Pearce takes City reins as Dowie lurks in shadows

Stuart Pearce was yesterday formally appointed manager of Manchester City and was given the assurance that he will retain the post at least until the end of this season - although the club are likely to look elsewhere in the summer for their 15th manager in the last quarter of a century.

Pearce reacted bullishly to the challenge, maintaining that it was his intention to extend his tenure beyond his current short-term appointment after John Wardle, the chairman, and his fellow directors, moved quickly to fill the vacancy created by Kevin Keegan's unexpected departure on Thursday night.

Despite Wardle's staunch assurances that the job is Pearce's to lose, the move will do nothing to stem the growing speculation that Keegan's permanent successor is likely to be drawn from a shortlist of more experienced candidates that includes Martin O'Neill, Iain Dowie and Sam Allardyce. Whoever is eventually appointed, they are likely to be presented with an immediate conundrum regarding the future of Shaun Wright-Phillips.

At a press conference held to present Pearce as the new man in charge, Wardle was at pains to highlight the fact that the club has no money available to spend on transfer fees this summer. That situation could, of course, change significantly should the club decide to cash in on the England winger and Wardle's refusal to rule out such a move merely served to underline the constraints within which the new man will have to work.

"We have to look at everything in the summer," Wardle admitted. "I am not looking to lose Shaun or anyone. It is probably the last thing I would want to do."

For the moment, though, such difficulties were cast aside as Pearce delivered his manifesto for the remaining weeks of another disappointing season. "I'm manager now and that is where I aim to be next season and for a few seasons after that," Pearce said. "Manchester City are a fantastic club and I want to be here for a long time.

"I wouldn't compare myself to Martin O'Neill because he's got a much better track record than I have," he added. "However, I believe I have the motivational powers to get the best out of the players and can prove myself."

Wardle's assertion that "we are not recruiting, there is not a vacancy, we have got a manager" will have come as a welcome fillip but Pearce will have to produce a quite remarkable turnaround with a stale group of players to extend his stay at the club that began when he was drafted in by Keegan to captain City's First Division championship campaign in 2001-02 before joining the coaching staff.

Should he not extend his tenure beyond the remaining weeks of the current campaign, Pearce will join a lengthy list of short-term managers such as Asa Hartford, Steve Coppell and Phil Neal, who between them were in charge for just 23 league games during the 1996-97 season - a farcical period even by City's chaotic standards.

Wardle confirmed Keegan's departure came following a series of meetings during which it became clear both parties felt the club had stagnated, and with a £62m debt imposing a financial strait-jacket, a different approach was needed. "We agreed that the future of Manchester City was more important than John Wardle or Kevin Keegan and that it was in the best interests of the club that Kevin move on," Wardle said.

Of the alternative candidates, O'Neill's name is the most attractive to City but the Irishman is unlikely to move south without the prospect of money to spend and, he reacted tersely to suggestions he may leave Celtic Park. "I have been asked this question umpteen times over a period of years and now I am sitting here being asked the same old questions," O'Neill said.

The need for a canny wheeler-dealer presses the claims of both Dowie and Allardyce. But having turned down the Newcastle job, doubts surround the willingness of the Bolton manager to make a more obviously sideways move while elements of the City board remain to be convinced of the 50-year-old's credentials.

That leaves Dowie, regarded as the favourite among insiders at the club. His track record at Crystal Palace is impressive and although his appointment would require City to pay a significant sum in compensation, the Ulsterman would grab at the opportunity.

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