Manchester City's defence of the title has been calamitous. They have never really convinced this season and they have suffered humiliating defeats away to Sunderland, Southampton and, last weekend, Everton. The reasons for this stagnation are numerous but perhaps the most obvious change in personnel is the preference of Matija Nastasić over Joleon Lescott. Last season, Lescott's partnership with captain Vincent Kompany was the bedrock on which their title charge was built. In this campaign the City backline has been nowhere near as watertight in big games.
With Nastasić still wet behind the ears and Lescott clearly headed for the exit door, City need a partner for Kompany. Borussia Dortmund’s Serbian defender Neven Subotić is the man to take on that role.
Subotić was signed to the 1. FSV Mainz 05 youth team in 2006 after just one training session with the club, and awarded his first-team bow at the end of that season, aged just 18. After impressing further in his first full season with Mainz, he attracted the interest of a host of clubs and came close to joining TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. But he eventually signed for Dortmund in the summer of 2007, following in the footsteps of coach Jürgen Klopp. Dortmund were crowned Bundesliga champions in May for the first time since 2002, and a large part of that success is down to their defence, of which Subotić was a key element.
Together with German international Mats Hummels in the centre of defence, Dortmund conceded just 22 goals in their 34 league matches, winning the title at a canter. This season, they’ve found life altogether more difficult, mainly due to the added burden of Champions League football, and the expectation of being title-holders. But that shouldn’t take anything away from Subotić’s capabilities as a player. He has endured a rocky patch this season, such as the dreadful defensive performance away at Marseilles in the Champions League a few weeks ago, after which he was dropped for the subsequent league game against Augsburg. But at 23 he’s young enough to learn quickly from his mistakes. He's now back in the side and has looked like his reliable old self in the clubs recent games against Cologne, Stuttgart and Olympiakos.
So how would he fit in at Manchester City then? What makes Subotić an attractive transfer target is his adaptability, as a player and a person. After leaving Serbia with his family as a young boy, Subotić settled in Germany. But when their visa expired, they opted to move to the United States. He spent his formative years there before moving to Mainz as a 17-year-old. So as well as speaking flawless German, he’s just as adept at English.
His playing style would also complement Kompany's. Subotic has stated in interviews that he’s not the bruising type of central defender in the mould of his prospective partner, Steve Bruce or his current Dortmund teammate Hummels. He is more of a ball-playing defender, good technically and positionally adept. He also possesses a great amount of experience, being a title winner and a regular in the Serbian national team. He’s actually very similar to Rio Ferdinand in ways, and he has a great knack for scoring goals, netting six in the league in his first season with Dortmund.
Roberto Mancini’s reaction to Manchester City’s disastrous season will determine their long term future. Subotić would certainly help shore up a patchy defence which has leaked so many chances this season. There is, admittedly, a big difference between playing in the Bundesliga and playing in the Premier League. But Per Mertesacker has found his feet at Arsenal after a difficult start to life in England, and with the adaptable Subotić, the transition would be even smoother.