Calculated summer dealings the new way at Man City
The last time Manchester City went into a summer transfer window as the defending Premier League champions, they made a right royal hash of it. Roberto Mancini's Blues were riding the crest of the title-winning wave -- and so were the fans. So, when July rumbled on and the club's transfer targets didn't arrive, they were perhaps caught in the complacency that their side didn't need too much doing to it in order to retain the crown.
The history books will show that Mancini's final year in charge was something of a disaster: backroom revolts, training ground bust-ups, a failed cup final, stuttered performances, and a whimper in response to Manchester United's challenge for the title. The Reds won it so early that they could take their foot off the gas enough to finish with a worse record than they did when coming second in 2011-12 -- that probably says a lot more about City's season than anything.
The first signing of summer 2012 was Jack Rodwell, completed on the morning of the Community Shield on Aug. 12, roughly a month and a half after the transfer window opened. There would be no more incoming players until the final two days that the window was open -- with Richard Wright joining the day before, and Scott Sinclair, Maicon, Matija Nastasic and Javi Garica arriving on deadline day.
Looking back, is it any wonder why City struggled that year?
Lessons were clearly learned. All but one of Manuel Pellegrini's buys in his debut summer at the Etihad was done in time for preseason, with Martin Demichelis arriving late after a defensive crisis.
Now, as the transfer window opens this summer, the Blues' philosophy appears to be the same: Get it done early and have a budget and stick to it (though UEFA's Financial Fair Play ruling will go some way to keeping that in check). Bacary Sagna has joined on a free transfer, after Micah Richards spent much of last season out of form or on the treatment table and Pablo Zabaleta must have been close to burnout. Fernando has also bolstered a midfield that looked somewhat weak when one of Yaya Toure or Fernandinho was missing.
With two problem areas from the last campaign already solved and City, if reports are to be believed, closing in on the signing of goalkeeper Willy Caballero, the Blues look in far better shape to defend their title than they did two years ago. Pellegrini's aim of two players for every position is getting close.
However, there are still some discrepancies. Question marks remain about Stevan Jovetic -- although it's not the Montenegrin's ability that's in doubt, but more his ability to stay fit for long enough to be a regular part of the first team. It would be odd should Pellegrini decide to cut his losses on the striker, though back-up may be needed, given Sergio Aguero often struggles to avoid muscle injuries, and especially if the rumours about Alvaro Negredo suffering from homesickness are true.
That would leave the defence. For the end of last season, it looked fairly solid and suffered only one or two minor blips in the closing weeks (mainly down to a half-fit Vincent Kompany underperforming at Anfield). However, despite him now being settled, Demichelis won't have much of a future ahead of him as one of the club's more senior players and there will always be worries that Kompany is due another injury. After letting Joleon Lescott leave, along with the expected departure of Richards, it would be a risk for the manager not to strengthen at the back. A return to fitness for Nastasic would be quite welcome, too.
The arrival of defensive midfielder Fernando could mean Pellegrini sees more of a future for Garcia at the heart of the club's defence. The Spaniard's position in the team was pretty secure come the end of 2013-14, but he did always seem to struggle when part of a two-man midfield and has (albeit briefly) performed well at centre-half.
It doesn't seem exciting for the fans, but the day that the transfer window opens shouldn't be seen as too much of a key to unlocking the boredom that will follow the World Cup. For some sets of supporters whose clubs will be dashing around trying to make their signings, it's most likely that City's business will be virtually complete by the time August rolls around.
While that will never compare to the thrill of bringing in a big-name signing such as Robinho on deadline day, it will offer so much more for the team as a whole and allow them to settle ahead of the coming campaign. That's the impact that Txiki Bergiristain and Ferran Sorriano have had since their arrival -- it's now cool and calm, rather than a mad rush to get players in.
That being said, this is City -- so it does mean that there's always a spanner ready to be cast into the machinery.