Times change and nowhere is it harder to keep up than at Manchester City – with the possible exception of today's opponents Portsmouth. In the corresponding fixture last season City ran up their biggest victory in Premier League history, 6-0, yet with Robinho's unlamented departure to Brazil, only Shaun Wright-Phillips of the six different goalscorers that day is still at the club.
A rare period of stability is long overdue and now there is an insistence from inside Middle Eastlands that City's followers are about to enjoy one. Mischievous noises from outside that Garry Cook, the voluble chief executive, is talking himself out of a job and that Roberto Mancini has not been trusted to spend in the current transfer window because he is on a six-month trial, are being officially rubbished. It is not unimaginable that there will be a late deal before tomorrow's deadline – Middlesbrough's Adam Johnson remains much admired – but City insist it was never the intention to replicate anything like the £50m splurge of a year ago.
There is, of course, money available, for fees and wages, all the more so since they will not be paying a penny of whatever salary Robinho can worm out of Santos until August. But the bank will not be raided to any degree, let alone broken, until the summer, when Mancini insists that he will be the man naming the names. The quality of player then available will also depend on whether City have made it into the Champions' League, which will still not be known until the middle of August if they face a qualifying round match after finishing fourth. "It's possible in the summer but not now," Mancini said of serious shopping. "I have a good team with good players. We have had some problems with injuries so we took Patrick [Vieira]. We must think about this season, the Premier and the FA Cup."
Not, of course, the Carling Cup, "not important any more" the manager said with a rueful smile, though he was genuinely pleased with his side's efforts against the less noisy neighbours up the road over two legs of the semi-final. What he did agree, tellingly, was how important it is to win that first trophy, which is why well-meaning advice to concentrate on the League will be ignored, when a fifth-round FA Cup tie at home to Stoke awaits. "After one important victory like the FA Cup, we can change the mentality. In the two games there is no difference [between us]. United have won a lot of trophies and [so] were relaxed."
Relaxation can work two ways and the casual kind will not be permitted in today's fixture against troubled opposition. Italian football had hardly been a model of financial probity, which Mancini is more aware of than most after his experiences at Fiorentina and Lazio. "We had the same problems but when we were on the pitch we didn't think [about it]," he said. "So I think this will be a difficult game for us. If you don't have the right mentality it can be very risky."