Manchester City’s decision to make a move for Jeremy Doku late in the summer transfer window raised a few eyebrows. The Belgium international is an exciting talent with huge potential, but he’s the antithesis of a Pep Guardiola player.
The Catalan-born coach yearns for complete control and wants his team to leave nothing to chance. Everything is calculated and meticulous. Doku, by comparison, is a wildcard. Everything about his game is instinctive and, at times, reckless.
It didn’t necessarily seem like a perfect match. Yet two games into his Manchester City career, Doku is already being praised publicly by his manager.
The 21-year-old was named in the starting XI for the trip to an in-form West Ham side due to an injury to Jack Grealish and he made the most of it. Doku scored the equaliser early in the second half as the 2022/23 treble winners came from behind to keep their 100% record alive.
Speaking to the media afterwards, Guardiola was fawning over the former Rennes attacker, saying: "In his first game I had the feeling he played a little bit shy. When you buy a young player like him for four, five years you have to be patient. We can’t expect too much.
"His first game against Fulham was only so so. It’s normal. He had just arrived, had two or three days of training with the team who had won the Treble. But this time — no. This time was much better. There are positives, he has to learn. Everyone has to be themselves as a player.
"Today, we spoke for him to use his quality as a winger and go when it was one against one or two, or if not the feeling to go past then to pass back to Josko [Gvardiol] and go again. Use your quality and lose the ball? It's no problem. From the first minute, aggressive and with determination, many, many good things he has done. We thought the quality was there and today he started to prove it - not just the goal. This is a winger, a proper winger.
"When you buy a young player like him for many years, we have to be patient. I will be honest, I didn't expect he would be at this level in his second game at Man City. Even if you don't play quite well, be patient, learn when to get the ball. Against Fulham, he got the ball close to Kyle [Walker] but today he was higher. They are processes he has to learn and we are always there to help him and every player has to be themselves. All the players are here because they have a lot of quality."
Guardiola has managed the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Grealish during his time at the Etihad but his comments on Doku seem to suggest he views the No. 11 as a pure winger, something he’s never had before in Manchester. Many would class the Manchester City No. 10 as a winger rather than an inside forward but Grealish lacks the explosiveness of Doku. He’s a ball-carrier, yes, but he’s not in the same sphere as Doku when it comes to situations near the touchline.
For example, Doku attempted more dribbles against West Ham (8) than Grealish has attempted in the Premier League all season (6). Last term, the former Villa man finished with the highest dribbles attempted per 90 average of any player with 20 or more appearances turning out for the Cityzens (4.8).
Doku is just relentless when in possession and Guardiola appears to want the one-time Anderlecht youngster to use his fearlessness to give City a different dimension in attack. He’s the sort of player that the opposition need to specifically deal with and more often than not, one player isn’t going to be enough.
The 16-cap international has the ability to be a deep defensive block destroyer. Teams have to commit to stopping him and this creates space for his teammates. He’s got the pace and confidence to attack the outside even when on his weaker side. Doku wants to carry the ball at every given opportunity.
Against West Ham, no other player attempted more than three dribbles while he was on eight. He also played three key passes, a total only Rodri, Bernardo Silva and Julian Alvarez could better (4). Doku also finished as the highest-rated WhoScored player (8.52) to cap off a stunning performance. It is likely going to be the first of many in this evolving Man City team. If it is, Grealish, City’s only £100m signing to date, is going to struggle to get back into the starting XI.