"Big teams need to sign big players. It is very difficult to do it every year but you must do it every two years. You must try always to improve your squad." - Manuel Pellegrini
Was the Manchester City manager taking a shot across the boardroom bow this week?
Pellegrini's message was fired just hours before going into last night's dismal defeat at Crystal Palace. It's almost as if he could see the result coming - and with the derby at Manchester United on Sunday, his future is in acute focus.
As City have laboured through this season, it's staggering how the club's football execs, Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, have escaped serious scrutiny.
Almost £175 million in transfer fees alone have been spent by the pair since their arrival in the first-half of the 2012/13 season - and as Pellegrini notes - none of the additions were, or have developed into, world-beaters.
As Roberto Mancini has gleefully declared multiple times this season, City are still living off the team the Italian, now back with Inter Milan, won the title with in 2012.
Soriano and Begiristain, through their experience with Barcelona, were supposed to bring the football expertise, the football 'culture', to the City front office. But their deal making has not only failed to deliver a team capable of taking a place among the elite, but has also cost them a year of Financial Fair Play (FFP) bans.
Contrast this to the work of Soriano's predecessor Garry Cook. Yes, he was not restricted by FFP, but he still managed to get big deals for big players over the line. Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Edin Dzeko... they were all Cook signings. No Barca background was needed, just good business experience and a bit of bravado.
Even off the pitch, Cook's work is still being felt. It was he who brought former Arsenal winger Brian Marwood to the club. Marwood remains part of City's management team to this day, holding the role of 'senior football administrator', which monitors the club's overseas partners like New York City FC and Melbourne City.
Yeah, Cook has a gob on 'im, and did rub some City fans the wrong way. But it can be argued he understood more about building a long-term, title-challenging team, than the two from Barca.
Alvaro Negredo, £20 million. Stevan Jovetic, £22 million. Both sure to be dumped at a massive loss this summer. Fernandinho, £30 million. Fernando, £12 million. Yet, the pulse of City's midfield is still driven by what mood Yaya Toure is in.
Then, consider the problems at the back this season: Matija Nastasic was bought and sold within 18 months. Stefan Savic, offloaded to Fiorentina and now wanted by some of Europe's biggest clubs - including United. Another Louis van Gaal target is Nigel de Jong, who was allowed to leave by Begiristain for AC Milan.
Pellegrini will get it in the neck. But he's working with a team whose spine was built over five years ago - and has never been regenerated. The great irony is the one signing which has his fingerprints all over it, Martin Demichelis, has actually proved good enough, at 34, to land a new deal just last month.
Take a step further back and to the 'elite development squad'. Why is the front office allowing speculation to fester over Patrick Vieira's future? The Arsenal legend has been a big hit since taking up coaching at City, but hasn't heard from management about a new contract, with his current agreement expiring in less than three months' time.
Why are Soriano and Begiristain allowing such a situation to develop?
City's peers, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, even Liverpool and Tottenham... You can see they're building towards something. You can't say the same of Soriano and Begiristain's City. Think Yaya Toure this season and that epitomises this City team.
On his day, Yaya can be brilliant. But age is catching up to the Ivorian and the lumbering, almost blasé performances are becoming more frequent.
This City team has run its course. And on current evidence, Soriano and Begiristain have done the same.
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