There is no fear among Roberto Mancini's staff: the kickabout they had with the club's executives at their Platt Lane academy last Sunday proved that much. Assistant coach David Platt went through chief executive Garry Cook with a tackle which left him on his backside, while an eye-catching overhead kick from chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak – no mean player – was tipped away from the top corner by a newly recruited kitman. The main impression left on the City board members after these occasional matches is the time Mancini always seems to have on the ball. Judging by their belief that the club are realistic challengers for the title, the Italian also seems to have a substantial amount of time on his hands to build on top of the one-year tenure he chalked up on Monday.
The defeat to Everton might have been a painful one for the watching Mubarak, who is understood to prefer watching City alone, such are his agonies at times, but the sensation was nothing compared with the uncertainties the board felt in the last four months of the Mark Hughes tenure. The board was prevaricating about his future even before last season began, because they felt he was too closed off to the idea of bringing in outside help to make up the tactical and technical deficits at the club. Mancini's relationship with Mubarak is far closer and he is trusted in a way that Hughes wasn't, which is why he has not been set the same 70-point target his predecessor signed up to at the club's August 2009 board meeting.
But while this season's target is less specific – a top-four place – the stakes are far greater as City move towards the era of Uefa's Financial Fair Play regime which demands that, from 2013, clubs must lose no more than £13m per year or get shut out of European competitions. City lost ten times more than that – a total of £133m – in the 12 months to 31 May, and privately acknowledge that their £121m wage for that period may hit £150m in next October's end-of-year results because the signings of Jerome Boateng, David Silva, Yaya Touré, Aleksandar Kolarov, Mario Balotelli and James Milner have not even been accounted for yet. It means Mubarak and Cook need to increase their revenues at a colossal rate in very short order to bring their losses anywhere near Uefa's figure, and failing to achieve Champions League qualification is an outcome they do not want to consider. No pressure then, Mancini.
That top-four finish is part of the plan to increase the club's global revenues vastly, with the belief from within Eastlands being that they have barely scratched the surface yet. Though City admit that some of the Premier League teams who play in red – namely Manchester United and Liverpool – have got in so much earlier to the Asian markets that making City a household name there will take a long time, they do consider potential for corporate sponsorship revenues deals – or "commercial partnerships", as they are known – to be vast in the Middle East and North Africa. A potential stadium naming-rights deal is also a significant factor.
It is understood that the board do not feel there will be huge resistance to that idea, as there might have been at Maine Road, since the identity of the new stadium is not that clear anyway. It is Eastlands to some, CoMs (City of Manchester Stadium) to others, and simply the Temple of Doom to Sir Alex Ferguson. Manchester city council owns the stadium, which City lease, but the club own the naming rights.
Another significant part of the medium-term plan is development of the land surrounding the stadium – 80 acres of land have been acquired in nearby Openshaw West. Though the traditional football model of leasing to a supermarket is not an objective, there is potential to exploit the land asset. These plans, as well as making the stadium pay its way on non-match days through conferences and the like, are likely to happen before increasing the capacity of Eastlands beyond the current 48,000 capacity to 60,000, even though the club has already undertaken a 14-month study of stadiums around the world. The stadium won't be expanded until City know that they can fill it and though any such investment would fall outside the aegis of owner spending accounted for within the FFP rules, City know that it will not happen quickly enough to help in the push towards the golden £13m loss figure.
But there is no disguising the fact that access to Champions League football would surpass all these ideas. The TV and match-day revenues are only a part of it. At a stroke, elite European football would increase the club's potential to pull in elite players without the softener of colossal wages, and to persuade those already at City to stay. The likely battle for Carlos Tevez's heart and mind this summer will certainly be easier from the Champions League uplands.
Mancini reflected in Turin last Wednesday evening that the control he had at City was an improvement on his time at Internazionale. "It has been a positive experience," he said of his first year in charge. "I have more power over things than I did in Italy." With power comes responsibility – an onerous level of it, judging by City's business plans. It is as well for the sanity of all at Eastlands that Mubarak and Cook feel that the man who strolled around the training pitch on Sunday is up to the more significant task ahead.Reuse content