Having scaled the Premier League mountain for a second time, Manchester City’s attentions now turn towards a successful defence.
There will be a determination within the Etihad Stadium’s corridors of power to avoid the limp sequel to their 2011/12 title triumph.
City’s transfer activity appeared confused—Mancini angrily questioned then-director of football Brian Marwood—as flops such as Scott Sinclair and Maicon were bundled through the deadline day door.
From a 3-2 defeat in that December’s Etihad Manchester derby, somewhat inevitably courtesy of a deflected Van Persie free-kick, City were never truly in the hunt, finishing 11 points back in second as Mancini paid with his job.
Summer 2013 under the Italian’s successor, Manuel Pellegrini, provided a clear contrast.
Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic arrived with the minimum of fuss and the foundations of champions were laid.
Same again? If only it were that simple.
In an uncomfortable echo of the Van Persie saga, reported City transfer target Eliaquim Mangala has fluttered his eyelashes towards title-rivals Chelsea.
James Milner was a vital cog as the City machine hauled in Liverpool’s charge down the stretch this term. Stories that the England midfielder is unsettled, via The Guardian, are likely to concern Pellegrini.
And this is before we get to the saga of Financial Fair Play and Yaya Toure’s missing birthday presents.
Very much the talisman of the most successful season in Manchester City’s history, Toure earned the right to bask in his achievements.
The muddled pronouncements of the Ivory Coast midfielder and his agent Dimitry Seluk—accusations of City lacking respect laced with unintended irony—have denied him that.
It is tempting to dismiss the furore as hot air, despite Toure’s latest velvet tones sent in Paris Saint-Germain’s direction. Seluk tends to throw this sort of nonsense around annually. On this occasion, the whole birthday farce was bizarre enough to make them newsworthy.
If a genuine Toure exit strategy is now under way, then losing one of the world’s finest footballers would undeniably be a major blow. But City hold all the cards in this situation, including any unsent ones with a big, shiny “31 Today” badge attached.
Firstly, Toure has three years left on a hefty contract. City will only sell on their own terms.
Given PSG recently shelled out in the region of £50 million (via BBC Sport) for David Luiz, those terms could be pretty hefty. And potentially tempting.
For those still unaware, Toure turned 31 earlier this month (he didn’t want to make a fuss). He may never have a higher market value and his capacity for the kind of peerless all-action campaign he recently produced will not last much longer. If he scales such heights again over the next two seasons, it would be quite an achievement.
Were City able to pocket something in the region of £50 million for Toure, it would double their spending power under the FFP terms dictated by UEFA. Younger, high-class midfielders such as Cesc Fabregas, Paul Pogba and Ross Barkley could come into view. Any of those three would arrive with the added bonus of ticking off a part of the Champions League homegrown quota.
Of course, such surmising is probably no better than a hefty blast of Seluk logic, but it hopefully demonstrates the sky is not about to fall in on Eastlands if Toure moves on.
The fact that his clumsy grasp on the news agenda felt so at odds with this season’s events at City shows both the progress made under Pellegrini and secure footing the club finds itself on.
Had Toure’s gateaux grumbles surfaced during the Mancini era, they’d have joined an uncomfortable slurry of bile oozing out of the Etihad.
From Carlos Tevez’s AWOL golfing break to a training-ground fight with Mario Balotelli and public dressings down for his players, the price Mancini paid for instilling the winning mentality he desired at City was the club being on a seemingly constant war footing.
Allusions to a “holistic approach” ahead of Pellegrini’s appointment drew understandable derision, but there was weight behind the jarring PR-speak.
The Chilean’s reputation for quietly drawing the best from the resources at his disposal is undoubtedly enhanced.
Few tears would have been shed by City fans had Samir Nasri, Aleksandar Kolarov or Edin Dzeko followed Mancini through the exit door last summer, but they produced their best seasons in sky blue by a distance.
Even Javi Garcia, one of the 2012 transfer misfits, turned his form around to be an assured presence in the season run-in. The same can be said for Joe Hart and Martin Demichelis, both of whom overcame crises in form and confidence to shine.
Established stars such as Toure, Sergio Aguero and David Silva also scaled new heights of excellence, while injury struggles for Aguero and captain Vincent Kompany did not derail the title charge.
These are not the kind of instant improvement brought about by a transfer coup, but the sort that improve, deepen and mature over time. City fans can look forward to more of the same from the players working under Pellegrini next year, whatever the final make-up of his squad might be.
As for close-season signings, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has promised “swift and efficient” action in the market. Supporters should rest assured that the folly of 2012/13 will not be repeated.
Nevertheless, here’s hoping Aguero received an extra special 26th-birthday present on Monday—just to be on the safe side.
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