Mancini linked to City after dinner-table negotiations

In an intriguing development, Roberto Mancini, the former coach of Internazionale, was last night understood to have had dinner in Gualdo Tadino, the Umbrian town near his home, with representatives from a significant Premier League club.

Sources in Italy claimed that the club was Manchester City who, they said, are interested in the former Italian striker as a successor to Mark Hughes should he be replaced as manager at Eastlands after less than a season in charge. City, and their owners, Abu Dhabi United Group are understood to be admirers of Mancini, and believe, because of his international pedigree, that he may be able to attract the world-class superstars that they want to join the club.

The pressure has grown on Hughes over recent weeks with City struggling close to the relegation zone and, in particular, in the wake of the embarrassing FA Cup exit at the hands of Nottingham Forest last weekend.

The former Blackburn Rovers manager is understood to be concerned about whether or not he can survive in his post beyond this month and is keen to sign a host of Premier League-proven players in the January transfer window to bolster his position and hold on until the summer, when he expects the full might of the Abu Dhabi investment to be flexed.

Hughes has already secured Wayne Bridge from Chelsea and also wants the West Ham pair of Craig Bellamy and Scott Parker, plus Newcastle United goalkeeper Shay Given and Arsenal's Kolo Touré, along with Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz.

Mancini was spotted at dinner at around 6pm last night speaking, in English, to representatives from what, according to observers, appeared to be a Premier League club who were discussing salary arrangements and pay. Mancini later claimed, when questioned about the dinner, that he was simply discussing the prospect of buying a property in New York.

Mancini was interested in being considered for the Chelsea manager's job after Avram Grant was sacked last year, and has been linked with other posts in the Premier League.

Interestingly the odds on Mancini succeeding Hughes have shortened dramatically in recent days even though City's owners have been adamant in their backing for the manager. It may be that the meeting with Mancini was simply a case of an agent sounding him out future job prospects, without a mandate from any club, but such is the scrutiny surrounding Hughes and City right now that they are bound to be linked.

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