"For the amount of time they've been in the top tier of football they [Manchester City]should have won more trophies. We are trying to change the mentality of everyone here and that takes time."
Mark Hughes. March 12, 2009
"We want to arrive on top – because of this we must change the mentality. We must want to win always at home, away. If we have this mentality we can change this situation."
Roberto Mancini. December 24, 2009
The managers are different – so very different – but their diagnoses of Manchester City's problems are just the same. After an 18-month tenure in which Mark Hughes was initially withering about the flabby culture of poor match preparation he inherited from Sven Goran Eriksson and spoke so often of inculcating a winning culture, Roberto Mancini has indicated that - £250m later - City still lack the hunger to meet the aspirations of their Arab owners. This, he said ahead of his first game in charge today at home to Stoke City, for which chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak may be in attendance, must be changed.
Though some of City's players must be wondering how much tougher it's going to get, since Hughes was hardly laisser faire where management was concerned, Mancini has backed up his words with a more confident prediction of instant success than Hughes was ever prepared to risk.
The barely audible assertion he made in faltering English during the bedlam of his introductory press conference on Monday evening was born out on Christmas Eve by a prediction that lacked no clarity whatsoever: the 45-year-old believes City can eclipse Sir Alex Ferguson's side within 18 months by winning next season's Premier League title. He will also brook no suggestions that Italy's Serie A – where he won three successive scudettos – presented less of a challenge than the Premier League. "I think it's the same situation," he said. "The Italian league is difficult. The Premier League is difficult. It is the same. I think if we do a good job in these five, six months and arrive in the top four, then next year we can arrive on top of the Premier League. [Manchester] United is a big club, a big manager, but we want to arrive on top and because of this we must change the mentality. We must want to win always at home, away."
Among those who backed up Hughes' demands for the cultural change in the early days was, ironically enough, Robinho. "They are content with little, thinking just a draw might be good enough, and what they lack is the mentality of champions," he said of City 12 months ago – words which ring hollow now because for all of Hughes' efforts, the Brazilian rarely practised what he preached – outside of east Manchester at least. It is City's hope that the kind of profile Mancini has in the game will help him to manage the more tempestuous big names.
"We work to change this situation because I think Robinho is a top player and when Robinho doesn't play well this question comes up," Mancini said, and he clearly believes he can make a difference with the Brazilian, who is expected to start today in place of Craig Bellamy. "I have my character and I hope that the City players have a good character and spirit too," Mancini said, though his frequent allusions to the wisdom of his mentor Sven Goran Eriksson perhaps suggests that he will seek to develop the mentality with a nurturing approach like Eriksson's. Astonishing that a man chief executive Garry Cook was so desperate to see out of the club should be invoked so often by his new manager.
Emmanuel Adebayor, another of Mancini's more challenging projects, is a player the new manager may not clap eyes on in competitive action for City until late January. He underwent treatment yesterday on an ankle injury and, Mancini confirmed, will have left for the African Cup of Nations before City travel to Wolves on Monday.
Mancini finds himself in an alien place, with two games in three days – "In Italy, that is impossible but it's a normal situation in England," he said – and Cook's declaration this week that Liverpool have probably considered the Italian as a replacement for Rafael Benitez has not helped a reception to the Premier League which was already frosty enough.
"Me? No, this is false," Mancini said to that. "Liverpool never contacted me. They have a good manager – Rafa is a good manager, so no, absolutely, they haven't contacted me."
He asked the Premier League's British managers simply to judge him on results, rather than his predecessor's reputation. "I hope that I can do a good job and impress the English managers," he said. In Italy we watch English football on television – the spirit of the English manager, English players is a good spirit."
The new manager's English is not yet up to round-the-table discussions with national newspapers and it has fallen to Brian Kidd to help with the communicating and lead training. Kidd's appointment as assistant manager was not of Mancini's choosing – David Platt, his friend from Lazio days, is a man he would prefer to work with – but Mancini invoked Eriksson's opinion of Kidd, with whom the Swede worked in the English set-up. "Sven told me Brian's a fantastic man," the Italian said.
Mancini, who is likely to field Vincent Kompany in central defence with Nedum Onuoha and Micah Richards injured, took training yesterday, and had the team at a hotel last night, with a brisk walk planned for this morning. It bears out a belief expressed by Hughes last March that City's match preparations were perhaps 10 years out of date. But Hughes also said that day that the Arabs would not sack him any time soon because, as he put it, "They are not as hysterical as other people seem to be at this moment in time." Mancini knows he has taken his career to a dangerous place.