Five days that will decide City's future

Villa and Spurs stand between Mancini's men and their Champions League dream
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The Independent Online

Roberto Mancini has still not laid down roots in Manchester. He was house-hunting on Thursday but if and when he finds a place there will be little financial commitment. He will rent rather than buy.

"The Italian football people are always like this. They don't commit to buying houses," said a friend of the Manchester City manager who accompanied him on his search for a property. However, Mancini's temporary accommodation reflects the world of uncertainties that City has come to be for the players and staff who move there, aware that there is always plenty of Abu Dhabi dirham around to buy replacements for them if needs be. It is about 18 months since south Manchester property developers were first struck by the inquiries they were receiving from new City players who would rather pay the £10,000 a month that they are laying down in rent than buy a home of their own. Even Shay Given, whose future looks relatively secure, still rents, as does Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Touré and Carlos Tevez."There seems to be a lack of certainty. With the Manchester United players it's different and nearly all of them have bought," said one developer who has provided houses for players of both clubs.

No one can blame Mancini for a tentative approach to the property market as he heads into the most critical five-day period of his five-month City tenure, with the visits of Aston Villa today and Tottenham on Wednesday likely to decide which of the three clubs makes the fourth Champions League place, with Liverpool also outsiders. Mancini has a way of using his uneasy grasp of English questions to make every difficult question seem like a surprise to him, as when he was asked this week whether he will be at Eastlands next season. "Yes, yes. I hope," he said. "I have a contract – I think this is true?" But with talk of Mrs Tami Mourinho house-hunting in Alderley Edge currently the most popular urban myth in Manchester, you might have expected a cast-iron assurance by now that fifth place does not spell the sack. That is something Mancini has not received.

"No, I don't know this," he said. "But I have three years left on my contract and I'm here for us to be an important team next year." And did he agree that if he didn't finished fourth, there was at least a chance he would be sacked? "I don't decide this," he replied. "I have a contract, I can decide training, the players, but I think that the other things are decided by the owners."

So far, those owners' have tried to make their footballing decisions a numbers game. Abu Dhabi's pre-season target for City was 70 points and when Mark Hughes approached the halfway mark in the Premier League slightly short of that he was on his way. He had collected 29 points from 17 games at that stage: 1.7 points per game – an accumulation rate which, had it been maintained to the end of the season would have left City on 65 points and with a sixth- or seventh-place finish, judging by the current table. Mancini has taken 34 points from 18 games – only a marginal improvement but 1.88 points per game which would have taken City to 71 – a near certain third-place finish – had they been collecting at that rate all season.

The qualities of an anorak cannot help the Abu Dhabis decide who to start next season with as manager , of course; only a broader understanding of what is needed to create some stability which they can build upon, a point Mancini used in defence of his own job. "I think all managers need time," he said. "In Italy, it's too difficult because if you don't do a good job in the first six months or one year, it's difficult because they sack all the managers every six months. I think at Manchester City it's different. I think we have a fantastic chance to become a very important team next year if we build, if we work hard and if we have time. I [haven't] bought players [yet], I [haven't] built this team. I think that every manager wants this. For this I think it's important that I [am given the opportunity] to build a team. I can work in pre-season, working for one year is better because you have worked with the players for longer and get to know the other players better." The Italian mentality must not be allowed to permeate the English game, Mancini added. "For the manager that's important."

Removing a second manager so soon would also undermine that office, at a time when Mancini is rightly attempting to strengthen it. The Italian's willingness to let Robinho leave the club, having substituted him as a substitute at Goodison Park in January, and his reluctance to tolerate negativity from Tevez, are part of a deliberate strategy to demonstrate that Eastlands is not a gravy train. It is why Mancini's willingness to discuss Tevez at such length on Thursday was significant: he is very adept at stonewalling questions he does not wish to answer. Taking the Argentine striker on is a high-risk strategy, given his 22-goal contribution to the League campaign, but without showing his strength City will risk becoming a squad of highly-paid individualists and will never assume the "winning mentality" which Mancini declared was a necessity on his first week in the job. Suggestions in last weekend's press that Tevez may be ready to leave if City fail to make the Champions League do not bear out the views of the player's representatives. It might explain why that story was pulled from the later editions of a Sunday newspaper.

The Abu Dhabis, who told The Independent categorically in January that Mancini's future beyond this summer was not dependent upon securing a Champions League place, appear to recognise these factors. It is highly unlikely, based upon the Italian's record in the past five months and a relationship with Khaldoon al-Mubarak which is far closer than Hughes's ever was with the chairman, that he will be sacked. Read what you will into the story of Fabio Capello's visit to Eastlands in February, when he met the wives of some of Mancini's back-room staff. They told him their own search for English homes was beginning and their husbands' hotel existence would end. Mancini watchers in Italy saw this as a sign that his future was secure beyond this summer.

Six points from the next five days would cement the hopes for next autumn, too, given that Champions League football will bring the pursuit of players in the Fernando Torres bracket, while the Europa League will make Benfica's Angel di Maria, talented though he may be, the height of this summer's ambitions and mean a genuine assault on the Premier League title next season will be all the harder. Mancini knows there are many imponderables, which is why he heads into today's game with no big notions about his security of tenure. "We have a fantastic chance to become a very important team next year if we build, if we work hard and if we have time. But I'm a manager. And when I became a manager I knew the rules."

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