The Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini, will not be given money in January to bolster the squad which has proved inadequate for the exacting challenge of the Champions League. Only an injury emergency will trigger any more player investment this season.
A move for Falcao, the Colombian striker, is out of the question, Daniele de Rossi does not fit the club's age profile and the fact that Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell were among the manager's top-five targets this summer gives him no room to argue that he has not been backed financially to build on last season's Premier league title. The two Englishmen have not featured prominently, and Sinclair barely at all, but they were alongside Eden Hazard and Robin van Persie at the top of Mancini's list, with De Rossi as the back-up option if the move for Javi Garcia failed.
Mancini declared after the draw with Real Madrid saw him fail to deliver on this season's targeted Champions League second-round place that City needed "to be passionate" about succeeding in Europe "and to improve our team." But having completed the first, heavy investment phase of their ownership, the Abu Dhabi owners have now moved to a second "commercial" period, driving up revenues. Mancini has played all his cards in the market and though it is an article of faith for the Abu Dhabis that their manager's door has not been a revolving one, he needs an emphatic Premier League campaign if he is to be confident of extending his City into a fourth full season.
Mancini said on Wednesday night that "six or seven" clubs in European football are better than his own. But the philosophy of the new chief executive Ferran Soriano – who transformed Barcelona between 2003 and 2008 – is that a force in world football must be so dominant that fans from Singapore to Shanghai know their name. Soriano's discussions of how he overhauled Barcelona, who were ranked 13th among world football's revenue earners, with half of Old Trafford's turnover when he took over, reveal a deep fascination with Manchester United.
They also reveal that he will consider City simply incapable of generating returns on Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan's vast spending if they are not capable of beating sides like Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. "Consumers in general are able to remember five or six brands in each category [of business]," Soriano has said. "But not 20. In 2003 [at Barcelona] we were running a very high risk of not being able to bridge the gap with the top clubs and Barcelona remaining a small local brand."
There is no doubt that Soriano will seek to drive down the cost base where he can, at City. He brought the ratio of player wages to turnover down from 88 per cent to near 50 per cent at the Nou Camp. In his early days there he established a cost-cutting team so rigorous that the running joke was that the auditors stalked the stadium corridors wearing helmets and with daggers between their teeth, looking like Rambo. But Soriano will also be looking for City to command global recognition. He tells a story of how a Japanese barman in Tokyo, hearing him talking in Catalan, approached him to say Watashi wa kaiin desu! ("I am a member") and flashed his Barcelona membership card.
With over 70 percent of the TV audience overseas, this is the kind of recognition he will want for City. Such is the size of the task now facing Mancini. His Middle East employers know that it will reflect better on them if he succeeds. They find sackings distasteful. But Soriano, who has maintained a very low public profile to date, is extremely fast-moving in his decision-making. He will act to change the manager if he feels City are not making up the deficit between themselves and the world's best.
Amid the ruins of the Champions League campaign, there must be a discussion of the decision to move to a three-man defence. Pablo Zabaleta yesterday echoed Micah Richards and Aleksandr Kolarov in suggesting that the new rear formation which was overwhelmed by Real Madrid early on Wednesday is something that the players are not comfortable with – an extraordinary admission for the three to make considering the level of investment at the Etihad. "We started the game really slow with some defensive problems, and then we changed to 4-4-2 as we felt more comfortable with that system," Zabaleta said.
Sergio Aguero admitted that City are not displaying last season's flamboyance, though put that down to injuries: "It's not simple when injuries all happen simultaneously. I think I'm correct in saying that we have very few injuries last season."
City understandably cite their current Premier League position when doubts are expressed about their development. "The Premier League table says something different [about our progress]. We are very hard to beat, top of the table and defending well, so we can't be doing that badly can we?" added Aguero. His face currently beams out from the last of an imaginative poster sequence, plastered to the Etihad stadium's exterior, which is a timeline of the afternoon City took the title. That day offered drama of the kind we may never witness again in the Premier League, though a breathless finish might not be enough this season. With Europe gone, Mancini is left needing something more emphatic from the bunch of players with whom he has thrown in his lot.