The sheikhs have raised the stakes. Defeat to Tottenham on Saturday killed off Manchester City's slim hopes of competing in the new Europa League next season, and with it went a potential carrot to entice new recruits to Eastlands.
The goal now set by the club's owners Abu Dhabi United Group is to break into the top four next season. Mark Hughes has been reassured after a meeting with the chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, on Friday that he will remain as manager for the next 12 months. But the Portuguese newspapers suggested yesterday that this was only because Jose Mourinho had turned the job down first.
Failure to break into the top seven this year means the goal for 2010 is the Champions League or bust. Speaking after Saturday's defeat, City's chief executive, Garry Cook, said that missing out on the Europa League could be a blessing in disguise.
"I don't think necessarily getting into the Uefa Cup is going to change the impact of whether we are going to build," he said. "That is not going to make a difference. In fact, in some ways it might give us the chance to get to the next piece of rebuilding. We are relatively pleased with the year. It has given us a good chance to consolidate."
Asked whether Hughes would still be in charge when the new season kicks off in August, Cook replied: "Mark Hughes is our manager."
City's goalkeeper Shay Given gave Hughes his full backing, saying: "He's totally the right man for the job."
But their failure to reach Europe has made Hughes' situation precarious. And the way his side started suggested a team devoid of players prepared to accept responsibility. They were fortunate to be behind only to Jermain Defoe's intelligent back-heel at the break, although they rallied well in the second half to draw level with Valeri Bojinov's volley.
The referee Mark Halsey gave Tottenham a penalty when Micah Richards felled Fraizer Campbell and Robbie Keane converted the spot-kick with four minutes remaining.
The Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp, was furious with his striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who stormed off at being substituted. Redknapp said: "I don't like that. When a player runs down the tunnel without sitting there and watching his team, I think it's disrespectful to his team-mates."
Tottenham Hotspur (4-1-3-2): Gomes; Corluka, Woodgate (Hutton, h-t), King, Assou-Ekotto; Huddlestone; Modric, Jenas (Zokora, 65), Keane; Defoe, Pavlyuchenko (Campbell, 76). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Bale, Bentley, Chimbonda.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Richards, Dunne, Onuoha, Bridge; De Jong, Kompany; Elano (Zabaleta, 30), Ireland, Petrov (Bojinov, 61); Caicedo (Benjani 61) Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Fernandes, Sturridge, Glauber.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Man of the match: Keane.
Attendance: 36,000.Reuse content