Forgotten Man City forward is still dreaming of place in Pep Guardiola’s squad

Forgotten Man City forward is still dreaming of place in Pep Guardiola's squad

When Sheikh Mansour met with his Manchester City executive team in a plush Madrid hotel in the spring of 2016, they wanted to brief the club owner about two new impending signings.

The Blues’ top brass had already secured the services of Pep Guardiola, the end of a four-year quest, and the signings of top targets Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones, Leroy Sane, Claudio Bravo, Gabriel Jesus and Nolito were all progressing nicely.

There was the small matter of a Champions League semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu that very evening to contemplate, but Mansour always wants to be kept abreast of every new development at the club.

Two names were thrown at him by the execs, according to “Pep’s City”, the excellent account of how Guardiola and his staff built a dream team in Manchester.

One was Oleksandr Zinchenko, a shy Ukrainian teenager who was available for £1.5million from Russian club Ufa.

The other was new Colombian sensation Marlos Moreno, also 19, and a dazzling, pacy winger who had lit up the Copa Libertadores – the South American equivalent of the Champions League – that year.

City’s South American scouting team had identified Moreno, and Jesus, as the best young talents on the continent.

Talks for Jesus were already well underway, and an agreement was in place for a £27million transfer, with the young Brazilian being allowed to see out the season at Palmeiras.

But Moreno was available for around £4.75million, and City were already ahead of Barcelona and Manchester United, who had both expressed an interest.

The excitement was centred more around Moreno, who had a huge impact at Atletico Nacional, scoring three times, registering four assists and winning three man of the match awards as the Colombian side won only the second Copa Libertadores in their history.

With such small fees, both Moreno and Zinchenko slipped under the radar of most City fans, excited at the prospect of Guardiola and his stellar signings building on Manuel Pellegrini’s success in winning the league in 2014 and then taking the club to the last four of the Champions League for the first time in his final season.

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Forgotten Man City forward is still dreaming of place in Pep Guardiola's squad

In fact, the Colombian and the Ukrainian were initially seen, on the outside, as likely candidates for City’s growing stable of clubs, despite the fact that both had already been capped by their countries.

But the fact that Sheikh Mansour was being briefed about the impending arrivals spoke of the hopes that the club had for the teenagers.

That they both needed development before they could be considered for Guardiola’s powerful squad was evident – barely was the ink dry on their new City contracts when Zinchenko was farmed out on loan to PSV Eindhoven, and Moreno was sent to play in La Liga with Deportivo La Coruna.

Neither loan worked out. Zinchenko arrived at PSV with an injury he picked up playing for Ukraine, and after minimal involvement was sent to play with the youth team for the remainder of the season.

Moreno was also having trouble settling – he made nine starts and ten sub appearances for Deportivo, but the Spanish club did not take up the option of a second season.

Zinchenko could have returned to PSV in the summer of 2017, but Guardiola had seen something in his ability, and his attitude, that made him think a season training with the first team squad would benefit both parties.

That was a fateful decision – nearly four years on, the attacking midfielder is in prime position to start in the Blues’ first Champions League final, benefiting from Benjamin Mendy’s injury-hit first two seasons and the fizzling out of Fabian Delph’s initially successful transformation to left back.

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But Moreno was sent out on loan again this time to latest CFG acquisition Girona, fresh from their promotion to La Liga. Girona gave him four appearances as they put up a good showing in their first-ever season in the top flight.

The homesick winger was sent back to Brazilian side Flamengo, where he scored his first goal for two years – but it would be his only goal in 33 appearances.

A move to Mexican side Santos Laguna in January 2019 brought three goals in 11 appearances, and that summer he was back in Europe, signing for Portugese side Portimonense for another abortive loan spell, cut short after four months, with no goals in nine appearances.

Any hopes of him making an impact on City seemed to have gone forever, and yet another loan move, this time to Belgian second division Lommel – yet another club in the City group – seemed to be the final nail in that coffin.

Moreno has been a hit at Lommel, scoring four times in 15 games and being seen as one of the best players in the division.

And after finishing the season in third place, just outside the one play-off place, Moreno – now 24 – says he has not given up on his City dream.

He told AS Colombia that City have always maintained an interest in his progress – and even extended his contract to 2023. “City are always aware of me, there is always constant communication, they ask me how I am, how my family is,” he said.

“That makes you feel important within their management. They make you feel important for knowing that you are part of that group, and that has been fundamental.

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