Manchester City are standing by their track record on allowing youth prospects to leave Etihad Stadium, say club sources.
Brahim Diaz, 19, is set to join Spanish giants Real Madrid in a deal that could be worth up to £22m.
He is the latest youngster to leave the club in recent seasons, with departures including winger Jadon Sancho, who has starred for England since moving to German side Borussia Dortmund for £8m in 2017.
But staff at the defending Premier League champions are adamant that – Sancho aside – they are calling it right.
Who is Diaz and where does he play?
Diaz came to prominence during the 2017 Uefa Under-17 Championships in Azerbaijan when he scored three times for Spain, who finished runners-up to Portugal after beating England in the quarter-finals.
By that time, he had already been part of City squads that lost the 2016 and 2017 FA Youth Cup finals to Chelsea. He made his first senior appearance in September 2016 and signed a three-year contract days later.
At 5ft 7in, Diaz has a combination of pace and balance that was utilised in central positions in youth football. He has tended to be picked wider at first-team level, often cutting inside in the modern tradition, rather than staying on the wing to provide crosses for others.
Diaz’s problem is that City already have Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez who are capable of doing the same job.
England international Sterling, 24, and 27-year-old Mahrez of Algeria have signed long-term contracts and 22-year-old Germany winger Sane is expected to follow suit over the next few months.
The truth is City’s coaching staff do not feel Diaz is as yet up to the level that would justify displacing any of those players, signed for £49m, £60m and £37m respectively.
How much will Diaz cost Madrid?
Real have agreed to pay an initial £15.5m for the Spain Under-21 international, with a further £6.5m in add-ons.
In addition, City have a 15% sell-on clause, which rises to 40% should Diaz leave Real for Manchester United.
Diaz joined City from La Liga side Malaga as a 14-year-old in 2013 and has made 15 first-team appearances, four this season.
His most recent outing came in the Carabao Cup quarter-final win at Leicester on 18 December.
So do City have a problem keeping their best youngsters?
They would say no on the evidence that the one player they really wanted to keep, Stockport-born City fan Phil Foden, signed a long-term contract to 2024 in December.
City did sell a number of young players in the summer: goalkeeper Angus Gunn to Southampton for £13.5m, right-back Pablo Maffeo to Stuttgart for £9m and left-back Angelino to PSV Eindhoven for £5m. In 2017, City sold striker Kelechi Iheanacho to Premier League side Leicester for £25m.
Sources at City argue that none of those cases have proved to be a mistake.
However, they accept there is one glaring omission from this list.
Is Diaz another Sancho?
Sancho had not made a senior City appearance when he left for the Bundesliga in 2017.
Manager Pep Guardiola had planned to take him on a pre-season tour to the United States but Sancho concluded – as Diaz has now – that he had no chance of making a first-team breakthrough and refused to sign a new deal.
In the circumstances, City were reasonably pleased with the fee they received. Yet after taking a year to get fully used to his new surroundings, Sancho has shot to prominence this season.
The 18-year-old has scored seven and set up eight goals as Dortmund have gone clear in the German top flight and reached the last 16 of the Champions League.
He has also won three England caps.
In December, CIES Football Observatory said Sancho’s transfer value has risen to £79.44m.
Not that City are the only club to be caught out in such fashion. Manchester United paid a club record £89m to buy France midfielder Paul Pogba back four years after allowing him to leave Old Trafford for Juventus for just £1.5m.
How big is the lure of Real Madrid?
City wanted to keep Diaz and there were a number of improved contract offers made in an effort to persuade him his future remained in Manchester.
In 2016, Diaz said he could “live here forever”.
However, City staff also accept that Real have an appeal that is hard to resist for a Spanish youngster.
They are adamant their academy, housed at one of the finest training centres in the world, is a place where they want to nurture talent for their own first team – but financial considerations have to be taken into account.
Once they realised Diaz would be leaving, potentially for nothing in the summer, they were left with little alternative other than to pursue the best possible deal.
They feel that has been achieved because, if all the clauses are met, Diaz will be close to becoming one of the 10 most expensive teenagers in world football.
Where does Diaz fit into Real’s plans?
This is an interesting one.
The suggestion is Diaz will be part of the first-team squad for the rest of the season before a decision is made about whether to send him out on loan.
They do not have a great need for more Spanish players in their Champions League squad, so it remains to be seen what first-team exposure the 19-year-old will get.
Real signed another teenage forward, Brazilian Vinicius Junior, for £38.7m in the summer.
However, despite impressing in pre-season, he has started only three games, two of which have been in the Copa del Rey.
Real play Leganes in the last 16 of the competition over two legs later this month.