City haunted by ghosts of Christmas past

Mancini struggles to build on a year in the job as January sales bring some hard decisions

In retrospect, 2010 was the year of the Italian manager. One, Carlo Ancelotti, took Chelsea to the Double. Another, Fabio Capello, oversaw England's most disastrous World Cup campaign since the first, half a century before. A third, Roberto Mancini, took over the wealthiest football club in the world.

Eastlands had the first sight of Mancini, with the flowing hair and the blue and white scarf, on Boxing Day 2009. Then he had seemed the beneficiary of another botched managerial sacking by another group of foreign owners who knew how to spend money but not how to treat their employees.

The Abu Dhabi United of Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak had not decided to wait and see if Mark Hughes would deliver Champions' League football; they fired him before he oversaw a 4-3 victory over Sunderland and replaced him with Mancini; an available name, who had seldom taken Internazionale near the business stages of the Champions' League and whose exposure to English football consisted of a few games with Leicester, where he learned about the English drinking culture first hand alongside Robbie Savage and assorted companions. Eastlands did not especially mourn the passing of Hughes but nor did they embrace Mancini. They would wait and see.

Before they faced Everton last Monday, Mancini had overseen 38 Premier League games, a full campaign, and seen Manchester City collect 70 points, which is what Tottenham required to secure the final Champions' League slot at City's expense. It is good, but not quite good enough.

"The League this year is very strange," he said. "To get through this we must believe in ourselves always. Our mentality will only change when we win a title and not before – whether that is the FA Cup, the Barclays Premier League or the Europa League. I think it is important that we start with one trophy – if we win two, that's OK – but the first one will be the most important."

Perhaps appropriately, Mancini meets the turn of the season at Newcastle, a club that could once match Manchester City when it came to pouring away money in the futile pursuit of silverware and has eclipsed them in terms of bizarre treatment of their employees. Despite the endless amateur psychology surrounding Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez's botched attempt to leave the club, Manchester City is by comparison a haven of stability.

He was asked how Internazionale would have dealt with Tevez's rebellion. The Inter of Jose Mourinho, who did not try to understand Balotelli's excesses, might have banished him to the furthest corner of the training ground, held him up to ridicule and at the very least stripped him of the captaincy. Mancini did none of these things.

"Problems with players are normal every day and at every club," he said. "We would deal with it the same way here as we would at Inter. Carlos has a contract and this is an important moment for the club. It was my decision to keep him as captain and when Carlos said he wanted to stay, then for me it was finished.

"Maybe," he said when asked if footballers had become too powerful – earlier, Mancini had suggested it might be better if Balotelli smiled a bit more and began comparing himself to Lionel Messi a little less. "It was important that we stopped this [the constant Tevez-related headlines]. The club must be very hard. Now we must learn to be a strong team and not get into situations that can be distracting."

The January transfer window will be as much an opportunity to deal with the past as to invest in a future that appears slightly more certain than when Mancini first tucked the blue and white scarf inside his beautifully tailored jacket. Wayne Bridge, Emmanuel Adebayor, Jo and Joleon Lescott (cost: £80m) would appear to command a limited time beneath a blue moon rising more slowly than they would like in Abu Dhabi.

Of the team that started his first match, a 2-0 win over Stoke, four have left the club, while Craig Bellamy, a 70th-minute substitute and often critical figure, has been dealt with in the same way as the man he replaced, Robinho. Both are on one-way loan deals to Cardiff and Sao Paulo respectively. This week Mancini had been obsessing about the defeat by Everton, the third he has suffered at the hands of David Moyes, and because it denied him the fleeting glamour of being No 1 at Christmas, the most painful of them all.

"Every game they play against us like a Champions' League final. I don't know why," Mancini said aloud. The anger over the way they were treated when Hughes decided to drag Lescott from Goodison maybe? "Probably," comes the reply. A year on and the ghosts have still not been driven from Eastlands.

From Mark to Mancini

Mark Hughes was sacked as Manchester City manager on 19 December 2009, despite the Blues beating Sunderland 4-3 at Eastlands. Even goals from Roque Santa (Cruz) couldn't save him from the sack.

Here's how the Premier League table stood after that City victory.

Position/Team/Games/Points

1. Chelsea 17/40

2. Manchester Utd 18/37

3. Arsenal 17/35

4. Aston Villa 18/35

5. Tottenham Hotspur 18/33

6. Manchester City 17/29

Roberto Mancini's first game in charge at City came a week later (Boxing Day 2009) – a year ago today – at home to Stoke. City won 2–0 with goals from Martin Petrov after 28 minutes and Carlos Tevez right on half-time.

City's team that day Shay Given, Kolo Touré (capt), Sylvinho (Micah Richards, 66), Pablo Zabaleta, Petrov, Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry, Vincent Kompany, Stephen Ireland, Robinho (Craig Bellamy, 70), Tevez (Javier Garrido, 89). Substitutes not used Stuart Taylor (gk), Javan Vidal, Vladimir Weiss, Dedryck Boyata.

One year on, five of the same players lined up for City's last game – the 2-1 defeat to Everton at Eastlands on Monday night – Touré, Kompay, Zabaleta, Barry and Tevez.

Full team Joe Hart, Kolo Touré (sent off, 90), Kompany, Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Yaya Touré, James Milner (Adam Johnson, 45) ,Barry, David Silva, Tevez (capt), Mario Balotelli (Jo, 83). Substitutes not used Shaun Wright-Phillips, Patrick Vieira, Given, Richards, Jérôme Boateng

Mancini's overall record at City:

Games/Won/Drew/Lost/Win%

54/28/13/13/51.85

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss