There is an awful lot to greatly admire about Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and that’s putting it very mildly.
There is the control they seek and mostly attain, no matter the quality of the opposition.
There is the overloads they create, pulling the other team out of shape via a thousand passes. Clever movement is key to this, patterns of play that have been honed to perfection and made instinctual from repetition.
There is their unerring ability to change as a collective to changing circumstances.
All told, it is an intricately detailed creation that has come to dominate the English footballing landscape and beyond, City subsequently being short-priced in the betting each and every weekend.
Yet, for all that their wonderful football is an education in excellence, it leaves some cold, the players viewed as glorified chess pieces who are instructed to inhabit one piece of the board during one phase of play, then another when that phase progresses or breaks down.
It is a grand design that is admirable for sure, but where is the beauty that can only be found in pure chaos?
Enter Jeremy Doku, City’s signing this summer from Rennes. Blessed with searing pace, and a mind that can keep up with it, the 21-year-old winger brings to mind all of the most welcomed football cliches, in taking on players seemingly for fun and as a result getting bums off seats.
He may be playing on the lush green carpet of the Etihad pitch but you suspect there is a part of him still back in the school playground. Seeing if a trick can be pulled off. Trying to pull his opposite number inside, then out, for sheer kicks.
His inclusion alone makes City nothing less than a joy to watch. He is the epitome of childlike excitement in a pair of football boots.
And yes, he fulfils that ultimate of cliches, he being worth the entrance fee alone.
We are not yet a third into 2023/24 and already Doku’s progressive carries total three figures, while his average of 5.3 successful take-ons in the Premier League is more than any other player across Europe’s top five competitions.
Moreover, the Belgian dribble king is extremely good at what he does, boasting a 81% dribble success rate. In this regard, nobody else comes close, the next best player managing 67%.
Earlier this month, he became the youngest player in a generation to be directly involved in five goals, assisting four times vs Bournemouth as well as notching himself.
But these are just facts and figures, on the page as clinical as some profess Guardiola’s mandate to be.
Whereas in the flesh, seeing Doku gain possession of the ball and encroach with real menace towards a back-pedalling full-back elicits giddiness. His eyes widen, as do ours, at the probable potential for magic to happen.
It was supposed to be Jack Grealish, the former Villa star initially tipped to be Guardiola’s great disruptor, the man to add artistic flourishes to a masterpiece. Instead, as Grealish willingly succumbed to being part of the system, it falls on Doku to excite.
It appears to be a role he was born for.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*