Manchester City’s appeal against their European ban takes on fresh importance with every day that goes by.
The fact that Kevin De Bruyne’s future at the club may hinge on the Blues overturning the two-year punishment has become evident.
The Belgian made it plain during lockdown that he could perhaps weather missing one year of Champions League, but two? Maybe not.
And on the day he turned 29, De Bruyne agains showed why the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s deliberations have deep ramifications for City.
De Bruyne’e hesitancy is understandable – if the ban is upheld, he will be 31 before he gets another crack at Europe’s premier prize. Time is already starting to run out, and he is in his prime.
That was left in no doubt as he again was the driving force as City forced their way into the semi-finals of the FA Cup with a routine win at Newcastle.
De Bruyne was, again, irresistible. It is testimony to him that in a tea of huge talents, several of them world-class, he stands out.
He is the one man who, when he is rotated, cannot be replaced by a player of similar level.
His passing, his drive from midfield and his touch and vision, have all been lauded.
But the fact that he is a force of nature has not always been recognised.
Someone described Yaya Toure as a buffalo in ballet shoes, a lovely description of an immense physical specimen whose football delicacy belied his size.
De Bruyne is more of a tornado with a paintbrush, a midfielder who deconstructs the opposition’s attempts at counter-attacks and then creates something of beauty in its place.
At Newcastle, he sat fairly deep, which meant that not only did he see loads of the ball, and could pick passes to David Silva, flitting between the Toon ranks, but he did a vital defensive job.
City knew that Allan St Maximin would be a threat, his pace allowing him to break from deep. It was their biggest weapon when they managed a 2-2 draw in the league earlier this season.
But every time St Maximin got on the ball, he was faced by a ginger Tasmanian Devil, bullying him off the ball, matching him as he tred to get into his stride, and utterly negating any threat.
It was a crucial part of a game which should have been played in front of a roaring capacity crowd but which had a soundtrack of shouts from players and coaching staff echoing around the cavernous venue.
When the draw was made, City were expecting a raw, hostile reception on Tyneside.
The Geordie fans have had little to shout about in the last 70 years – in fact the last time they won a domestic trophy was in 1955, when they beat the Blues in the final of this competition.
So, encouraged by the last three home meetings with City – a narrow 1-0 defeat, a 2-1 victory and this season’s 2-2 draw, they were hopeful of an upset.
It was never in prospect, once De Bruyne had calmly given himself the birthday present of a goal from the penalty spot – another City ill which he has cured.