The latest new era to arrive at the City of Manchester Stadium got off to the best possible start over Christmas as Roberto Mancini led his new side to two victories in as many games, but after the tumultuous events that have engulfed Manchester City in the last few years, what the team needs now more than ever is stability.
The sacking of Mark Hughes was, depending on who you listen to, inevitable because he was not a big enough name to pacify the club’s owners, harsh because he did not get enough time to make his mark on the squad or justified because of the vast amount of money he had spent since being appointed in June 2008. Regardless of the rights or wrongs surrounding Hughes’ departure, the appointment of Mancini should serve to quell the speculation that forever clouded Hughes’ tenure at Eastlands. The ex-Blackburn Rovers boss always seemed one bad result away from dismissal, but Mancini will be given a honeymoon period until at least the end of the season where his future will not be questioned.
The Italian was appointed after the City hierarchy felt the club were unlikely to reach their revised target of 70 points this season, a figure which over the last two Premier League campaigns would have placed the Blues fifth in the final table. Publicly, the former Inter Milan Coach has said he is aiming for the title, but even he would be satisfied with a top-five place come May. How he goes about achieving that, however, is a different matter. Under Hughes, City’s season had been characterised by shoddy defending and underperforming superstars but on paper at least, the squad currently available to Mancini is more than equipped to slug it out with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa for a Champions League spot. A minor addition or two, perhaps in the centre of defence to provide cover and competition for Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure, could be all the business Mancini needs to do next month. A much bigger boost would be finding the magic formula to get the best out of Emmanuel Adebayor and Robinho.
Both Adebayor and Robinho possess undeniable quality. At their best, they are each as close to unstoppable as it gets, but lately, their performances have been anaemic. The Brazilian has been over shadowed by Craig Bellamy all season, and recently by Carlos Tevez, who has added goals to his all-action style. Adebayor, on the other hand, started this term in excellent form but his suspension following the kicking incident with former teammate Robin van Persie in September appears to have derailed the Togo striker. There is little to gain, however, by casting both aside and parachuting in more big-money forwards. Mancini should use the January transfer window to only make signings that he feels are absolutely vital to City for the rest of the season and instead concentrate on working with what he already has at his disposal. If after six months with his band of big names he feels some are beyond repair, the summer transfer window will provide a greater opportunity for Mancini to carry out whatever renovations to his squad he deems necessary. Doing so in the next four weeks could destabilise the worryingly fragile harmony that has broken out in the blue half of the city.
Mancini is an intelligent manager – you have to be to succeed in Italy, the most tactically difficult league in Europe, if not the world, and he will recognise that the success everyone involved with City craves cannot be achieved over night. That is not to say Hughes failed to grasp that, but Mancio’s managerial trophy cabinet is heftier than his predecessor’s which may ensure his voice is heard more clearly by Chief Executive Garry Cook, Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and owner Sheik Mansour. Hughes was too often undermined by his superiors, who were blinded by thoughts of Robinho, Kaka and their ilk playing in the same team, forgoing Hughes’ more patient approach. Mancini’s seven major trophies to Hughes’ none and the exoticism a high-profile foreign manager brings should be enough to convince Cook, Mubarak and Mansour to allow Mancini do to things his way. The early signs are promising, as the victories over Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wanderers have shown. So far for Mancini, it is two clean sheets, five goals and six points, bringing the perfect momentum as City prepare for what will be a vital month, on and off the pitch.