The Premier League runners-up head into the new season with the best squad in the league and a flourishing global brand, though doubts remain over Manuel Pellegrini's high lineSPECIAL REPORT
By Sam Lee
It was the Friday night before the FA Cup final when the modern Manchester City began to plunder new depths. Rumours swirled that Roberto Mancini was to be sacked and replaced by Manuel Pellegrini, regardless of the result against Wigan on the Saturday.
As it turned out, they put in a terrible display and lost. Mancini was gone the following Monday, the day Manchester United paraded their Premier League trophy around the city.
Dignity had gone away for a long weekend. City were risible at Wembley, and even when Mancini was put out of his misery - and justifiably so, in fairness - the club attracted widespread derision for the way they went about it.
The statement that accompanied the Italian's sacking was long-winded, but one word stuck in the mind. Holistic. An holistic approach. The men who had spent £1 billion on winning a Premier League title on goal difference now wanted to do it in a more wholesome manner.
But few could argue that they are not well down the path of change with the new season just days away.
The wage bill breathed a huge sigh of relief when Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure, Roque Santa Cruz and Wayne Bridge all moved on - in most cases not before time. It was a happy coincidence that those massive contracts - Tevez aside - expired this summer; it was the perfect opportunity for City to shed their reputation as lavish spenders. Sure, they have spent more than anybody else in England this summer, but there has been a clear change of tact.
Not only have they had to correct the haphazard approach to last summer's transfer market, but they had to back new manager Pellegrini. The Chilean is the man charged with taking the project forward on the pitch and he had inherited a squad which needed two summers' worth of additions.
Fernandinho and Jesus Navas were named on City's original shortlist of six transfer targets and were quickly snapped up to help welcome the new manager. Other players proved more difficult to obtain.
The club offered what they believed were reasonable sums for Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao, but both Napoli and Atletico Madrid demanded too much and City broke off negotiations. Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo were seen as cheaper, suitably quality alternatives.
Although the four names brought in may not "stun English football", as was hoped of City's transfer business at the start of the summer, they probably give Pellegrini the strongest squad in the land.
Maicon is gone already, Scott Sinclair could follow, Javi Garcia, Gareth Barry and Jack Rodwell will only feature sparingly, if at all. City hope Pepe will arrive from Real Madrid to complete the much-needed restoration job.
If things are looking promising on the pitch, they are certainly taking shape off it. The arrivals of Txiki Begiristain and Ferrano Soriano in 2012 were an important step towards the new-look City, and the former Barcelona duo have stepped up their efforts to revolutionise the club this summer. Far from being seen as the nouveau riche by European football's top executives, the pair have used their army of contacts to present a more acceptable face of the club over the past few months.
And although not officially part of the PR push, City were delighted to be invited to the Audi Cup in Munich where they rubbed shoulders with Bayern and AC Milan. An offer from Arsenal to take part in a lucrative friendly in Helsinki was also greatly received; there is a feeling that they have finally been accepted to an exclusive group.
An end-of-season jaunt to the United States provided Soriano with an opportunity to develop new revenue streams, which will no doubt be boosted by City's partnership with the New York Yankees in funding new MLS venture New York City FC. The club, and indeed the brand, is flourishing.
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Double training sessions have been loved and loathed in equal measure, and there is no suggestion the experienced coach will be involved in the kind of training ground rants that had become part of life under his predecessor.
While he does not get involved with every aspect of day-to-day coaching, he is on hand to step in and explain exactly what he is looking for carefully and concisely. There will be no language barrier to hide behind at City. Sergio Aguero's English has come on leaps and bounds, and Pellegrini is keen for all of his new signings to learn the lingo.
Indeed, Aguero wowed fans by speaking publicly at a 'City Live' event, where the playing squad mixed with press and 6000 of the club's fans. Nobody present would deny the holistic approach is taking shape.
The harmonious attitude around the club has helped to relax arguably the most important man in the whole set-up. Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak often mediated in the fractious relationship between Mancini and administrator Brian Marwood, but is now confident his three main men can take care of business across all aspects of the club with little supervision.
It would be naive to paint too rosy a picture on the eve of a campaign that promises to be so unpredictable; indeed, doubts linger around Carrington that Pellegrini's high line will work out, which could result in a degree of chopping and changing in the opening weeks of the season. But it is certainly fair to say that, five years after being taken over, the Manchester City world domination project is finally threatening to take off.