Losses piling up for Mancini's overpaid underachievers
Sitting in the company of two retired full internationals of considerable wealth, I asked what I thought was a perfectly reasonable question.
"If you're offered 80k a week, why bother haggling for 85k?" Surely the point had been reached where money would no longer be a concern, and such an increase wouldn't make much difference at all. They dismissed me immediately.
"Doesn't matter what you earn. If you're better than the bloke sitting next to you, there's no way he should be getting more than you. And that's the way it is."
Having reported a wage bill of £133m for last season, Manchester City are probably spending in the region of £150m this season given the signings that were made during the summer. If the above logic is one that resonates with any in that particular dressing room, it's no wonder the stories of player unrest and infighting seem to be constant.
In itself, there's nothing unusual with players rowing with one another. It's perfectly normal for those on the bench to resent those on the pitch, and it's understandable if lads are envious of their team-mates' salaries. But what cannot be allowed to continue is a scenario where the divide between the manager and players is ever-widening.
If Roberto Mancini has indeed lost the dressing room in the way it has been reported, there will only ever be one outcome. And it's going to be soon.
Predictably enough, the rows are dismissed by those on the inside as signs of commitment and desire. Kolo Toure told a radio station in Manchester that the criticism is helping them to play better and work harder. James Milner said the reports are a source of amusement to the squad and serve to strengthen their already close bond with one other. They can spin it any way they like, but if the next few days don't go to plan, the next big signing at Eastlands will be a new manager.
That said, the popularity of Mancini or the performances of the team may not be the greatest obstacles facing the club in its quest for world domination.
The rules introduced by UEFA recently regarding the financial activities of clubs competing in European competitions are designed to ensure clubs remain self-sufficient. There will be limits to the investment that can be made by benefactors and there will be limits to how much clubs are allowed to lose. Failure to comply will result in exclusion from the Champions League and the Europa League.
Currently City are nowhere near eligible under these rules and while the wage bill remains at existing levels, there is no way that is likely to change in time. Last month, the club announced losses of £121m for the 12 months up to May 2010, up from £92.5m for the previous year. Unless they adopt a very different strategy to the one they follow at present, expulsion from European competition awaits.
While such issues should focus the minds of the board ("financial fair-play is our conscience," according to club CEO Garry Cook), supporters judge the health of a club by what they see on the field.
City are two league points behind where they were at this point last season and they sacked Mark Hughes soon after. They are on the back of three straight defeats. The on-field row between Vincent Kompany and Emmanuel Adebayor last weekend at Wolves grabbed most people's attention, but it was Mancini's decision to bring on a defender in place of Adebayor while they were losing which apparently caused a greater stir among the players afterwards.
Having chucked in the old 'the doctor won't let me fly' number to extend his stay in Argentina (the City staff had no problem with him flying in the opposite direction the previous week), Carlos Tevez is now back in Manchester and available for selection this afternoon. Even in such an expensively assembled squad, his absence is felt far greater than any other. Anything but victory against West Bromwich Albion this afternoon would increase the likelihood of an imminent departure for Mancini. A home defeat to Manchester United on Wednesday evening would surely confirm it.
Defiant in his assertion that he won't leave unless sacked, he believes he is still the man to take the club to where it feels it now rightly belongs.
He knows all too well how his bosses operated when they ousted Mark Hughes last season, and few would place money on him remaining there if they slip further down the table this week. "For me, it is totally clear, I will stay at City until they fire me," he said. At least he knows it's coming.