By Greg Stobart
That Roberto Mancini's name barely made mention as the Manchester City board met at the club's Knightsbridge hotel on the evening before the FA Cup final a fortnight ago said it all. With, or as we now know without, the Italian, those in charge - real charge - at the Etihad Stadium, have plans that extend far beyond the sacking of their beleaguered former manager over the coming months.
At the heart of those plans; a £120 million summer shopping spree that will "stun English football", say sources.
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Edinson Cavani, Fernandinho, Isco, Thiago Alcantara, Jesus Navas and Diego Novaretti make up City's stellar six-man shortlist drawn up in a series of meetings between director of football Txiki Begiristain, chief executive Ferran Soriano and chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, who reports directly to Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi owners who have bankrolled the club into the upper echelons of the English game.
Yet the club's disastrous title defence this term, which saw them finish 11 points behind champions Manchester United and Mancini sacked within two days of their humbling FA Cup final defeat to Wigan, has accelerated work behind the scenes as the club prepare to face Chelsea in a St. Louis friendly in the early hours of Friday morning.
Manuel Pellegrini confirmed his departure from Malaga on Wednesday ahead of his expected move to City to replace Mancini, who sent flowers to City staff at the club's Carrington training ground this week and ensured his personal belongings and bicycle were removed from the complex.
Meanwhile, amid the farewells taking place in Manchester, the £54m-rated Cavani remains the club's number one target this summer, as Goal exclusively revealed in April.
The 26-year-old striker has already been the subject of talks between City and the Uruguayan's club Napoli, which were confirmed by the Serie A side's owner Aurelio De Laurentiis on Tuesday.
The Italian club are keen to include Edin Dzeko - who City value at £22m - in any deal for Cavani but Goal understands that the Bosnian is likely to wait for confirmation of Robert Lewandowski's expected transfer to Bayern Munich before committing to any move, as he is keen on a return to the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund.
Malaga attacker Isco has also told City that he will make the move to Manchester provided the almost inevitable completion of Pellegrini's switch to the Premier League outfit goes through in the coming weeks, with the 21-year-old Spaniard a long-term target despite his recent new contract almost doubling his previous release clause of £17.5m to £30m. Begiristain, although a fan of Isco, is unwilling to pay more than £22m for his services and reports surfaced late on Wednesday suggesting that Real Madrid were in advanced talks to sign the playmaker.
Yet such is the depth of City's planning that every targeted position has two or three names to cover any potential shortfall in the market this summer.
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City, meanwhile, remain in deadlock with Shakhtar Donetsk, who want £41m for Brazilian star Fernandinho, who took to Twitter on Monday expressing his desire to join the Premier League runners-up. As with both Isco and Jesus Navas, club officials are reluctant to spend much over the £20m mark but expect the 28-year-old box-to-box midfielder's attempts to manoeuvre an exit from the Ukrainian outfit could see them soften their stance over his departure.
A move for Thiago Alcantara is also being considered by the club, after City officials made enquiries to Barcelona about the youngster in secret talks in Catalunya in 2012. They, typically, face stiff competition from neighbours United in the pursuit of his signature, however, with a fee of between £15m and £20m thought to be enough to convince the Spanish champions to sell their out-of-favour midfielder.
With concerns over Financial Fair Play regulations at the forefront of the minds of City's top brass, talks have also addressed recouping up to £40m this summer through player sales and the salary savings to fund their transformative summer splurge, coupled with the £20m paid by Milan for Mario Balotelli in January still sat in the club's coffers
The most high-profile and lucrative departure alongside Dzeko and Nasri is Carlos Tevez, whose annual salary comes to approximately £9.5m. The controversial Argentine is a target for Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Monaco.
Kolo Toure, who is nearing ever closer to a move to Liverpool, pockets £115,000-a-week at City and will likely be replaced by Mexican-based Argentine Diego Novaretti - the tall and rangy defender, who currently plays for Deportivo Toluca, is out of contract at the end of the season - while the club's contributions to the £90,000-a-week wages of Roque Santa Cruz and Wayne Bridge also come to an end this summer.
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While Begiristain is at the forefront of the club's player recruitment drive and salary restructure, chief executive Soriano has been working closely with City's swelling commercial department, which will hire a further 20 staff in an office in Mayfair over the next few months.
The announcement of City's partnership with the New York Yankees and subsequent move into MLS with New York City FC is, according to sources close to the club, simply the start of the Etihad Stadium outfit's efforts to spread their brand across Asia, the USA and South America as the Premier League runners-up follow the lead of United in capitalising on English football's vast global appeal.
Meanwhile, the club are continuing work on their vast Eastlands site, so large that it covers two postcodes in the Ardwick and Openshaw areas of Manchester. City's £100m Etihad Campus, which has been designed to attract and develop the best young talent on the planet, is a year from completion, while the club are in consultation with the local community regarding a 6,000 seat expansion of the Etihad Stadium's south stand ahead of the 2015-16 season.
Goal understands that the club are also considering undertaking further work on the north stand with a view to surpassing Arsenal's 60,361 capacity at the Emirates Stadium and becoming second only to Old Trafford as the largest club ground in the country. This summer will also see City continue to upgrade the middle tier of the stadium, improving seats and hospitality suites as the club look to attract a greater number of corporate clients to the club.
Quite simply, the pace with which City are operating this summer both on the pitch and off it speaks volumes for the club's desire to not only catch their city neighbours but ultimately surpass them and become a genuine major player among the world's more powerful clubs.
Al Mubarak, the most powerful man involved in the day-to-day running of the club, has even had to delay his annual message to the fans on the club's website, such is the volume of work being undertaken in preparation for the arrival of Pellegrini and the forthcoming transfer window.
At City, the work has only just begun.
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