Nolito, the ex-Celta Vigo winger who was one of Pep Guardiola’s first signings as Manchester City head coach, is headed away from the Etihad after just one ill-fated season, with Sevilla pouncing on the 30-year-old Spaniard for a fee around €9 million. The La Liga club were hunting for a suitable replacement for Atletico-bound star Vitolo this summer, and they may have found one on the cheap.
Very few will have good things to report from Nolito’s season with City—the word “flop” may be invoked—but he didn’t fail at City for a lack of talent. He began the campaign at a blistering pace, beating out Leroy Sane for the right to start on the left wing, and knocking in three goals in his first three games. Things slowly unraveled from there: he was sent off for head-butting an opponent after a heavy tackle against Bournemouth, returned after his suspension only to head-butt another player, was relegated almost immediately to the bench, and replaced in the game-day squad by a fully fit Leroy Sane and Jesus Navas. Rumors flew that he and Guardiola clashed behind the scenes, and he would only score three more goals for the rest of the season.
It was clear that the marriage between Nolito and City was not going to last—especially when the Spaniard spoke ill of Manchester during the offseason—but he could be a surprisingly good fit at Sevilla, given his price tag and Vitolo’s departure. He doesn’t have Sane’s pace or ball skills, but he’s a strong, intelligent player with a nose for goal, who can play both on the wing and as a center forward if needed. His benchwarmer status at City was more due to temperament than skill—no matter his form, there’s no doubt that he would have provided more going forward off the bench than Navas—and there’s plenty reason to believe that he’s still more of the player he was at Celta than the player he was in Manchester.
In his three full La Liga seasons at Celta, Nolito managed 14, 13, and 12 goals respectively. It’s not terribly difficult to find a proven goalscorer on the market these days, but it’s near impossible to find one with proven double-digit goalscoring ability for less than €10 million. There are obvious caveats that come with the deal—the winger is on the wrong side of 30 now, and there’s still no guarantee that he can control his temper. It’s a risky move, but it’s a risk worth taking for a club with aspirations of reeling in La Liga’s big three this season. If a return to his home country helps him regain his form of two seasons ago, Nolito could turn out to be one of the best bargains of the summer transfer window.