City's rivals holding out for more money
Manchester City have a problem that their cash can't fix.
They have too much money and not enough homegrown players and everyone knows it.
Their bottomless pit of petrodollars is less significant than the hard numbers in the dressing room. City's squad are at least five homegrown players short of the necessary quota of eight.
It's a lucky number in Singapore. It's a ball and chain at Manchester City. It's a licence to haggle for rivals.
Like Clint Eastwood in an old western, manager Manuel Pellegrini clutches a fist full of dollars and is desperate for action. But his enemies are all hanging on for a few dollars more.
Pellegrini famously said that tedious talk of 4-3-3 and 4-5-1 was about as relevant as reeling off telephone numbers, but his fellow title contenders are now talking telephone- number transfer fees.
Liverpool are laughing all the way to Manchester City's bank in the Raheem Sterling saga.
Thanks to the intervention of their exasperated Bostonian owners, the Reds have finally seized the initiative. Sterling rots in the reserves until City's oligarchs return with a figure closer to £50 million ($105m).
The 20-year-old is probably worth no more than half that figure, but English clubs pay a premium for signing English players from rivals.
It's a homegrown player tax. Liverpool boast the footballer with the right passport. City boast the budget.
The odds are stacked in favour of the Scousers, who need every penny to bankroll Brendan Rodgers' shopping trolley dash through the aisles of insanity.
The departures of Frank Lampard, James Milner, Micah Richards, Scott Sinclair and Dedryck Boyata have lightened City's financial load, but the move leaves the club gambling on costly locals.
And they're just not coming at the moment.
In the case of Sterling, Liverpool find themselves where every English club wish to be right now, in the same sentence as Man City in the daily transfer-rumours column.
This is their Cuba Gooding Jr moment, a chance to dance around the boardroom whilst ordering City's desperate management to show them the money.
Beyond English borders, of course, City's chequebook wavers are in the unenviable position of being a rich club with a relatively poor history. Cash alone doesn't buy them a seat at the top table.
In the most vicious of circles, pedigree cannot be bought. It must be earned. The elite are instinctively drawn to the elite and it's impossible to achieve one without the other.
City's top target, Paul Pogba, has reportedly asked for obscene wages to go with the £71m demanded from Juventus.
Between Pogba, his agent and the Italian club, the three parties are almost taunting City, brushing them off for their impertinence.
They demand prohibitive cash sums from City knowing that the Citizens have nothing else to give. Apart from money, what else could possibly tempt Pogba to move to Manchester?
City are caught between a rock and a hard place, not big enough to entice the world's best but too big to accommodate England's best. So Fabian Delph also turned down one of the richest sports clubs on the planet.
Officially, the Aston Villa midfielder reneged on a City transfer following vitriolic abuse from Villa fans on social media sites.
A noble explanation but, if a footballer pulled out of an impending transfer whenever a tweeter foamed at the mouth, the market would implode.
A more credible claim might be his concerns over prospective game time. At 25, Delph has established himself as an England international. Picking up more money is less significant than picking up splinters on the bench.
City's dugout is haunted by the stalled careers of young Englishmen. Call it the Scott Sinclair story, a familiar tale at the Etihad, where rising stars arrive as relative financial paupers and football princes and leave the other way round.
Delph is guaranteed his preferred central midfield role at Villa. He wasn't even sure of a place in the first team at City. Common sense prevailed over the cash in the end.
Delph joins Pogba and Kevin de Bruyne as near-misses, while City wait for Liverpool to accept the latest telephone-number offer for Sterling.
Until the winger joins, City's solitary signing is Turkey striker Enes Unal, an 18-year-old prospect from Bursaspor.
The transfer deadlock effectively leaves the club with only one option. City must pay Liverpool whatever it takes to sign Sterling and establish their title credentials.
Otherwise their money becomes meaningless.
With all that unspent cash around them, City's owners currently look like thirsty men surrounded by seawater.