Time passes fast in football, so will Manchester City players want to stay?

Eni Aluko

Manchester City have built an incredible image around the world over the past few years. The City group controls clubs in North and South America, in Asia, Australia and beyond, and Manchester has been the centre of this global empire, a kind of footballing utopia. They have the best first-team coach in the world and they have been winning major trophies every year – even their training ground is incredible. It has been an extremely attractive proposition for any elite footballer, and now, suddenly, questions arise.

There will be some players in the current squad who are not that bothered about the loss of European football, who will use Uefa’s suspension to build a siege mentality, as an opportunity to show togetherness and collective spirit. But for others the Champions League dream may be over if they do not make a change.

Related: Pep Guardiola vows to stay at City and back their fight against Uefa ban

It is just over a year since Erling Braut Haaland moved from Molde to Red Bull Salzburg, and now he is breaking records in the Champions League for Borussia Dortmund. He is an example of how quickly players can establish themselves, going in a matter of months from obscurity in Norway to playing at the highest level for a major club in a top-five league and breaking into his national side. Time passes quickly in football, and in two years reputations can be built or destroyed.

A player now at the peak will probably find themselves in the twilight of their career in two years. Sergio Agüero will turn 32 in the summer and if he does not win the Champions League by 2022, it is unlikely to happen. Kyle Walker will be 30 this summer; Ilkay Gündogan and Kevin De Bruyne 29. I share a birthday with Riyad Mahrez, who turns 29 on Friday. Which of these players will want to waste perhaps the last great years of their career when they could quite easily leave and go to another club where they can pursue fresh targets? What is there to keep them in Manchester beyond the concept of loyalty, which is something players are rightly applauded for but that the City ones are unlikely to feel towards an organisation that has potentially let them down.

The club will appeal against the suspension, and maybe there will be news before the summer transfer window. But it is in Uefa’s interest to have them in the Champions League, because the entire point of the competition is to have the premium clubs in it. Arguably Uefa would not have risked deliberately weakening its own competition unless it felt it had no choice.

To me there suddenly seem to be many reasons why a player may want to leave. Why should someone who has won everything domestically but still has ambitions to win the Champions League give up two years of what remains of their career? The two seasons of City’s potential European ban end in 2022, World Cup year. They have some players who will never have to worry about a place in their national teams, but others will be aware that playing well in the Champions League can give someone else an edge over one who is not involved at all. From a footballer’s point of view, the arguments in favour of leaving are strong.

The circumstances were very different, but part of my motivation for moving to Juventus was my desire to be part of a club pushing in the Champions League. Obviously it was important for me to win domestic titles but, beyond that, my objective was to do something special in Europe’s premier club competition, which to me meant getting to the latter stages, and attracting players who could get us back there next year, and the year after that. When it became clear to me that we were never going to do that, it really affected my desire to stay. I had won the league, I had won the domestic cup, it was a case of mission accomplished.

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Every player in the Manchester City dressing room will now want to win the Champions League more than anything. They have won the Premier League title two years in a row, some of them also under Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini, they have won FA and League Cups, and for the past few years it’s all about winning in Europe. You can’t spend years ensuring that ambition has soaked deep into every player and then expect them to lose it overnight. For every one of them, a season spent without winning the Champions League is a season wasted. And some of them don’t have so much time to waste.

Apparently Pep Guardiola intends to stay, and some of the players will feel loyal to him, but these could be a hard couple of years for anyone used to watching Manchester City sweep teams aside. The perception of them as an elite side with an elite manager who pay elite wages and compete for elite competitions will be flipped, both among players who are currently there and those they might try to bring in.

I expect some will want to leave, and this is a team that already need to strengthen. They need a top centre-half to improve a backline that has looked weak this season, but how many top-quality players will want to join a team stuck outside the Champions League? A lot of those who are linked with a move to one of the top six clubs will be monitored by all of them. For the past few years City and Liverpool have been their most attractive options, but suddenly the perception will change, and City will be seen like Arsenal or Manchester United, big teams in bad moments.

City’s players will certainly be planning for the worst. Whatever happens in the summer they will surely all share one major ambition: to win the Champions League this season. It seems bizarre that they are still in a position to win a competition whose rules they have allegedly broken, and which, as things stand, they would not be allowed to defend – but victory in Istanbul would be the ultimate way to mark what could be the end of an era.