Man City star snubbed for Premier League medal may never play for club again

Man City celebrate their title win (Image: Getty)

In a peculiar incident before the kick-off of Manchester City’s match against West Ham in September, Lucas Paqueta, West Ham’s midfielder, was seen shaking hands with Pep Guardiola and his assistant Juanma Lillo. This happened not at his home bench but at City’s. The Blues bench warmly welcomed him.

City had considered signing Paqueta during the summer transfer window. However, an ongoing FA investigation into potential betting breaches involving the player put a halt to the proceedings, reports the Manchester Evening News.

The risk of a ban, as demonstrated by Sandro Tonali’s ten-month suspension, was deemed too high. Instead, City opted for Matheus Nunes.

Nunes has yet to make a significant impact, and it took a while for Mateo Kovacic to find his place in the team. With Kevin De Bruyne spending half the season injured and rumours swirling about his future, along with constant speculation over Bernardo Silva’s transfer status, there is a possibility that City might re-enter the market for an attacking midfielder this term.

Guardiola has never publicly acknowledged City’s interest in Paqueta, refusing to comment at the start of the season due to his contract with West Ham. He did, however, single out the Brazilian as a threat, lauding his skills ahead of Sunday’s final day showdown against the Hammers.

But before anyone reads too much into that, Guardiola also pointed out several of his teammates to underline the challenge facing City.

Paqueta boasts eight goals and seven assists from 42 appearances, including four goals in nine Europa League matches. His form, split between attacking midfield and left wing, won’t have deterred City.

Despite a quiet performance on Sunday, it wasn’t a day for West Ham players to steal the limelight (aside from Mohammed Kudus’ spectacular effort).

The Brazilian kept his distance from the City bench this time, but he hasn’t done anything to discourage the Blues from renewing their interest this season if they choose to, and his case remains open. A reported £85m release clause adds an element of mystery to his situation.

One player almost guaranteed not to be at City next season, or West Ham for that matter, is Kalvin Phillips. The midfielder hoped to leave a difficult 18-month stint at City behind him when he moved on loan to the London Stadium in January, but his luck took a turn for the worse.

Injury has prematurely ended his season, and his chances of making it into England’s Euro 2024 squad are practically nil, dependent on Gareth Southgate assessing his form from before 2022 rather than after. Phillips could find himself in the uncomfortable position of arriving with the West Ham group, then potentially joining City’s title celebrations if they clinch the league (although he only has four Premier League appearances for City this term, so isn’t even automatically entitled to a medal).

Sunday could mark the last time we see Phillips at the Etihad, but he was nowhere near the pitch – instead up in a box with his family wearing neither Blue or Claret colours. He was conspicuously absent in the post-match celebrations and didn’t collect a medal on the pitch with his City teammates.

Not that he automatically qualified for a medal, having only played four times. But Scott Carson received one to a big cheer and three academy players who had been unused substitutes were encouraged to join the group lifting the trophy by Kyle Walker.

If City could recoup even half of the £42m they shelled out to Leeds for Phillips this summer, they would deem it a success. If that went towards any potential deal for Paqueta, it would help offset one of the worst signings in recent memory.

As Sunday underscores the likely end of Phillips’ City career, it will be interesting to watch Paqueta to see if there are any hints as to the start of another Blues career.