ABU DHABI // If Manchester City qualify for next season's Champions League, it will send a message to the rest of Europe that the club really mean business, Shay Given, their Republic of Ireland international goalkeeper, said yesterday.
City were beaten to the Premier League's fourth Champions League spot by Tottenham Hotspur last season, after losing 1-0 at home to the London club in the penultimate game of the campaign.
However, City are in position to achieve Champions League football this time around. Despite Sunday's 2-0 defeat at Chelsea, fourth-placed City are four points ahead of Tottenham in fifth with eight games left.
"It would be a huge statement to other European clubs that Manchester City have arrived and they are going to be around for a long time, that they are going to be the team to watch over the coming years," Given, 34, said.
"Even to attract more players in the summer, and to keep some of the players we have happy, because everyone wants to play in the Champions League."
To be able to compete in club football's biggest tournament would, according to Given, be a sign of how far the club have progressed since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bought City in 2008.
"To bring Champions League football to the City of Manchester Stadium [Eastlands] and teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid - looking back years ago, that would have been fantasy stuff to the fans, but now there's a realistic chance of it happening."
City have won just twice in their last seven games, meaning Tottenham again look like providing the competition for the coveted fourth spot.
Harry Redknapp's team have a game in hand and have still to travel to Eastlands.
"The result was disappointing but Chelsea are a strong side, especially at home. We've still got enough games to secure the Champions League spot," Given said.
"We started the season wanting to win the league, you've got to aim high," said Given.
"But it looks like we're going to fall a bit short of that. The next best thing is to get in the Champions League. Nobody wants to finish fourth, they want to finish at the top.
"But as the season's progressed we've dropped too many points and it looks as though the most realistic chance is the Champions League."
City's results against last season's top four have cost them their chance of the title this season. Against Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs, they have won just once, losing three and drawing three. Tellingly, they have only scored in two of those seven encounters.
"Last year we probably dropped too many points against the lesser teams and picked up more against the bigger teams," Given said.
"The Premier League's such a competitive league, there aren't any easy games which showed this year when Manchester United were five or six points clear and then lost to Wolves, who were bottom.
"I think the thing with City too is that when we roll into town, teams tend to lift their game probably because they may be a little bit jealous of the players we have and the money that's being spent on the team.
"We've got to rise to that challenge and be more consistent.
"We have to play Tottenham at home as well, which will be a huge game.
"The good thing is that we don't have to rely on other teams to drop points, it's all about what we do and that's very important."
Roberto Mancini, the manager, may have to take the shackles off his team if they are to achieve their goal this season.
Without the injured Carlos Tevez, City were toothless in attack on Sunday and mustered just two shots on target.
David Platt, City's assistant coach, defended accusations that the team were too negative against Chelsea.
"We competed right up to the 70th minute, but it [the ball] kept coming back at us," he said after the game. "To concede from a set piece was disappointing. I wouldn't say it's harsh."
He added: "Everybody's dropping points so we'll continue along our road but we want to stay within the top four."
Given said City are still a work in progress under Mancini. "It takes time for the manager to get his methods across and for new players to blend in.
"We're more of a solid unit and harder for teams to break down, but then sometimes you sacrifice going forward."
Given believes that Mancini's grounding in Italian football has made City harder to beat.
"Italians in general do a lot of work on when you haven't got the ball, trying to stop the opposition. But obviously it's a case of striking the right balance between attack and defence, getting that right is the important thing."
Given, who started his England career at Blackburn Rovers in 1994, signed for City in January 2009 in a £7 million (Dh41.8m) deal after 12 years at Newcastle United.
At the time, Mancini labelled him "one of the best five goalkeepers in the world" and his City career started brightly, a highlight being a match-winning penalty save from Frank Lampard as Chelsea were beaten 2-1 at home in 2009. But, in April of the 2009/10 season, the Irishman dislocated a shoulder in a game against Arsenal.
The enforced absence eventually allowed Joe Hart, the club's promising young English goalkeeper, to stake his claim and Mancini handed him City's No 1 spot this season.
It has been frustrating for Given to watch from the sidelines; his first-team outings this season have been restricted to Europa League games.
His chances of usurping Hart were hit by another shoulder injury that required surgery to repair a torn tendon.
"Joe's got a big future. He's only 23 so he's got maybe 15 more years ahead of him," said Given."But, it's not ideal for me that I'm not playing. I want to get back in the team and Joe's the same, he wants to play every game, and so do I.
"At the minute it's frustrating for me but things can change very quickly in football and hopefully if I get my chance I'll be ready to take it again."
Mancini sympathises with Given's situation. "It is not a simple position," he said.
"You can change the other players every game but the goalkeeper is different. That is the only reason why Shay has not played so often because he is a fantastic goalkeeper."
A second shoulder injury in the space of 12 months does not worry Given, though: "I've just been extremely unlucky. If anything, it's probably a good thing that it's two different shoulders."
A lack of playing time, however, is a lingering concern for a man who has a record 110 caps for the Republic of Ireland and hopes to play in the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
"It's not ideal, obviously. As they say in Ireland, you can train until the cows come home, but if you're not getting the game time it's different. You're not match fit, not match sharp.
"That is a concern obviously. We've got big games coming up with Ireland, in May and June [Nations Cup matches versus Northern Ireland and Scotland and a Euro 2012 qualifier in Macedonia]. It's important that I get some game time between now and then."