Almost inevitably, Manchester City have dominated the summer transfer window thus far. The irrepressible financial muscle of the Abu Dhabi United Group has already succeeded in bringing Yaya Toure, David Silva, Jerome Boateng and Aleksandar Kolarov to Eastlands for a combined fee of around £75m, and the spending spree shows no signs of slowing down. Aston Villa are now apparently resigned to losing James Milner after the player made his desire to leave clear to Martin O'Neill, and in Italy, the signing of Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli also appears simply a matter of time, with a fee reportedly close to being agreed. City boss Roberto Mancini has also come out in the last week and publicly declared his interest in LA Galaxy forward Landon Donovan. If the Citizens end up landing all of these targets then, even relying on conservative estimates, it is likely that the total outlay for this window could reach as much as £150m, surpassing the figure of around £130m spent on reinforcements last term. Whilst, in a financial sense, these figures are almost irrelevant in the case of a club for whom money is no object, Manchester City's relentless spending raises an important footballing question: is their transfer policy indicative of a careful, methodical approach towards becoming the dominant force of the English and European game, or suggestive of a group of impossibly rich businessmen playing fantasy football?
Even the most sceptical of City fans would find it difficult to argue with the remarkable progress their club has made since Abu Dhabi's takeover in August 2008. The perception of Manchester City as perennial Premier League strugglers may have already been banished with the help of Thaksin Shinawatra's millions, but the investment Sheikh Mansour and co. has transformed the club even further, from mid-table mediocrity to Champions League contention. Last season, the Citizens signed genuine top-level operators such as Carlos Tevez, Emanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, and this summer has seen a continuation. Kolo's brother Yaya is the closest thing in world football right now to Patrick Vieira at his peak, and Valencia schemer David Silva's inability to hold down a place in the exceptional, World Cup-winning Spanish midfield shouldn't fool anyone - he is a player with world-class potential, linked to a host of top clubs before City made their move. Jerome Boateng also impressed in South Africa after an uncertain start, and Lazio defender Kolarov provides a potent attacking threat from full-back. Moreover, with Yaya Toure the oldest of the new recruits at 27, it is clear that Manchester City are focusing their attentions on younger players possessed by the desire to win trophies, rather than established stars with less to prove.
It does seem, then, that City's considerable financial outlay this summer can be explained as the result of a coherent transfer policy. Boss Roberto Mancini spoke in the wake of the Kolarov signing of his desire to have 'two top-class players for each position', in order to ensure that his squad are fully prepared for the domestic and European challenges which lie ahead. There is, however, significant reason to wonder whether this approach will yield the kind of success which the fans and owners crave. Firstly, with so many top class players, it may prove difficult for Mancini to know his strongest team, and his attempts to find it may result in inconsistent results in the first few months of the season, costing City valuable points. But potentially a much bigger problem lies in the sheer competition for places at Eastlands. It is certain that, having arrived for hefty transfer fees, Silva, Toure and Kolarov will not expect to be sitting on the bench, and their talent will probably ensure their position as first team regulars. If this happens, then it is hard to see the likes of Wayne Bridge and Shaun Wright-Philips being willing to accept the role of bench-warmer that they left Chelsea to escape.
There will almost certainly be, given Manchester City's huge squad list, a considerable cull of personnel before the new season. But if Mancini's words are to be believed, then it will still be a nigh-on impossible task to keep everyone happy, unless the Italian adopts an extreme form of squad rotation. Such a policy rarely works on the pitch at the top level, since the best sides are forged around a spine of quality players who benefit from playing together week-in, week-out. Another problem, arising directly from City's hyper-activity in the transfer market, is that Roberto Mancini may be faced with the same problem which confronted Mark Hughes at the beginning of last season - namely, that a first XI consisting of too many new signings invariably takes time to gel, and more often than not yields inconsistent results in the meantime. In Hughes' case, this manifested itself not in losses - for the Citizens suffered only one league defeat in his tenure - but in an abundance of draws, which undermined City's push towards a Champions League place, and ultimately cost the Welshman his job. Mancini will know that, despite statements of support from the Eastlands hierarchy at the end of last season, his position as manager remains tenuous, and completely dependent on whether or not his team matches the ambitious targets set by his superiors - either of a sustained title challenge or, more likely, comfortable qualification for the Champions League next season.
With another summer of huge spending, the Manchester City hierarchy have sent out a clear message to their cross-town rivals that they fully intend to join them at Europe's top table. Roberto Mancini has no margin for error if he is to prove himself worthy of leading the charge.