Manchester City Heads To The Bernabeu Thanks To The Season They Can't Erase

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 26: James Milner of Manchester City reacts after his team conceded a second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield on August 26, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Manchester City has spent millions to win the trophies that Sheikh Mansour craved, but the £122.35 the Citizens wasted in 2008-09 still haunts them.

Manchester City spent £118.5 million in transfer fees to finish fifth in 2010, £143 million two seasons ago to earn a spot in the Champions League and another £77 million last year to win the English Premier League last year, but how much did they spend to throw roadblocks up as they go in search of the most coveted trophy in European football?

£122.35 million, much to the delight of Michel Platini.

City's 10th place Premier League finish way back in 2008-09 seems like ancient history, another era in the club's history entirely, but no amount of trophies won or fantastic players bought can shake off that dreadful season. That disastrous and expensive campaign continues to haunt the Citizens.

The ghosts of that season sends them to the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday for their Champions League opener. Real Madrid will be waiting for them. Meanwhile, their rivals Manchester United -- last year's second place finishers in the Premier League -- get to take on Galatasaray.

For the second consecutive season, City have found themselves in the Champions League's "Group of Death" as a result of their low UEFA coefficient, which forced them out of the top pot for the draw. And while the coefficient may seem like mystical mathematics, the reason behind City's low ranking should be obvious to all.

The coefficient formula takes into account a club's performance in European competition over the previous five seasons, in addition to the country's league coefficient. The Citizens stack up just fine with some of the top clubs in most years, but the 3.586 points they took in 2009-10 is the lowest of any team in the coefficient's top 23. That embarrassing number is the result of missing out on Europe that year, the fruits of the labor of the previous season's team -- a squad City shelled out £122.35 million for to watch them finish perfectly midtable.

That a team could spend so much money and get so little in return is mind-boggling. Platini has repeatedly told the world that spending beyond a team's means is the threat to the solvency of modern football on multiple levels, but even the UEFA president has apparently wiped the debacle of City's 2008-09 campaign from his memory.

City did steal Vincent Kompany from Hamburg for £6 million four years ago, but that still leaves more than £116 million spent on Jo, Tal Ben Haim, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Pablo Zabaleta, Robinho, Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy, Nigel de Jong and Shay Given. All of that, along with the odd last-minute signing of Glauber from Nuremberg, was supposed to usher in the new Sheikh Mansour funded era at Eastlands filled with trophies and glory.

But instead of thrills and silverware, City's expensive new boys managed a mere two wins away from home all season. They lost three more matches than they won in the league, and instead of challenging their rivals from the red side of Manchester, the Citizens lost twice to the Red Devils without scoring a single goal.

That disastrous year spurred even more spending. Carlos Tevez headlined 10 new additions, and while that wasn't enough to earn a Champions League spot, it was good for fifth and a coefficient-saving place in the Europa League.

One season later, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Mario Balotelli boosted City's coefficient and prestige, notching a Champions League berth. And while it did not count towards the coefficient, the club finally got to re-acknowledge the existence of their trophy case with a FA Cup win. City's climb up the England tables and into European was finally underway.

And then, the big one: Citizens conquered England last season. Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy joined on during the summer of 2011, and those additions -- quite literally, in Aguero's case -- fired City to the Premier League summit. Ahead of United. On goal difference.

Yet here in 2012, as City get ready to play Madrid, United will play Galatasaray. And next Champions League match day, when the Red Devils play CFR Cluj, the Citizens will have to play Borussia Dortmund. Thank you, coefficient and thank you, 2008-09

To be raked over in the Champions League because of their failures four years ago isn't new for the Citizens. Their Premier League champion celebrations were tempered last season by their inability to get out of the Champions League group stage. Of course, that was because they were grouped with Bayern Munich, Villarreal* and Napoli, another lovely gift from the £122.35 million boys.

*Doesn't seem so bad in retrospect.

That 2008-09 season was a mere four years ago, which is hardly ancient history, but in City's case, it feels like it. Only Kompany and Zabaleta remain from that miserable 11-man shopping spree, while the rest play for clubs ranging from AC Milan in the case of Robinho to Glauber's Rapid Bucharest. And then there is Tal Ben Haim, who at 30 years old can't even find a team.

As soon as City begins to forget that season, though, Tuesday clash with Real Madrid comes rushing back. So does the two-time defending Bundesliga champions that are waiting for them, and the very realistic possibility of another Champions League group stage elimination.

Platini has finally punished wasteful spending. Of course, in true UEFA style, Platini's most consequential hit on money gone mad was completely unintentional, but £122.35 million wasted is £122.35 wasted and City will be well aware of that on Tuesday at the Bernabeu.

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