Athletic Bilbao posted a farewell message from the defender to the club’s fans on Twitter and announced that his release clause had been triggered in a statement on their website.
The defender has been a Pep Guardiola target for quite a while, and given the club’s occasional struggles in the centre of defence, Laporte will be a welcome signing at the club.
Here are five things you may not have known about the young Frenchman.
Laporte’s father played both football and rugby, and Laporte himself started off in both sports – at the tender age of five. Given his injury history, it’s interesting to imagine how he would have fared in rugby, although it’s likely that unlike in his football career, an international call-up would have been much easier to come by in rugby. The defender’s mother and elder sister both had long footballing careers as well.
CITY’S LONG PURSUIT
Laporte was nearly one of Pep Guardiola’s first signings as Manchester City manager, as there was a strong suggestion that he was ready to make the switch to the Premier League in 2016. Instead, he turned down the approach and chose to stay at Athletic, and Guardiola finished that transfer window with John Stones as the only new central defender on the books. Better late than never, as the Spaniard can finally pair Stones and Laporte together as he’d initially envisioned.
WILTORD WAS HIS IDOL
You’d think for a French defender, Laporte’s idol would be someone like Bixente Lizarazu, Lilian Thuram, or Eric Abidal. But Laporte started off as a striker – and even then, his choice of favourite player wasn’t exactly the most conventional. Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires – nope. Instead, it was former Arsenal star Sylvain Wiltord who caught Laporte’s eye when he was starring for Bordeaux. Wiltord’s Bordeaux team-mate Pauleta, the Portuguese striker, was another of Laporte’s heroes growing up.
THE BASQUE DEBATE
Athletic Bilbao famously select players only if they’re from the Basque region, which meant that the recruitment of Laporte prompted debate. His links to the Basque region are technically somewhat tenuous, but he qualified thanks to his great-grandparents. He became only the second Frenchman to play for the club, after Lizarazu.
WHERE’S THE INTERNATIONAL CALL-UP?
Despite widely being regarded as one of the best young defenders in Europe, Laporte has yet to be called up to the senior national squad for France, although he’s played for every age group below that for Les Blues. Given his reputation in La Liga, it’s no surprise that Spain tried sounding out the defender about whether he’d be willing to switch allegiances, but Laporte has remained firm with his resolve to play for France. Indeed, that’s one of the driving factors behind his move to City – the youngster believes the France set-up isn’t paying too much attention to him because he’s at Athletic and not a more high-profile club.
David Moyes remains desperate to add to his injury-hit West Ham squad before Wednesday’s transfer deadline.
The need for new faces has been exacerbated by Arthur Masuaku’s six-match ban for spitting and a knee injury suffered by Pedro Obiang during Saturday’s FA Cup humiliation at Wigan, as well as Diafra Sakho completing his move to French club Rennes.
Moyes was already missing 11 senior players through injury at the DW Stadium and will have to patch up his side to face relegation rivals Crystal Palace at home on Tuesday night.
The Hammers boss said: “We had priorities and we still have. The priority is to add good players to your squad, but you don’t want to add players who are just going to make the numbers up and sound good.
“Ultimately we are short of players right now so we could do with adding to it but I am not going to bring in anyone that won’t help the team, it’s a waste of money and time.
“We want to bring people in who can contribute between now and the end of the season, if not longer.”
West Ham are unbeaten in their past five clashes with Palace, home and away, while Moyes has won six out of eight top-flight meetings with Roy Hodgson dating back to his days at Goodison Park.
Meanwhile, Eagles boss Hodgson knows his team are still very much in the thick of things at the bottom of the table despite having a three-point cushion above the drop zone.
Palace, who sit 13th, are one point behind their opponents and know they must keep picking up points against those teams around them in a congested bottom half.
“This is a very important period where we have to work to maintain our Premier League status,” the 70-year-old, who is looking to beat West Ham in the league with a fourth different team having also managed Blackburn, Fulham and Liverpool to wins against the east London club, said.
“This year in particular there are such a small number of points between the teams, it is a dog fight.
“All credit to David and his staff for getting the team playing how they have at the moment. We are ready to play a team who are playing well even with the injuries.”
The away side have trio Mamadou Sakho, Joel Ward and Yohan Cabaye back after they recovered from their respective injuries.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is set to make his Arsenal debut in Tuesday night’s Premier League clash at Swansea.
The Armenia international joined from Manchester United in exchange for Alexis Sanchez last week and is expected to feature at the Liberty Stadium.
The Gunners are also boosted by the return of Olivier Giroud following a hamstring injury but fellow forward Danny Welbeck (hip) is still missing, as is Santi Cazorla (Achilles).
Giroud has been the subject of much speculation regarding his future with the French international mooted to be part of a deal to take Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to the Emirates.
Reports across Germany on Monday suggested a deal for Aubameyang was nearing completion and would be finalised with, or without, Giroud.
Both Bild and Kicker believe Giroud could move across London to Chelsea, with out-of-favour Blues striker Michy Batshuayi making the move to Dortmund in what would be an unlikely transfer triangle.
Swansea come into the game having picked up an unlikely three points against Liverpool in their last league outing, but followed that up with a disappointing one-all draw away at Notts County in the FA Cup.
Carlos Carvalhal will be hoping to lead the Swans to their first back to back wins in the league this campaign, but the omens are not great.
The Portuguese boss will become the seventh Swansea boss to face Arsene Wenger during his two decades at the Gunners – with the Welsh side on the wrong end of the scoreline four of the last five encounters.
The Liberty Stadium club have enjoyed something of a renaissance under Carvalhal, despite still being rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table – three points adrift of safety.
Since his arrival, the Swans have picked up seven points in four games – two points more than in their previous nine under Paul Clement.
In need of new blood, Swansea had reportedly turned their attention to West Ham’s Diafra Sakho and Atletico Madrid’s Nico Gaitan, but neither seems to be materialising. Regardless of whether or not they do get a deal over the line, it is unlikely to be done in time for the Gunners clash.