Manchester City: The Most Important Team in the World in 2010-11
Just as Real Madrid was the most important team on the planet last season, Manchester City will be the pivot upon which European and Premiership football rotate this year.
This time last year, the Florentino Perez Galactico Mark 2 project was in full swing with Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Kaka (AC Milan), Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa (Liverpool), Karim Benzema (Lyon), Raul Albiol (Valencia), and Esteban Granero (Getafe) all joining Real.
In buying up those players, Los Blancos weakened each and every team somewhat substantially, bar Valencia, who were propelled into the top four of La Liga by a rampant Barcelona bound David Villa.
Xabi Alonso's sale and its impact on Liverpool's season has been well documented, Kaka's sale from AC Milan to a lesser extent, and Ronaldo not being part of the Red Devils' squad is one of the primary reasons for Sir Alex Ferguson's team missing out on Premiership and European glory.
One of the other reasons for United missing out on the Champions League is Arjen Robben, whom Real Madrid sold to Bayern Munich last summer.
In needing to recover money from player sales after their £150 million outlay in June and July, Real Madrid basically put every Dutch player on their books up for sale.
Robben went to Bayern Munich and inspired them to a league and cup double before losing out in the Champions League final to a Wesley Sneijder-inspired Inter Milan, who in winning the European showcase won the treble.
In short, Real Madrid weakened some of Europe's strongest teams, while strengthening others.
This season it would seem as if Manchester City are going to be the new Real Madrid, especially when it comes to spending.
Roberto Mancini has only been in charge of the club since January and already he has spent £85 million, whilst salvaging just £3 million from player sales.
High-profile signings this summer like Jerome Boateng (Hamburg), David Silva (Valencia), Yaya Toure (Barcelona), and Aleksandar Kolarov (Lazio) have set the cat amongst the pigeons as far as the English Premier League is concerned and the Citizens have immediately jumped from 30/1 outsiders to 6/1 third favourites to win the title.
The list of players that City are currently linked with are stars that would grace any team in England, if not abroad.
Fernando Torres' problems with Liverpool do not look passable, and his transfer is growing increasingly likely. If he goes, Steven Gerrard may follow, despite the club's recent claims that he wants to stay.
Aston Villa, Martin O'Neill, and James Milner are in talks as we speak with the Villa midfielder looking to join his ex-captain, Gareth Barry, at the Eastlands.
While newspapers in Italy are claiming that the deal to bring Mario Balotelli to England from Inter Milan is a done deal, the truth behind that particular transfer is that the clubs have agreed an initial fee of around £25 million, which would that will grow if certain achievements are attained and that the players' advisers, along with Inter Milan's and City's executives, are still negotiating the fine print.
If that deal doesn't come off, then City have irons in other fires after registering an interest in Edin Dzeko (Wolfsburg).
However, that deal looks distant as Dzeko had a £30 million buy-out clause in his contract that elapsed on July 1, meaning that Wolfsburg can now hike up the asking price.
A distinct reality after Steve McLaren's good early work in the transfer market saw his new team snap up the highly rated Simon Kjaer from under Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool's noses.
One unlikely player that Roberto Mancini is also linked with is Landon Donovan, after Mancini said that the midfielder was a player he rated.
Where the U.S international would fit in at the Eastlands is anyone's guess, but with new Premiership rules coming into play on Sept. 1, one thing is for sure, there will be plenty of houses up for sale in and around Manchester.
Under new EPL rules, each team must register 25 players on Sept. 1, 24 hours after the official closing of the summer transfer window.
In that 25, there must be at least eight home grown players. To qualify as a home grown player, the player in question must have played in either England or Wales for at least three years before the age of 21, regardless of nationality.
Currently, Manchester City has 38 recognised first-team players so it would be safe to say that some of them will be moved on.
Easy ones to pick out are Jo, Stephen Ireland, Craig Bellamy, Felipe Caciedo, David Gonzalez, Robinho, Roque Santa Cruz, and possibly Micah Richards and Vladimir Weiss.
Stephen Ireland has had a massive amount of problems off the field regarding his international duties with Ireland and seems to be at constant logger heads with someone.
With the Ireland door effectively closed, the Cork native seems to have turned his guns on Roberto Mancini. If everything you read is to be believed, the youth product has been told that he will not be given a jersey next season and that the club do not want him.
This immediately puts him into the melting pot for either the Fernando Torres or James Milner transfers. And if either club really plays their cards right, they could gain two or three quality signings for the price of one.
Ireland, Richards, Lescott, Weiss, Kelvin Etuhu, Greg Cunningham, Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright Phillips, Michael Johnson, and Bellamy would almost definitely interest Messrs. Hodgson and O'Neill.
One must wonder if actually offering their prized assets would be of more use to their respective clubs long term. Especially if they could immediately strengthen their own squads significantly.
Other teams interested in City's swollen ranks are almost every Premiership and La Liga team outside the Champions League spots and Santos, who would like Robinho to return home for free.
All in all, Manchester City is driving the transfer market in Europe all by themselves. So far it's £85 million and all things considered, that figure should rise to £110 million by the weekend.
If Torres and Milner sign add another £100 million to that, and then roll on January...
There is little doubt that Manchester City is viable league contenders for the title this year; whether they win it is another question.
The opening Premiership clash of the season between Tottenham Hotspur and City is already looking like a massive game if we are to judge both teams' potential this year, with the losing manager coming under intense pressure right from the off.
Who did Spurs play on the opening day last year?
A certain Liverpool team, led by none other than Rafael Benitez...