The first serious challenge of Mark Hughes' Manchester City career yesterday saw him attempt to repair deteriorating relations between the club and Michael Johnson which have made the prospect of the midfielder leaving the club a genuine one.
Johnson, 20, who is valued at £12m has been the subject of attention from the Tottenham head coach Juande Ramos, and Liverpool have some interest in him too, though Gareth Barry would appear to remove his value to them.
The uncertainty that surrounded Sven Goran Eriksson's future unsettled Johnson and there has been no progress on an approach to the club from his representatives about a contract which would improve his basic wage of around £12,000 a week. The state of relations with the player had left City resigned to the fact that there was a 60 per cent chance of him leaving should the right offer come in – though the tougher regime which Hughes' arrival brings may be just what the player needs.
"There's a respect, a fear, call it what you like, but he's the boss and what he says counts," said Mark Bowen, Hughes' assistant and City are hoping that a different culture to Eriksson's will help restore Johnson to the ranks.
Despite the club's pursuit of CSKA Moscow's Brazilian striker, Jo, and Ronaldinho, whom club representatives will meet in Brazil this weekend, Rolando Bianchi has said Hughes' arrival has made him determined to return from a loan spell at Lazio to prove himself. "Now, I will return to Manchester where I have great desire to prove myself," Bianchi said. "The fact that Lazio chose not to sign me was the club's choice to make. In January I chose Lazio for lots of reasons, but the main one was the chance to make the deal permanent in June."