As the one summer target that eluded them continues to shine in La Liga, would Isco have been the missing piece in City's quest for European dominance?
Manchester City showed during last weekend’s trouncing of Manchester United that they are so much more than a collection of expensive imports.
Instead they are an outstanding collective with a strength in depth rarely bettered. Plenty of clubs throughout history have had phenomenal starting XIs. But have any had as many able replacements as Manuel Pellegrini can now call upon? If so, it would not take long to count them.
It can also be argued that the Blues are now in possession of the best centre-back and the best central midfielder in the country – with Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure somehow getting even better. And considering how good they were previously, that is a terrifying reality for City’s domestic rivals.
Given how the Blues tore United apart with the kind of free-flowing football seasoned Pellegrini observers knew was coming, it could be argued that Isco would have been an unnecessary extravagance. And yet the way he has started his career with Real Madrid suggests otherwise.
The 21-year-old attacking midfielder has started all seven of Real’s matches to date, scoring five goals and providing one assist. He has also been crowned man-of-the-match twice (not bad when you consider his teammates) and his overall rating on Whoscored.com is second only to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Some City fans may argue that the ability of their current crop – and the timely resurgence of Samir Nasri – renders any discussion about a might-have-been irrelevant. But I disagree, because during the early part of the summer, Isco seemed to be Pellegrini’s number one transfer target.
There was public wooing and some equally public reciprocation, at least until the midfielder swapped Malaga for Madrid.
But now it is clear why the Chilean was so keen to bring his midfield marvel with him to Manchester.
This afternoon’s 3-2 defeat to Aston Villa suggests they are far from the complete package. It is easy to fire yourself up for derby day; the trick is to do the same thing regardless of the opposition. But days like today will be rare once City’s squad really gel.
You could argue that a player like Isco could have unlocked a stubborn Villa rear-guard in ways Pellegrini’s men could not. But domestically the likes of David Silva and Sergio Aguero (both missing today) have proved to be naturals at just that.
City may have enough to dominate domestically this season, with their rivals having either weaker or less experienced squads. But in Europe it is a whole other matter, and where that moment of sparkle is required, City may fall short against the very best.
Their first test comes in a matter of days, when the reigning European champions Bayern Munich come to town. And it is a test they may just pass if they can recreate last Sunday's energy and determination.
But in the years to come, as Isco continues his trajectory and Pellegrini can only wonder what might have been, that one signing he missed out on during a summer of otherwise perfect business could be the one that prevents an eventual clean-sweep of honours.
Is Isco the one that got away? Or do City have the players to make waves both domestically and in Europe?
image: © Klapax1