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Eriksson's exit risks plunging City into meltdown

With the Swedish manager set to be sacked next week, a number of the club's brightest talents could decide to leave with him, writes Michael Walker

Saturday 31 May 2008 00:00 BST

The pace of change at Manchester City is expected to accelerate in the coming days, probably to a speed that will disconcert fans anxious about the direction the club is taking under the idiosyncratic ownership of the former Thailand prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Emerging from Manchester yesterday was a sense that manager Sven Goran Eriksson will depart Eastlands next week, less than a year after taking over. It is anticipated that Eriksson will be followed by club captain and four-time player of the year, Richard Dunne.

After apparently being on the verge of dismissal a fortnight before the end of the season, it seemed Eriksson might have been given a reprieve by Thaksin as he led City's post-season tour of the Far East. Yesterday, however, it felt as if things had turned against the Swede again and that Eriksson might not even make it to 15 June, a date mentioned previously as definitive by one of Thaksin's aides, Pairoj Piempongsant.

The mood music at City suggests a shift elsewhere has clarified Eriksson's lack of a future at the club – he now has a possible job offer to manage Mexico – and Thaksin will be delighted if that change has come from Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Brazilian remains the preferred replacement for Eriksson but is now involved with Portugal at Euro 2008 and the Portuguese Football Association wish him to stay on. Avram Grant has also been mentioned as a contender since his dismissal by Chelsea.

Whoever does take over, it looks as if he will arrive too late to prevent Dunne's departure.

With the defender heading into the last year of his contract, City effectively have to cash in on Dunne now or let him leave at the end of next season for nothing.

Five Premier League rivals have been circling the 28-year-old Republic of Ireland international since it became clear he was entertaining the idea of a transfer this summer and Tottenham seem to have won a £5m race. Arsenal, though, are somewhere in the background, according to a team-mate of Dunne's. Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Sunderland are the others interested in a player whose reputation has risen steadily over the past three seasons.

City supporters, pre-warned about their club being without Eriksson or Dunne next season, might be able to accept that should they be assured that suitable replacements are on their way. However, if the two men leave and are then followed, as is believed possible, by Micah Richards, Michael Johnson and Stephen Ireland, then it will be hard to avoid a feeling of meltdown.

Richards is widely coveted, particularly by Manchester United. Ireland has an admirer in the Sunderland manager, Roy Keane, and Johnson is now said to be on David Moyes's wishlist at Everton this summer. All of these players will generate funds, especially Richards and Johnson, but City would find themselves needing to buy. Given that City's season begins with a Uefa Cup tie in less than seven weeks – one that cannot be played at their own stadium due to a Bon Jovi concert being held there leaving Preston a possible venue – the uncertainty is even more pressing and harder to comprehend.

Had Thaksin concurred with many fans that finishing ninth in Eriksson's first season represented a fine start, City would be in the midst of a rebuilding process overseen by a manager whose contacts proved valuable this time last year. But Thaksin saw the season differently. And the next one, too.

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