Yes, Real Madrid worked Manchester City like a speed bag this year. But that is over now.
If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different outcome, perhaps expecting Manchester City to advance beyond the group stage of Champions League play next season is lunacy.
Remember, though, that the term "fan" is just an abbreviation for "fanatic," i.e. a person "marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion."
In other words, a person who could see Manchester City unceremoniously dumped out of the Champions League two years on the trot, looking anywhere from "sort of competitive" to "embarrassingly overmatched," and still say "watch out for City next season, it's going to be our year!"
Someone a lot like me, it turns out.
You know your side is deep when your leading goal scorer does not start, or even play all that much.
A purely uninformed observer, untainted by jealous taunts about oil money and the like, would look at Manchester City's 2012-13 campaign and see mostly success.
Yes, for the second straight season, the team qualified for and then failed to advance to the knockout stage of the Champions League. But they don't just let anyone into that tournament.
Second place in the Premier League and a really good shot at a second FA Cup in three seasons is no disgrace.
Except, this team has so much expensive and famous talent that anything short of a runaway league victory and a deep Champions League run was going to be a disappointment coming off last year's Premier League title.
So it did not go the way Roberto Mancini or anyone else planned. The side is still ridiculously loaded.
Edin Dzeko leads the team in goals, and he barely plays at all. Sergio Aguero has returned to form. Yaya Toure and David Silva are in their respective career primes. Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic lead the Premier League's best defense. Joe Hart is among the best keepers in all of football.
On any given day, Manchester City can beat any team in the world. Unfortunately, few of those days have occurred in the Champions League.
The guys in yellow may look familiar to you.
Bayern Munich lost in the Champions League final to Chelsea.
That may have been an understatement this time around, as both Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund advanced to the semifinals. You may have heard that Dortmund advanced to the final, per The Guardian.
Obviously, as far as future Champions League draws go, the coefficients and statistical manipulations that depend on prior performance in Europe will continue to disfavor the Sky Blues as long as they continue to lay eggs on the biggest stage.
But then there might come a year (maybe next year) where they draw a critically-weakened side, say, a Napoli after Edinson Cavani leaves, or a Dortmund after Robert Lewandowski leaves.
It just depends on whether you cleave to Murphy's Law or the law of averages.
Neither Cavani nor Napoli can demand more than City can afford to pay.
Speaking of Edinson Cavani and Robert Lewandowski, how about that rumor reported by The Guardian's blog that City might ship a total of £75 million to acquire them both?
All right, that is a little bit stupid, but the point here is that while such a proposition is outlandish and incredible, where Manchester City is concerned it is in no way impossible.
Until Financial Fair Play Regulations become more than just rules to be massaged and worked around, expect Sheikh Mansour to continue to throw his money around like a sailor on leave.
Put it this way: City is almost certainly not going to be worse after this coming transfer window shuts.
What was great once can be again.
Not only is City a deep, skilled squad—by now, they are a unit that has played a lot of football together at the highest levels. They are tested.
Did they pass every test? Of course not. The two Champions League washouts and the generally tepid defense of the Premier League title this season were substandard outcomes.
But the nucleus of the Premier League title winners of last season is still intact. Yaya Toure, Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and even the likes of James Milner and Pablo Zabaleta are all still around.
These players have won an FA Cup and a Premier League title in the past three seasons, and they will be prohibitive favorites over relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic to take a second FA Cup at Wembley Stadium in May.
Eventually, the experience of playing together over time combined with continued exposure to high-leverage situations has to translate into the ability to perform under pressure.
Remember, Roberto, no one is nicer to you than the guy who is trying to skin you.
The biggest reason that City will make huge inroads in the Champions League next season is that if they don't, anyone and everyone will probably pay for such failure with their jobs.
It starts with Roberto Mancini, naturally. If City does not make it to the knockout stage in the fall, Mancini probably will not survive the winter.
And though it is always easier to fire one manager than it is to fire 20 players, the fact is that if Mancini goes it would only be as a precursor to a housecleaning, the likes of which has not been seen in the Premier League since, well, it is hard to say.
See, most Premier League housecleanings are the result of a need to divest salary because a given owner just cannot sustain a backbreaking payroll.
In City's case, the process would look entirely different in that multimillionaire athletes would be moved out of and into the Etihad like rental cars on a Hertz lot. When the dust clears, City could end up with an even bigger, even more expensive side that no one recognizes.
Yeah...these players and this manager had better win some Champions League games next season.