For all their money, Manchester City still can't cut it at the top level

Ex-Arsenal midfielder and Unibet columnist Adrian Clarke believes that City are no closer than his former club to European glory...

It’s all Martin Demichelis’ fault. When he’s not there, poor old Joleon Lescott gets the blame. Yes, that’s right. If only Manchester City had another world-class centre-back, they’d rule the world.

Everyone’s saying it, so it’s got to be fact. Except it’s not, is it?

With or without one convenient weak-linked scapegoat in the heart of their defence, this City side is no closer to European football’s elite than they were in 2012. Based on what I saw over two legs against an ageing, deteriorating Barcelona, they might even be slipping further behind.

Yes they did OK in this season’s Champions League. They didn’t disgrace themselves. But no home media bias can disguise that over two legs, the Catalans didn’t need to get out of third gear to register a 4-1 aggregate win against them. Had last night’s referee not been quite as incompetent, it really should have been 6-2. Back in October, in their only meaningful contest against Bayern Munich, they were also given a footballing lesson.

Considering the generous Sheikh Mansour has pumped over £1billion into the club since 2008, considering their net spend on transfers since then has been £582million, and considering they’ve assembled the world’s highest paid squad in sport – averaging £100,764 a week in wages in 2013 - shouldn’t Manchester City’s project be rather more advanced by now?

I think so.

It’s impossible not to admire the strides City are making off the pitch. Around the Etihad Stadium they’re building a high-class infrastructure that will last long into the 21st century, and as a global brand they are successfully bringing home the bacon, with year on year rises in revenue and income.

Yet the core of the club, the team itself, feels like it’s stagnating. The money feels like it’s being squandered.

Being brutal, was Manuel Pellegrini indisputably the best option they could have targeted for the vacant manager’s job? I think not.

The likeable Chilean is doing just fine, and has successfully reinvigorated a squad that had grown disillusioned under Roberto Mancini, but so far he’s failed to impress tactically.

When challenged in big matches against Chelsea (twice), Bayern and Barcelona, and when trailing in difficult circumstances at Aston Villa, Sunderland and at home to Wigan, Pellegrini has struggled to come up with the right answers. There has been no obvious Plan B.

Yes, they’ve won plenty of big games – and City looked sensational when doing so – but were those Premier League victories by-products of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure’s undoubted natural brilliance rather than managerial masterstrokes? I tend to think so.

Recent signings have also had a half-baked feel about them. Tell me which players would get anywhere near the Bayern, Barca or Real Madrid first team…

Alvaro Negredo is the closest. He’s been a beast this season, and could in theory challenge.

However, while Fernandinho and Jesus Navas are good players, decent Champions League level players, they’re no world-beaters. Stevan Jovetic is an enigmatic talent. And Demichelis, poor Demichelis, is a pony-tailed pantomime villain that will soon disappear from this stage. Before them, Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Matija Nastasic, Maicon and Javi Garcia were all strange acquisitions. None ready to conquer at the highest level that’s for sure.

I like watching City. In Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Toure, Silva and Aguero they have plenty of high calibre talents who will excite, and help them win things on a domestic level. That’s with or without Pellegrini.

However, until the club’s hierarchy realise they’re still way behind in their pursuit of the real big boys, City won’t progress on the international stage.

In fact, unless they go all-in and spend silly money on attracting the kind of players – and manager - that would feel right at home with Barca, Bayern or Real Madrid, they’ll continue to stand still.

In terms of controlling matches at the top level, and possessing the ammunition to damage the best there is, Manchester City have a lot of work to do.

Based on this week’s evidence they don’t look any closer to ruling the world than Arsenal.

And that, all things considered, really isn’t good enough. 

Bayern Munich are the 2.90 favourites for this season's Champions League, check out the latest odds here