From a long list of splurges Manchester City's pursuit of Samir Nasri reveals most about the power of Abu Dhabi money. Planning a life away from Arsenal, Nasri cast his gaze on Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona until City's proposed salary of £9m a year blew the others out of the market.
According to reliable reports, last season's FA Cup winners were prepared to pay the French midfielder £50,000 a week more than United and £60,000 a week more than Arsenal's improved contract offer. Nasri's initial desire to move to Old Trafford evaporated once City's offer of £173,000 a week assumed such tempting shape. In today's Premier League, the wealth of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan is unanswerable.
With the transfer fee, the Nasri deal would be a £69m spend for Roberto Mancini's employers. But the money is only the second most interesting part of this gold-rush tale. On the pitch an evolutionary leap is evident in City's efforts to improve on fifth- and third-place finishes in the last two campaigns. The creativity department now runs the operation after an 18-month spell of conservatism in team selection and psychological reprogramming by the martinet Mancini.
In Italy they say he is baciato dalla grazia (kissed by good fortune) but there was no sign of providence when City's players were scrapping on the training ground, moaning about their leader or living it up in bars or at student parties. Back then, when City became known as "The Fight Club", Mancini proclaimed the virtues of the "1-0 win" as he strove to blend a united nations squad and assimilate his own recruits with those from the Mark Hughes era.
All the while City earned high marks for defensive caution and midfield muscularity but were few people's idea of an entertaining night out. Then, at the Etihad Stadium on Monday night, a stocky, breezy Argentinian striker disrobed to join the action against Swansea City. Two goals and 30 minutes later, Carlos Tevez was being described as the poor man's Sergio Agüero.
After the eulogies came the scoffing: a brace against promoted Swansea had been ludicrously inflated to Messianic levels, some said. Between those extremes there were grounds to believe City have found their "spark" player: the purveyor of the unexpected whose influence is felt throughout the team, in the style of Eric Cantona at United.
Prior to this summer's transfer dealings City were a mechanical construction: two strong centre-backs and as many as three robust central midfielders (Yaya Touré, Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong), with James Milner also in contention and probably one striker, Tevez, whose main calling card was industry.
A £600m investment had brought Sheikh Mansour an alternative version of Chelsea: a bulldozer side, big, forthright, but not blessed with artistes.
The owner's first major signing was Robinho, who thought he was moving to Chelsea until City's money interfered with the satnav. Kaka was another early target. So ingenuity is no new entry on City's shopping list. But it still comes as a welcome shock to their supporters to find that Mancini could soon be able to field an inventive team-within-a-team of Agüero, Tevez, Nasri, David Silva, Adam Johnson and arguably Mario Balotelli. In this arrangement Edin Dzeko becomes a bigger, luxury workhorse.
The speed of this transition will disturb United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool if City build on their 4-0 victory over Swansea with a win at Bolton Wanderers on Sunday. While raising the excitement quota Mancini is trying to purge the last of those from the Hughes era who he considers an obstacle to progress or below Premier League- winning calibre.
Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy, Roque Santa Cruz, Wayne Bridge, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha appeared on the early summer squad list as ghosts from another time. Even Milner, a £26m purchase from Aston Villa, now stands on the fringe of a midfield that will have to accommodate Barry, Yaya Touré, De Jong, Nasri, Silva and Adam Johnson, unless Mancini can devise a formation that retains his six-man defensive base while exploiting all the attacking weapons now at his disposal. Mancini said yesterday: "For me, if we win 38 games 1-0, it is OK, but this is impossible. It is clear that now we have more offensive players and it is important they all play and maybe that we take more risks than last year. This year, we need to score more goals if we want to win the Premier League."
The mix of forward talents is entirely cosmopolitan, and largely Latin, in line with a trend at all Europe's leading clubs. Agüero and Tevez (Argentina), if the latter stays, would combine with France's Nasri and Silva from Spain, with Balotelli representing Italy. The zippy Johnson is English football's only big contributor to the City project in advanced areas.
The Silva-Agüero axis was instantly enlivening ("they play the same language", Mancini said), and offered an immediate release from the sometimes robotic style employed in an earlier stage of the team's development. By breaking up those set patterns, Silva, Agüero and perhaps Nasri will render City more unpredictable and therefore dangerous as they challenge for their first league title since 1968.
If Tevez's game of bluff works again his camp may yet find another club to take him (Internazionale or Real Madrid were his preferred destinations, at the end of last term). The word in the industry, though, is that no club will want to pay £40m for a 27-year-old whose re-sale value will collapse the minute he signs his next deal. That hardly seemed to matter as Agüero brought sparkle and threat to his cameo against Swansea, and the pursuit of Nasri displayed Sheikh Mansour's eagerness to splash now on art, rather than more artisans