Man City: £100 Million in Transfers, a Visionary Manager, but Still No Progress

Graham Ruthven@@grahamruthvenFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

Manchester City's manager Manuel Pellegrini, right, sits alongside Edin Dzeko during a press conference at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday Oct. 1, 2013. Manchester City will play Bayern Munich on Wednesday in a Champions League Group D soccer match. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
JON SUPER/Associated Press

Manchester City don't really need to posture and pout to prove their domestic supremacy any more. The club has little left to prove in England, even if they still take delight in goading their rivals. For City, Europe is the final frontier.

Yet as they head into the Champions League last 16 second leg against Barcelona, the last eight of the competition feels further away than ever.

City will have to overturn a 2-0 deficit at the Camp Nou if they are to progress to the quarter-finals. It's not mission impossible, but coming just days after yet another FA Cup defeat to Wigan, it's mission improbable.

Wearing an ill-fitting hoodie, as if plucked straight from a lost-and-found bin, Manuel Pellegrini cut a dejected figure on the Etihad touchline as he watched his side fall to Championship opposition. Needless to say, a much-improved performance will be needed against Barca.

But while the result was largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of the season as a whole, it provided an opportunity for evaluation. Have City progressed under Pellegrini, and what did they get for the £100 million spent in the summer transfer market?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 19:  (l-r) Txiki Begiristain the Director of Football at Manchester City, Ferran Soriano the CEO and Vicky Kloss the chief communications officer of Manchester City look on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Manch
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

There has been a significant shift in culture at City over the past two years or so, with former Barcelona directors Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano coming into the club as focus turned to the continent.

By naming Pellegrini, a coach of no previous Premier League experience, as manager, City's Abu Dhabi-based owners made a very clear statement on where they expect to be competing. The Chilean was appointed on the basis of his European pedigree.

Under Roberto Mancini, City trailed the European elite by quite some distance. His insistence that performances in the Champions League would improve with experience never stuck, only underlining his ineptitude as a Europe-savvy coach.

Considering City's continental ambition, sacking Mancini was the correct decision.

So has the gap between City and the best in Europe narrowed since the appointment of Pellegrini? No.

Furthermore, the signings of Fernandinho, Stevan Jovetic, Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo have brought them only marginally closer to the top of the Premier League, although admittedly that certainly could change between now and the end of the season. But from a strictly analogue perspective, not too much has changed at City.

Back in January, before the round of 16 first-leg defeat to Barcelona, Pellegrini insisted that City were ready to become a European football heavyweight.

"I think so," said the Chilean, as per Jamie Jackson of the Guardian. "We are working every day more. We beat Bayern Munich already in Germany, so I repeat this team has a lot of things to improve but I think we are not so far from the big teams."

Jon Super/Associated Press

Now Pellegrini's assertion seems somewhat misguided. The 2-0 defeat to an entirely beatable Barcelona side illustrated just how far City have to go in their efforts to scale the summit of European football, even after the £100 million summer spree.

That isn't to say City necessarily spent poorly. With the exception of Martin Demichelis, the players bought by the club are worthy of a place in a title-challenging squad. But what did City really get for their money?

They got four players who undoubtedly give them better depth and overall quality of numbers but have done little to greatly improve the starting lineup. That was exposed against Barcelona three weeks ago.

Of course, this failing won't be terminal for Pellegrini, especially given how City sign players by committee, only factoring the manager's opinion into that of Begiristain and Soriano as well. Who knows? Maybe Pellegrini would have bought differently had it been solely up to him.

And from a stylistic perspective, Pellegrini has indeed progressed City in his first eight months in English football. The spark had been lost under Mancini, and for the most part it has now returned.

Jon Super/Associated Press

Following the Capital One Cup win at Wembley, Pellegrini reminded his players that just one trophy would not be enough for City this season. He was right, but his warning was not heeded.

In the space of four days, City could go from fighting on three fronts, having already won the Capital One Cup, to only having the Premier League left to play for.

It's certainly a considerable prize to focus the mind until May, but it's not really what the £100 million spent in the summer was budgeted for. Mancini was the man who took City to the top of the English game and Pellegrini was the guy to conquer Europe for them. It hasn't quite worked out that way.

Manchester City have come a long way in a short space of time, but in a way it feels like they should have come even further by now.