The Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra is already seemingly preparing a replacement for the club's manager Sven Goran Eriksson – with the Croatia coach, Slaven Bilic, and Portugal's Luiz Felipe Scolari contenders – having, it is alleged, resolved to sack him at the end of the season.
Eriksson's assistant at City, Tord Grip, confirmed yesterday what was becoming increasingly apparent when he said that he and Eriksson were probably to be dismissed. "It's probably true what they say," Grip told the Swedish paper Aftonbladet. "Why? Well, they probably think that the job we have done is not good enough. They think we have done a bad job.
"We believe we have done a good job," he added. "But I don't think the owner has shown enough patience. This has happened so fast. That's what this is all about – patience."
Acknowledging City's indifferent form since Christmas, Grip said: "It's up and down and the Premier League is like running a marathon. It takes time to build a team."
Athole Still, Eriksson's agent, maintained that there had, as of last night, been no confirmation to Eriksson of his impending dismissal, despite one report to the contrary. "Up to this point in time, there has been no direct confirmation to Sven that Thaksin is going to sack him," Still said. "The vacuum of uncertainty because of Shinawatra's silence suggests it might be the case, but until he clarifies that, we really don't know. It would be in everyone's interests to clarify matters."
Despite Thaksin's evident discontent with the manager, Eriksson believed as recently as last weekend, when the Thai arrived for their first meeting in over a month, that his future might be secure. But Thaksin revealed in his behaviour at a City gala dinner on Saturday that he was ready for a confrontation. Asked by one guest whether the manager would be kept on, he replied: "We will find the best solution for the club." Then he told Thai journalists that Eriksson had been "emotional" about the way he had questioned the side's performances.
One source suggested that Eriksson was told at their 45-minute meeting at Manchester's Radisson Edwardian hotel on Sunday morning that he would not stay beyond this season, despite clear assertions from the club on Sunday afternoon that it had been a "cordial" encounter.
In London on Monday he met with former Football Association executive director David Davies, an old ally, who advised that he let his determination to leave the club be made public so as to save face.
Though there has been a sense of resignation about Eriksson's future for City's chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh, and deputy chairman, John Wardle, the absence of virtually any contact with Thaksin made his precise views unclear until the weekend.
The key players in the move to oust him have been Thaksin's influential Thai representatives on the City board, particularly the executive director Taweesuk Jack Srisumrid. It seems they have minimal knowledge of football and have bungled attempts to appoint a new executive chairman to work on overseas commercial deals, but they do have Thaksin's ear. "If Thaksin had been at the club all the time things would have been all right," said one source close to the negotiations which brought Eriksson to the club in the first place. "It's well known that Thaksin takes bad advice."
The counsel of the Thais is understood to have been that as well as failing to maintain City's strong start to the season, Eriksson has lacked control over the players. They have failed to comprehend that his late-summer appointment made a coordinated buying policy impossible, despite him being handed £40m to invest.
In Eriksson, they have also found a manager unwilling to tolerate their interference which, in Taweesuk's case, has included declaring a policy of buying "older, famous names" as he put it. The Thais have been mesmerised by the way Ronaldinho has been touted before them. Eriksson admires the player but has insisted that a policy of buying superstar names to fill City's stadium is not acceptable to him.
It is unclear whether the events of the past 48 hours give new significance to the decision by the Thais advising Thaksin to appoint Roberto Carlos de Carvalho, who was on the fringes of the fabled Brazilian 1970 World Cup squad, as City's international youth academies adviser. The import of expertise from Brazil perhaps reinforces speculation that Scolari, who will step down as Portugal's coach after Euro 2008, may be on the City radar.
Eriksson has already been installed as favourite for the manager's job at Benfica, whom he took to the European Cup final in 1990. "I'm sure that Sven will get offers. I'm completely sure about that, but nothing before the end of the season," Grip said.
Removing Eriksson would cost Thaksin up to £5m – the cost of buying out the final two years on his contract – though there are suggestions that this could come down to £1m if he finds a new job relatively quickly.
In a statement, Eriksson said only that he and Thaksin "spoke at the weekend," adding: "The game with Liverpool on Sunday is most important and we are working very hard to prepare properly for [that] and our final game of the season at Middlesbrough."
Kevin Parker, of City's official supporters' club, said there was "nothing that can be done," despite popular support for Eriksson.Reuse content