The 2012 summer transfer window was an unhappy time for Manchester City. It shouldn’t have been, given City had just won their first league title in 44 years in the most dramatic circumstances imaginable, but a fractured relationship between then-manager Roberto Mancini and Brian Marwood, who at the time was director of football, meant the club stalled when it should have been putting its foot down.
Marwood took much of the blame because of Mancini’s very public criticism of the way he handled the transfer window, but it was an unfair attack on a man who has played a significant role in the club’s rise.
Indeed, that summer signalled the start of Mancini’s decline. Public bickering wasn’t in keeping with the club’s ethos, and he was sacked before the end of the season.
Results, of course, weren’t good and contributed to his demise, but breaking ranks and vilifying a respected member of the club’s leadership team was never going to play out well.
Mancini was unceremoniously dismissed and still hasn’t been back to the club, whereas Marwood became academy director, a key part of the club’s vision for the future.
Whatever the ins and outs of their relationship, it was clear for all to see the club needed a more focused transfer strategy.
In October that year, Txiki Begiristain arrived to take on the mantle of targeting new players, while Marwood moved over to his academy role and began developing the City Football Academy (CFA), the centrepiece of the club since its opening in December.
Begiristain’s first summer transfer window was a success. He suggested Manuel Pellegrini should be the new manager after Mancini’s dismissal, and together they brought in Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Martin Demichelis and Stevan Jovetic.
City reclaimed the title and won the League Cup—only the second double in the club’s history—scoring 156 goals in the process. The quality of City’s football, at times, was superb.
However, Begiristain’s stock began to fall last summer when City’s transfer activity, much like in 2012, failed to progress the side. The club were hamstrung by FFP restrictions, which limited their net spend to £49 million, but the fans felt the money they did pay out was misplaced.
Pressure, then, was on this summer. There was growing criticism of Begiristain. Did he have what it takes to identify and lure top talent, the kind that would see City reassert themselves as title-challenging side?
It’s too early to tell what success his signings will bring, but in Raheem Sterling, signed from Liverpool for an initial £44 million, and Kevin De Bruyne, a club-record £54 million capture from Wolfsburg, it seems City have landed two players who fit the profile the club needs: young and potentially world-class.
Sterling, 20, has pace to burn and has added balance to City’s attack. At times last season, Pellegrini’s side lacked urgency going forward, and with Jesus Navas the only true wide man on the books, they were sometimes lopsided.
Sterling, who was consistently a standout Liverpool player as a teenager, was targeted early. The Anfield club didn’t want to sell. Young, home-grown talented England players are few and far between. Selling to a rival was perhaps seen as a sign of weakness on their part.
Begiristain, eventually, got the protracted deal over the line, and City now have one of the most promising young players in English football.
How many players in the Premier League who are Sterling’s age are showing as much promise as the England man? There’s perhaps only Antony Martial at cross-town rivals Manchester United who can claim to be performing with the same quality as Sterling for a side in the upper echelons of the league.
Sterling’s recent hat-trick against Bournemouth was his finest display so far, coming on the back of perhaps his worst. He was substituted at half-time in the game against Newcastle United with the game locked at 1-1. City scored five second-half goals and won the game, and Sterling, for the first time, faced some criticism.
His response was emphatic. He took his goals against Eddie Howe’s side expertly, particularly his second, where he took on the three players before calmly slotting home.
At times, he appears to be lacking in confidence, particularly in front of goal, where he has often snatched at chances. But, clearly, he is a huge talent, and people would do well to remember he is 20 and at the very start of his football career.
De Bruyne’s accession to the City team has been seamless. He’s brought a new edge to their attack and has been their most effective player in recent weeks, consistently producing key moments that swing matches in City’s favour.
There was a lot made of his huge fee, but talk of money has been replaced by talk of his quality. He’s scored five goals already, including Wednesday’s winner against Sevilla in City’s crucial Champions League Group D game, and he has already brought so much to a side full of established internationals and serial winners of silverware.
It isn’t easy for a young player to come into this City side and play so confidently. But De Bruyne, who looks made for success, has managed it easily.
The 24-year-old’s finish against Sevilla was excellent and demonstrated his confidence and belief. Yaya Toure’s burst forward saw City break, but when the ball arrived at the Belgian’s feet, there was still so much for him to do.
One small gap appeared to the right of Rico Gonzalez’s net, and De Bruyne, left-footed, found the bottom corner. Given the importance of the game and the circumstances it arrived in, it was a remarkable moment of coolness.
Pellegrini was effusive after the game, praising his new signing and hailing his impact. “I think in all senses he was the perfect player to arrive in our team," he told reporters after the game.
“We bought Kevin because we thought he is a very creative player, because he has goals, because this team try always to play attractive football and offensive football, and for that you need good players and a style of play that allows us to demonstrate all those players the techniques that they have.”
Begiristain has reasserted his ability to outline the players City need and land them. Doubts over the scale of his ambition have subsided. Given the criticism he was facing, he deserves great credit for bringing in two players who look set to have a significant long-term impact at the club.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2015/16 season. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.