Roberto Mancini has taken to referring questions on Manchester City's lack of transfer activity this summer to Brian Marwood on such a regular basis that if it carries on like this, the man who bears the awkward title of the club's football administrator might just have to start holding press conferences himself.
Ahead of tomorrow's Community Shield game against Chelsea, Mancini picked up a theme yesterday that he has adopted with increasing irritability all summer. "You should talk to Brian Marwood not with me," he answered the first question about transfers. He referred to the club's de facto director of football more than once but on occasion it was as "Marwood" rather than the more chummy "Brian".
Coming up to the fourth anniversary of Sheikh Mansour's takeover of the club, and £452m spent on transfers so far, for the first time the questions this summer are about who City have not signed rather than the players they have. Yesterday, Mancini described Robin van Persie, another one who appears to have got away, as "an Arsenal or United player". Asked about his and Marwood's role in transfers, Mancini said: "I'm not happy but I won't say anything at the moment."
Those at the club believe that this is simply a tactic of Mancini to put some pressure on Marwood and his Abu Dhabi superiors to spend some money this summer and nothing personal. But this was a fairly unrepentant attack on the policy of moving on the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Edin Dzeko and Roque Santa Cruz before new names can come in.
"We have a good team but we built this team two years ago," Mancini said. "It is impossible that after two years, having done everything well, you [do not] still need to improve. You need to improve when you have a training session, you need to improve every way. I'm finished with these questions."
It turned out that Mancini was not finished after all, and he went on to question the wisdom of delaying making signings until the end of August when they were not afforded a grace period to integrate into the team. Mancini is prone to contradicting himself when it comes to predictions but his proclamation that Manchester United "start the season as [league] favourites" with City "maybe second, third or fourth" had the sound of a manager at the end of his tether.
The Mancini-Marwood relationship has never been straightforward and winning the Premier League last season undoubtedly put the manager in a stronger position. However, it has not been enough for him to secure the premium available names this summer - those such as Van Persie, Daniel Agger or Eden Hazard, the latter of whom will probably be starting for City's opponents at Villa Park tomorrow.
It was a stark contrast to Roberto Di Matteo who spoke yesterday with the certainty of a man whose boss has already spent £71m on three players and has the prospect of more to come. Di Matteo is the last man to rock the boat, even though he is no longer just a caretaker manager, but his club have not been operating under the same restrictions that City have placed themselves under in the transfer market.
Only Hazard of Chelsea's three major signings so far will play a part tomorrow with winger Marko Marin injured and Oscar not due to join up until after Brazil's friendly against Sweden on Wednesday. Di Matteo does not seek the kind of control over transfers that Mancini craves, he is happy to let Roman Abramovich get on with it and accept the hand that has been dealt him.
It has not been a bad one, not when the club can afford to let last summer's £18m signing Romelu Lukaku go on loan to West Bromwich Albion yesterday as well as farming out Josh McEachran again, probably to Middlesbrough. The surplus-to-requirements Florent Malouda, for example, has not yet been moved on but that has not stopped Abramovich spending extravagantly once again after that extraordinary end to the season that brought the FA Cup and the club's first Champions League.
Abramovich, no longer alone among the billionaires that fund Premier League football clubs, has never wavered in his desire to build the club, Di Matteo said yesterday. "His will to win has never decreased at any moment, and it will continue to [be that way]," Di Matteo said. "He wants to win, and he backs it up."
At Chelsea, champions of Europe at long last, the challenges are different. Didier Drogba is gone after eight years. The long-anticipated changing of the guard will not be accomplished simply, Andre Villas-Boas proved that last season, but it can hardly be ignored. Chelsea's pre-season form has been patchy.
Di Matteo bristled yesterday when it was suggested to him that without Drogba his team had to find a new way of scoring goals – "That's a bit unfair... you forget all the other players on the pitch with him" – but the striker was always a magnificent Plan B. Now, that alternative is gone and Di Matteo must perm an attack from Hazard, Fernando Torres, Marin, Juan Mata, Oscar and others. It is a choice other managers would like, but it presents problems too.
"There won't be radical changes," Di Matteo said. "Certainly, with the influence of the new players once they are integrated, they will be a bit different because they have different characteristics and abilities. It'll take a bit of time, but I know we need to win games as well. But I don't think you can expect a completely different Chelsea overnight. The majority of the team are still here and those players have been very successful already. So don't expect radical changes."
To some extent, both Chelsea and City have been defined in recent years by their willingness to push the boundaries in the transfer market – to spend more than traditional powers. When they fail to do so it can feel like the momentum is ebbing away from two clubs who have fought hard, and spent millions to make the elite.
"When you win [trophies] it is important to bring in new players, young good players for the future," said. "This is a good way to do it." Eventually, you have to assume, City will get their men but Chelsea have taken the first steps already.Reuse content