Manchester City fans rattled by Yaya Toure's mixed messages
Even by summer transfer market standards, it was an exceptional form of farce that Manchester City found themselves engulfed in yesterday, as they sought to reject suggestions that a failure to wish Yaya Toure a proper happy birthday gave him grounds to leave the club.
City insisted last night that their star midfielder was not for sale, with three years to run on the contract they gave him last summer.
But after Toure had followed up an extraordinary outburst from his agent Dimitri Seluk with a series of contradictory tweets, the last of which stated that Seluk had been right, City's senior executives became party to attempts to reach the player to establish what, if anything, the problem might be.
Chief executive Ferran Soriano found himself on the receiving end of the initial criticism from Seluk, who is remembered for a similarly timed attack 12 months ago, also themed on City's lack of love, which won Toure – his only major client – a significant pay rise.
This time, Seluk lambasted the club for neglecting to wish Toure a happy 31st birthday during a VIP reception at the St Regis hotel on Saadiyat Island, amid last week's post-season tour of Abu Dhabi.
He added that if Toure's departure was followed by City failing to retain the title then Soriano should have to "sweep the streets in Trafalgar Square for a day."
City, who say they had received no sense that Toure is in any way unhappy, kept Trafalgar Square out of it.
But they were quick to detail the fairly exhaustive ways they had found to offer their man many happy returns last week.
No, there had been nothing specific at that reception, but a birthday cake had been left for him in the player lounge, 'Happy Birthday' had been sung for him on the plane home from Abu Dhabi and a 'Happy Birthday Yaya' Facebook post had received 250,000 'likes' – more than any other posting by the club on Facebook.
That seemed to be the end of it until @toure_yaya42's (Toure's Twitter handle) afternoon intervention, which first offered an assurance – "Please do not take words that do not come out of MY mouth seriously" – but then something considerably less promising .
"Everything dimitry (sic) said is true. He speaks for me. I will give an interview after world cup to explain."
City believe that Toure's twitter feed is put together by one of his PR entourage, but it was another of those unsettling episodes which have beset the club since they won the title 10 days ago.
The most unsettling of them all, of course, was the club's failure to comply with Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules, incurring a transfer cap, fine and a Champions League squad reduction for 2014/15.
All that has led to chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak giving the first verbal response from anyone at City to their written settlement with the governing body.
Published on the club's website yesterday, barely an hour after the European Commission had dealt a blow to City's hopes that FFP would be ruled illegal by confirming that the regime did not reject EU competition law, Khaldoon pointed out City had zero debts.
"We don't pay a penny to service any debt," he said, in what felt like a dig at Manchester United's debt-financed business model.
"For me, that is a sustainable model. However, our friends in Uefa seem to believe otherwise. They have a view. We have ours. I disagree with their views, but we are pragmatic.
"But I think there is one thing our fans need to know: we will do as always what is best for this club and for the fans.
"And if it means sometimes we need to take a pinch, we will take a pinch and we will move on. [This] will not compromise us."
City, meanwhile are planning for next season on the basis they will only need five home-grown players for their Champions League squad rather than eight, it can be disclosed.
City will only be permitted a 21-man European squad rather than the usual 25 as part of Uefa's sanctions for breaching the FFP rules.
Uefa sources had indicated last week that City would still need to have eight home-grown players in the reduced squad, but the club are understood to believe they only need to name five and are actively working on that basis.
That has had a significant impact on Manuel Pellegrini's plans for the transfer market for the summer – as part of the FFP settlement, City have guaranteed to limit their net transfer spending to £49million.
It means there will now be less emphasis on signing home-grown players or keeping those players such as James Milner, who has been linked with a move away from the Etihad.
Uefa would not confirm the exact rule on home-grown players for the 21-man squad, however.
A Uefa spokesman said: "Uefa are not currently in a position to make any further comment relating to individual settlement agreements at this time."
City chairman al-Mubarak has said the club will not suffer FFP sanctions again.
He told the club's website: "This year, we will break even. Next year, we will go into profitability.
"We will keep investing in the club, we will keep investing in youth, we will have a sustainable project, in Manchester and across the board in the city football group."