City refuse to be held to ransom over Santa Cruz

Inflation in asking price sparks warning that club may not buy in January
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The Independent Football

Manchester City are facing a lay-out of around £20m for Blackburn's Roque Santa Cruz, almost double their initial offer and a graphic example of an inflatory effect which the club's executive chairman Garry Cook warned yesterday could severely limit their ambitions in the January transfer window.

Cook did not name names in the course of a discussion of his club in which he said that a top 10 finish and "ideally top six" was this season's goal – they currently languish fourth from bottom – but there is a limit to the money available and the club's struggle for results suggest that they currently need five moderately expensive players more than another superstar of Robinho proportions. City initially tabled a £12m offer for Santa Cruz last summer, later upped to £15m.

"We may go through this next window and if Mark doesn't feel it's right or if we feel that we're being pushed into places that we don't want to be, then we might not go down that route [of buying]," said Cook, who appeared to be rowing back yet further on the initial grand pronouncements made about the club's buying intentions. The inflatory demands were affecting the club's "ability to have normal business discussions," Cook said. "You get a little anxious when I think we've been associated with over 50 players now so I don't think that's healthy for us as a football club and our fans' expectations become different."

It is inconceivable that City will not buy at all, with the club arguably needing two new personnel in the striking department alone and in the circumstances even £20m for Santa Cruz looks like decent business. But Cook is worried by what he calls "the Manchester City effect" and served notice that he will walk away from clubs who try to hold him to ransom. "I have a responsibility to the owners but I also have a responsibility to the fans and I do not feel we should be over-paying for something that's not truly, truly committed to this football club," he said.

Cook denied that failure to qualify even for the Uefa Cup next season would affect City's capacity to buy box office stars such as Kaka or Lionel Messi next summer. "If people feel that this isn't the place for them because they're not playing European football then it [calls into question] their suitability for the club," he said. He also backed Hughes as robustly as a chairman could, though that didn't quite stretch to guaranteeing his presence at City next season whatever the club's finishing position: "We can't predict the results and we can't predict the future."

There were some intriguing insights into the club's new owner Sheikh Mansour al-Nahyan who, Cook revealed, was "emotional" about results and player performances and is glued, along with his acolytes in Abu Dhabi, to every City match. "Whenever I speak to them when there's a game there's always a crowd of people around a television. They can get pretty much all the games over there so they are cheering and shouting. They don't miss a kick," said Cook, whose contact with the Abu Dhabis comes in a weekly conference call and who expects Sheikh Mansour at a game before too long.

Though Cook stressed several times that a lot of people "unrealistically expected a switch to be flicked as soon as the news broke that we'd changed control," from Thaksin Shinawatra to Sheikh Mansour he admitted he had been "surprised" by his club's first half form. He refused to discuss the number of players City might buy next month but one of the two categories of purchase he described provided a clue to their intent. "Young talent that is breaking into the international scene and [having] some success there," is, along with superstar names, evidently City's target – if the price is right.