City flirting with self-sabotage
Manchester United are overhauling their squad after letting squad players go and seeing Edwin Van Der Saar and Paul Scholes retire. Chelsea want the subtlety of Luka Modric to continue the renewal of their squad after the January purchases of David Luiz and Fernando Torres.
However, as Manchester City start the season, they'll have to spend most of their time not looking to improve, but resolving errors of the previous years. For a side that is so used to calamity, it's perhaps no surprise that even money hasn't solved their tendency towards self-sabotage. Perhaps, more fairly, going from strugglers to title ambitions so quickly was always going to be a messier business than a billionaire owner, and fans, would hope.
Most pressingly, the brains trust of Garry Cook, Brian Marwood and Roberto Mancini have to replace Carlos Tevez. As much as the move was inevitable - Tevez is a consistent agitator for all his self-conscious crowd pleasing - the fact is that he is almost impossible to replace.
On the pitch at least, he is committed , selfless and in the finest form of his career. City will expect that Edin Dzeko is more likely than not to finally succeed. However, even if he finds form it would be foolish to begin the season with just Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, the darts and women's prison fanatic.
They have other strikers. One is Emmanuel Adebayor, ostracised to the point of no return. They have Craig Bellamy, cut out because he puts his knees before Mancini's training demands. They have Roque Santa Cruz, a man with one good season in the last five. Jo is now a striker whose potential has now been swapped for regret, each loan move generating nothing more than diminishing returns.
All are on wages so high that any potential buyers simply cannot afford them. That so few clubs are willing to take a risk on these pricey and variously spoilt players, highlights the short sightedness of Manchester City's policy.
Having to accommodate unwanted players - even to train with the youth team - isn't just bad for morale. Unhappy players will pass on their dissent to other squad members, but it is also a drain on financial resources. As rich as Manchester City are, Financial Fair Play potentially means that it's no longer sustainable to keep hold of disgruntled talent. This is potentially not such a disaster for City as it might be for other clubs after they signed a £400 million deal with Etihad to rename their council-owned stadium.
Difficulties may arise should the agreement falls through. If common sense prevails, and there's no guarantee it will, an outrageously overpriced sponsorship deal between two state-owned companies should be seen as a slight-of-hand trick, and not a genuine business deal. Their Abu Dhabi wealth has bought them their league position, some very talented players, and entry to the Champions League. However, if they are going to make a significant impact on Europe, they need at least three far superior players. Manchester City's problem is that beyond money, they just can't offer what their rivals can.
To the players that would markedly improve them, who are available, they are not the most attractive club. Wesley Sneijder would rather join Manchester United, and Samir Nasri was rumoured to think the same. Luka Modric has his heart set on Chelsea. If they get Samir Nasri, it's not because he wants to join Manchester City, it's because Arsene Wenger will have succeeded in keeping him out of United's clutches.
Money is enough to buy most available players, but it rarely persuades those of the quality that separates title winners from runners-up. Manchester United and Barcelona offer the best chance of trophies, and point to regular achievement on every front. Real Madrid, too, have the same prestige. For City there is no quick fix to bridge this gap. The focus needed is simply spread too thin, as they resolve one problem after another.
There are deeper problems. With the requirements of certain number of young, home-grown players, City are struggling. Manchester United and Barcelona both have a common sense approach here. Barcelona invest heavily in developing their own and United buy the best young players.
Vladimir Weiss and Stefan Savic are excellent prospects, but there's nobody else confidently expected to break through, and there's little emphasis on youth getting its chance either. Micah Richards might be cited as the exception to that rule. However, Micah Richards is one of the weakest players in the first team.
While emerging players are cheaper to sign, they bring an additional benefit. Young players refresh a squad, and push senior players perform to keep their place. It's not a disastrous situation, but a lack of it adds to a sense of stagnation.
Unless City have an exceptionally efficient solution, this year may be one for consolidation. The worry is that although all these matters will take time to resolve, time is just one of the requirements. Plenty of clubs plan for the future, invest in infrastructure and aim for Europe, but few ever achieve anything of note.
It can take a genius to deliver sustained success, and City definitely don't have that yet. Manchester City might have impressive ambitions, but their plan to achieve them so quickly will ultimately hold them back.