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

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