Even by summer transfer market standards, it was an exceptional form of farce that Manchester City found themselves engulfed in as they sought to reject suggestions that a failure to wish Yaya Touré a proper happy birthday gave him grounds to leave the club.
City have insisted that their star midfielder was not for sale, with three years to run on the contract they gave him last summer. But after Touré had followed up an extraordinary outburst from his agent Dimitri Seluk with a series of contradictory tweets, the last of which stated that Seluk had been right, City's senior executives became party to attempts to reach the player to establish what, if anything, the problem might be.
Toure contributed to deepening alarm when, in response to the question of whether he could play for another club, told the global broadcaster beIN SPORTS: “Yes. We never know in football. We never know. Because of the brilliant season Man City have had, everybody is talking about me and everything is open. My agent, Dimitri, is always on the phone and he knows what he has to do because I trust him a lot. We don't know tomorrow, but my focus is on the World Cup and at the end of the World Cup we will see what happens.” Toure said that he had declared before that he wanted to end his career at Barcelona.
City chief executive Ferran Soriano found himself on the receiving end of the initial criticism from Seluk, who is remembered for a similarly timed attack 12 months ago, also themed on City's lack of love, which won Touré – his only major client – a significant pay rise. This time Seluk scolded the club for neglecting to wish Touré a happy 31st birthday during a VIP reception at the St Regis hotel on Saadiyat Island, amid last week's post-season tour of Abu Dhabi. He added that if Touré's departure was followed by City failing to retain the Premier League title then Soriano should have to "sweep the streets in Trafalgar Square for a day."
City, who say they have received no sense that Touré is in any way unhappy, kept Trafalgar Square out of it. But they were quick to detail the fairly exhaustive ways they had found to offer their man many happy returns last week. No, there had been nothing specific at that reception, but a birthday cake had been left for him in the players' lounge, "Happy Birthday" had been sung for him on the plane home from Abu Dhabi and a "Happy Birthday Yaya" Facebook post had received 250,000 "likes" – more than any other posting by the club on the website.
That seemed to be the end of it until @toure_yaya42's afternoon intervention, which first offered an assurance – "Please do not take words that do not come out of MY mouth seriously" – but then something considerably less promising. "Everything dimitry (sic) said is true. He speaks for me. I will give an interview after world cup to explain." City are trying to establish whether Toure posted that message himself or whether, as they suspect, his Twitter feed was put together by one of his PR entourage. Though Toure is out of Barcelona’s pay league and a move back to his former club is improbable, the Catalans would covet his services, and City are likely to intensify efforts to address the problem with the Ivorian. Seluk is known to have a deep influence on the midfielder.
It is the latest in a series of unsettling episodes which have beset the club since they won the title ten days ago. The most unsettling of them all, of course, was the club's failure to comply with Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules, incurring a transfer cap, fine and Champions League squad reduction for next season. All that has led to chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak giving the first verbal response from anyone at City to their written settlement with the European governing body.
Published on the club's website barely an hour after the European Commission had dealt a blow to City's hopes that FFP would be ruled illegal by confirming that the regulations did not break EU competition law, Khaldoon pointed out City had zero debts. "We don't pay a penny to service any debt," he said, in what felt like a dig at Manchester United's debt-financed business model. "For me, that is a sustainable model.
"However, our friends in Uefa seem to believe otherwise. They have a view. We have ours. I disagree with their views, but we are pragmatic. But I think there is one thing our fans need to know: we will do as always what is best for this club and for the fans. And if it means sometimes it means to take a pinch, we will take a pinch and we will move on. [This] will not compromise us."
Meanwhile, City were announcing they have acquired a near 20 per cent stake in a Japanese J-League club Yokohama F-Marinos, who have long established ties with Nissan. It seems like another revenue generator. City said the deal would give the Japanese access to their "training methods, medical care, sports science, team management and coaching know-how." Winning that title seems elementary by comparison with all that has followed since.
Agent of truth? Yaya's mixed messages
The Manchester City midfielder posted a number of cryptic messages on Twitter yesterday. He later deleted the second and third tweets.
* Thanks for all the birthday messages today. Card from City just arrived... Must have got lost in the post. Haha
* Jokes aside. Please do not take words that do not come out of MY mouth seriously. Judge my commitment to @MCFC by my performances.
* My agent was trying to make a point here on my behalf, joke aside. It seems important for me to make a statement... i am going to do so.
* Everything dimitry said is true. He speaks for me . I will give an interview after world cup to explain