There is always something a bit puzzling about people who want to take over the world, to the extent that such people are usually portrayed in film and on television as oddballs, fetishists, weirdos, the kind of men who laugh in loud ringing tones, not at something funny, but at their own brief explanatory precis of some obviously flawed malevolent plan. The basic emptiness of the despotic vision is perhaps best represented in popular culture by the figure of General Zod in Superman II, a charismatic escaped super-criminal who arrives on earth and decides as part of his convoluted take-down of Superman (who you don't hear so much about these days) that it is in his best interests to start off by conquering the entire weakling human race, whom he despises.
The real problem for Zod is that there appears to be nothing in this for him at all. Nothing that is beyond the kneeling. "Kneel before Zod!" he yells repeatedly – on average once every 12 minutes over the full two hours – at various terrified humanoids. "Kneel before Zod!" he yells at a policeman. "Kneel before Zod!" he yells at the president, who duly kneels before Zod. Exactly what the kneeling is supposed to achieve is never made clear. Never mind what's meant to happen afterwards ("Kneel before Zod … again!"). But still there he goes, a living, walking, over-acting incarnation of the essential pointlessness of absolute power, of the dream of shrinking the entire world so that it fits in your mighty palm, and thereby becomes basically quite small and uninteresting.
The image of General Zod flickered faintly at the edge of things as news emerged this week that Yaya Touré may leave Manchester City if the club fails to offer him a new contract by – ahem – this weekend. At least according to his frighteningly blunt agent, whom the Sun reported as saying: "He is one of the best players at Manchester City … but does not feel the respect of the staff." Naturally the first impulse here is to sympathise with the tragically under-respected Touré. Beyond which it is perhaps time to accept, first, that the departure of last season's Premier League star man seems pretty much inevitable. And secondly that it is, for the neutral, surprisingly hard to care.
This at least feels like a new thing. For the past few years the annual star player transfer saga – Cesc! Cristiano! The other ones! – has become a regular springtime feature, capable of generating, if not palm-sweating tension, then at least a tremor of interest. And yet the departure of Touré at the end of a slightly disappointing six months feels distinctly minor chord. This is not perhaps the fault of Touré himself, a player of endearingly robust qualities, carrying about him a heady waft of English football's own folk-wrestling roots, and who stationed upfield in his alternative runaway-dustcart mode has managed to conjure his own rather gravy-and-chips English take on the notion of the attacking midfielder, a kind of bouncer-fantasista who rather than stealing into space between the lines simply barges right through the parping, scattering roadblocks.
If there is something a little sullen and joyless about his pre-departure manoeuvrings, this is no doubt just another side-effect of the general billionairing-over of elite English football. This is a world that, by association, will always tend towards the glazed seven-star certainties of the billionaire's own climate-free variation on human existence, a place of absolute fiscal certainties, of surfaces that yield every time to the billionaire's gilded touch, and which is by its very nature the complete opposite of what sport is supposed to look like.
It is a high-stakes approach, if only because without victory the billionaire club is basically a pointless enterprise, its failures deprived of any redeeming sense of ragged human struggle, of the vegetative pleasures of old-style team building, driven instead by the instant gratifications of the Zod-football model. Hence, perhaps, why Chelsea have emerged as surely the unhappiest European champions of all time, victims in part of this basic restlessness, the lack of an end point, the sense that nothing will ever really be enough.
And so, set against the older notion of process, of engrossing trial and error, we now have the world of elite short-cut football, of the off-the-shelf team constructed with precarious abandon like a teetering champagne-glass pyramid. A different kind of skill is required here. The team must be constantly refreshed, expertly broken up, wringing the juice from those who are, it is clear all along, only passing through.
Touré may have run his course, like a leased executive car in need of a late-stage refit, but there are others at City who have proved to be stayers. Pablo Zabaleta, for example, a full-back of such huskily stoical determination you half expect to look down and notice he's played the entire second half with a rescued child under one arm or a sickly seal pup in a papoose around his neck. Or Sergio Agüero who – where Carlos Tevez remains essentially a source of hired human enthusiasm, the Premier League equivalent of a really energetic children's party entertainer – is a creature of pure football, a player who from a distance even looks a bit like a football, seeming at full speed not so much to run as to propel himself about the pitch with a pulse of his brilliantly rubberised limbs.
In the end this is perhaps simply a shift of tone. The idea of the semi-permanent superstar player may have congealed a little, to the extent that a club's faded star turn can pretty much announce he's leaving and draw little more than a slightly jaded yawn. Against this it must be said that City's gentlemanly Sheikhs appear to have a different kind of club in mind in the long-run. That high spec academy will, it is hoped, begin to bear blue-veined fruit in time. Plus, lest we forget, they also bought Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell last summer, albeit in the same way Prince Charles might purchase a hand-crafted native pot in some overpriced tourist bazaar, nodding and smiling politely before allowing it to be buried forever behind a screen in one of the minor guest bedrooms.
Beyond this City are still the kind of club where a narrative of more recognisable struggles runs deeper than any more recent Zod-like impulses. And where the more absorbing footballing processes seem likely to reassert themselves in time. Perhaps bringing with them the kind of success that feels – Yaya! Stay awhile! – like it may even be worth sticking around for.