Mancini begins overhaul of Man City

Mancini took over from Mark Hughes, who was fired over the weekend despite City being sixth in the Premier League standings, the target owner Sheikh Mansour had set before the season. Eighteen months earlier, Sven-Goran Eriksson was dumped by then owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, despite delivering the top-10 finish that had been requested of him.

Patience has long been in short supply at the underachieving club, which lives in the shadow of powerful neighbour, Manchester United. While Alex Ferguson has lifted 25 major trophies in 23 years at United, City has had 14 different permanent managers – including Mancini – without winning anything in the same period.

According to Manchester City’s Chief Executive, Garry Cook, who spoke about the club last month, “comedy has always been at the heart of what this club is all about.” The Nike former executive was referring to a billboard poster taunting United about Carlos Tevez’s summer defection, but it could apply to City’s decision-making in recent years.

Hughes claims that Mancini’s appointment had been decided long before last weekend’s announcement, despite just two league losses this season – fewer than any top flight club. Hughes has given Mancini an immediate route to glory by setting up a League Cup semi-final clash with United in January. But that competition, which delivered City’s last major title in 1976, is low on the priority list.

When Mancini is formally unveiled, Cook is likely to be pressed on whether Champions League qualification – by finishing in the top four – is now Sheikh Mansour’s primary target for this season as a return for his massive investment. Chelsea’s former boss, Jose Mourinho, meanwhile, has warned Mancini that the Premier League is very different from the Serie A.

“It will be a great and special experience for him to test himself in a very different reality to Italian football,” the Inter Milan coach, Mourinho, who won two league titles with Chelsea, said.

“The Premier League is completely different to what he has known so far. Mancini is a good coach and has an owner who spends a lot of money.”

Since buying City in September 2008, its Abu Dhabi owner has splurged over $330 million on talent. As Mancini presided over training in the Manchester snow yesterday, he would have been figuring out which areas of the squad needed strengthening in the January transfer window. Cash should not be a problem, but finding the players might be for the Italian manager.

As Hughes himself pointed out three days before being fired, the frailties are primarily in central defence. Joleon Lescott, whom Hughes relentlessly pursued from Everton, is out for two months because of knee surgery, while Ivoirien international, Kolo Toure, will miss most of next month due to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Selling long-serving captain Richard Dunne to Aston Villa in August now looks to have been a major miscalculation, especially with the Birmingham side sitting fourth in the standings – two places above City. While Robinho started Sheikh Mansour’s spending spree – beating Chelsea to his signature as clear a statement of intent – the Brazilian forward has failed to live up to his price tag (he was signed from Madrid last year for a British record transfer fee of £32.5 million (then $51 million).

After spending most of this season out injured, he has made little impact on his return. Mancini will have to quickly reunite a group of players hastily assembled by Hughes and stunned by his departure. His experience at Inter Milan will certainly help.

Mancini’s English is limited, and he will be assisted at the club by Brian Kidd, the City and United former player who served under Hughes in a technical development role. What Mancini may need is time.

“You can’t buy trophies in one season,” Chief Executive of League Managers’ Association, Richard Bevan, had said about City in relation to Hughes. “If they (foreign owners) feel that, then we’ll continue with the sacking … you need to embrace the city, the supporters, not just the trophy cabinet.”

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