Manchester City gear up for shopping spree
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini is already preparing for the retention of a Premier League title which his match-winner Sergio Aguero claims has turned the club into "a great side" by urging his board to avoid a repeat of the tortuous pursuit of players last summer and moving rapidly into the transfer market.
The Italian has clear targets. Lille's Eden Hazard remains foremost among them, despite the frustrations of agreeing personal terms after providing the 21-year-old with a tour of the Manchester property market and a hard-sell, only for him to hesitate.
City, whose board meeting went ahead at the Etihad Stadium yesterday, keenly await the outcome of Robin van Persie's discussions with Arsenal -- scheduled for Thursday -- and despite the need to drive towards break-even to comply with Uefa's financial fair play (FFP) regime, Mancini retains a keen interest in Napoli striker Edinson Cavani as a back-up option if Van Persie cannot be secured.
Cavani's agent has been quoting exorbitant figures to City for the past 18 months, and the price tag being attached is still an unrealistic £31m.
However, City's football administrator Brian Marwood is lukewarm about Cavani, which could cause friction with Mancini.
Cavani's Argentinian team-mate Ezequiel Lavezzi -- whom Mancini also admires -- has a £28m buyout, though he looks destined for Internazionale. Mancini's staff have also watched Athletic Bilbao's exciting defensive midfielder Javi Martinez. The £7m-rated Montpellier midfielder Younes Belhanda is being monitored, as a back-up if attempts to sign Hazard fail.
Some sources are beginning to sound pessimistic about the prospects of the £30m-rated Hazard deal being done, with Manchester United among the other possible contenders, though City's emergence as champions strengthens the appeal of the club.
City also retain some optimism about signing Van Persie but Arsene Wenger has publicly vowed that City will not make Van Persie the fifth Arsenal player City's Abu Dhabi owners sign.
But the impediment to any signatures remains the same as that of last summer: how to shift on players signed at earlier stages of the club's development, who are now a millstone. The club have had only one offer for Emmanuel Adebayor -- from Tottenham, where he was successful on loan this season -- though there is some confidence that they may reach a permanent deal.
City also have Wayne Bridge and Roque Santa Cruz to move on. They will listen to offers for Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli, whose chaotic season was concluded yesterday by his decision to fly home to Italy, rather than present himself on the club's open-top bus tour of Manchester with the Premier League trophy.
The sale of Carlos Tevez would also free money for spending.
Last summer brought tensions between Mancini, in one camp, and the executive management team of Garry Cook, then chief executive, with Marwood, in another, who were pressing the need to comply with FFP. The potential for similar tensions arising is considerable, given that securing permanent deals for loanees tends to happen very late.
The club's summer board meeting in Abu Dhabi, which will come soon, may help to bring the two 'sides' together. Mancini will be there, pushing his case and knowing his hand is strengthened now that he has delivered Sheikh Mansour bin-Zayed al Nahyan a title in the season he had asked for it. He is understood not to have been present at yesterday's board meeting, where the big decisions were not tackled.
City reported an annual loss of £194.9m for 2010-11 and unbridled spending cannot continue.
Among the other personnel issues to resolve is the future of Nigel de Jong, which looks uncertain after he held out for -- and did not secure -- a more lucrative contract last summer. The picture for him seems to have brightened and Mancini is understood to be relaxed about the fact that he is out of contract next summer.
Meanwhile, Aguero said the championship his goal secured had changed the complexion of the club.
"City have become a great side," he said. "You can say we are up there with the big boys with the title. Let's hope it is the start of a run of trophies.
"The main thing is that we carry on. It's always great when you're strengthening. But obviously we've got a good squad. Let's see how many people we can keep from this squad and if we can improve on it, great." (© Independent News Service)