Manchester City's starting line-up against Bayern Munich on Wednesday night cost upwards of £160million to assemble. Yet it wasn't enough. Despite a 2-0 victory, Napoli's victory over Villereal meant that the English side were unable to make it out of their Champions League group, and instead will be banished to the nightmarish realm of Channel 5 and ITV4 to play in the much-maligned (and rightly so, it's atrocious) Europa League. That they will be joined by Manchester United, who were also dumped out of their group, will provide scant consolation.
Perhaps then, this shows that you can't simply buy your way to continental success. The team they assembled in the manner of someone who'd unlocked an unlimited transfer-spending cheat on the FIFA videogame may be storming their way to the Premier League title, but the European Cup remains a very different ball game (that was almost a joke). It's one that requires a discipline and experience n that Roberto Mancini's men are yet to acquire, and can only come with time; the Barcelona starting XI who won the final of last year's competition contained 6 players who had been raised through the youth team, whilst the Internazionale side who triumphed in 2010 had spent a combined total of over 40 years at the club. Trite as it may sound, team spirit and squad unity appear to be vital to European success.
However, the very ability of City to continue to build on their European campaign in future seasons may appear to be in doubt. This year, Europe's football governing-body, UEFA, introduced 'Financial Fair Play' (FFP) rules. These state that from the 2013-14 season clubs will have to balance their books for the preceding three seasons (this one is the first to count towards that sum). Clubs who don't will face tough sanctions; everything from transfer embargoes to expulsion from European competition have been mooted by UEFA bigwigs as potential punishments. Last month, Manchester City posted a record loss of £194.4million for the previous year, having invested heavily in players, training facilities and 24-carat-gold statues of club legends Kiki Musampa and Emile Mpenza. OK, maybe I made the last one up. Those losses however, have got some City fans in a major panic.
They'd be best advised not to worry. First of all, the measures are to be implemented in a very softly-softly manner (UEFA poncily refers to it as an 'equilibrium period'). Essentially this means that clubs will be given a lee-way of £40million for the first two three-year periods, and around £25million for the following two; City have until 2018 to bring their annual deficits below £8.8million based on current exchange rates. That is a very long time indeed, and more than long enough for the club's owner, Sheikh Mansour, to make the necessary changes. Secondly, the ruling comes with caveats. It only applies to 'football-related expenditure, meaning that City's extensive redevelopment programme won't factor into UEFA's equations. On top of this, clubs can cut sneaky corners in their quest to hit the target; Manchester City have made a £40million-a-year deal with Etihad Airways, who have very close links with the club's Emirati owners, over the naming rights of their stadium, revenue which will take a large chunk out of any losses posted next year. Taking this into consideration, City seem to be on their way to making kosher for the FFP.
But this already somewhat gummy policy is removed of any remaining teeth without the backing of a UEFA president ready to take the tough decisions to implement it to its fullest effect. Current head-honcho Michel Platini has indeed played a major part in the scheme being implemented. However, he has his eye on the FIFA presidency, and could well have relinquished his involvement in UEFA to take up that role by the end of Sepp Blatter's term in 2015, a full three years before the rules take full effect. More than this, with foreign investment flooding into his native France (Paris St Germain's megabucks Middle-Eastern owners, for example), calling out the role of money in football seems less and less appealing for Platini. He may not have the will, or the guts, to push the policy to the maximum. The chances of his successor carrying through a half-implemented, unpopular policy seem slim, and would be a non-starter of a manifesto-pledge of any prospective candidate.
City's footballing difficultiesin Europe may just be down to a lack of experience. The scale of their prospective financial woes are largely exaggerated. My advice for Mancini's men? Keep calm and carry on (and, for the banter, erect statues of Mpenza and Musampa).