Time for Manchester City to move forward without Alexis Sanchez
At 1 p.m. on the afternoon of transfer deadline day, Manchester City were sure that they had finally got their man. Arsenal striker and Chile superstar Alexis Sanchez would get the move that City had been chasing all summer -- a move that, at different times, seemed to be on then off then on again.
The player himself, already in South America to take part in crucial World Cup qualifiers, had shared the news with his international teammates: he would be leaving London for the north of England and the sky blue shirt of City.
Some talk even had him signing the contract that had been meticulously arranged for him.
City had two bids turned down by Arsenal. The London club had enquired about Raheem Sterling going in the opposite direction and had been told it was to be a money-only deal or nothing. City had upped their bid to £55 million with a further £5m in add-ons.
Sanchez, so obviously wanting away, waited for his club to back down and allow the transfer to go through. Finally, at long last, it happened. Arsenal's Ivan Gazidis telephoned Ferran Soriano at City to say the deal was on. What was not mentioned was how Arsenal planned to replace the exiting Sanchez. That was, of course, their own business.
Suddenly, as the story unravelled, it became apparent that the whole thing hinged on Thomas Lemar of Monaco making the switch to London. A hugely inflated fee of £92m was being mooted, double what City had paid out for Lemar's infinitely more-gifted teammate, Bernardo Silva, in the same transfer window.
Then the bombshell. Arsenal would not complete the deal after all, as they felt "there was not enough time left to do it."
If the whole episode makes City look slightly tardy in their efforts to push things though, then it makes Arsenal look in complete shambles. They are left nursing the hurt pride of their star player, who knows he was to be offloaded. But Sanchez will now be expected to give his all for the Londoners for another half-season at least.
The implications are different for City. Their transfer window, unlike Arsenal's, has been excellent, as they recruited top talent at top prices to fill many of the suspect places in the squad. Massive pruning has taken place to allow the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker, Ederson Morais, Silva and Danilo to be introduced.
But there's a hitch: City are still lightweight in three key areas. Unbelievably they remain a single serious injury away from crisis in attack, defensive midfield and central defence. When Steve Cook launched into a scything tackle that bent Gabriel Jesus' leg almost to snapping point at Bournemouth last weekend, he had come very close to throwing City into early season disarray. Jesus is the only front player left to match up with Sergio Aguero now that Wilfried Bony and Kelechi Iheanacho have left for new pastures.
Jesus spent a large portion of last season similarly ill-disposed, but City at least had some backup to Aguero then.
New man Mendy will also plough a lone furrow on the left, as no second left-back was purchased to fill the double gap vacated by Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy. Danilo will have to continue to fill in on that side if necessary, while all eyes will be on Vincent Kompany's fragile hamstrings as the season heats up. The Belgian has been dogged with problems for three years now and City's most experienced player is in serious doubt to see the season through without disruption.
Jonny Evans had been earmarked as a useful backup player in this department, but his deal also fell through when Eliaquim Mangala, all set for Crystal Palace, suddenly took a dislike to the terms being offered. The £42m defender, who was close to leaving for less than half that notoriously bulky fee, will now have to stay and prove his worth to a manager who seemingly wanted to get rid of him. Ironically, a similar challenge faces Arsene Wenger with Sanchez.
City, by far the biggest spenders in the Premier League's window of madness, must now integrate the quality newcomers they have managed to secure and make sure they are in the hunt at Christmas, when further reinforcements can be made if an injury crisis develops. In the meantime, those youngsters who have not already been shipped out on loan to all points of the compass might suddenly find game time available in the League Cup and certain league games.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and many are the voices among the City support who will mention the olden days of straitened times, when mere pennies were scattered at players of dubious quality and sensitive character. Those days are long behind the club now. City will be expected to mount a serious challenge, with or without the mercurial magic of Alexis Sanchez.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.