Roberto Mancini has had his dress sense admired, the circumstances of his appointment queried and his record questioned by those capable of overlooking the small matter of three Serie A titles. Now, however, the judgements can begin in earnest. The Italian begins his reign as Manchester City manager today against Stoke. It should already be apparent to his new charges that Mancini is a demanding man. His targets - a top-four finish this season and the Premier League title next - may appear optimistic, but they are revealing. The notion of quiet progress can be forgotten.
Each and every one of Mancini's decisions will be scrutinised. In any managerial regime, the first can be the most instructive. That is certainly the case today. Consider his initial selection: if any of the players he has inherited presented a compelling case for selection in Mark Hughes's valedictory match, the 4-3 win over Sunderland, they were Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy and Roque Santa Cruz. Now consider the two men Hughes pointedly left unused in a revealing parting gesture: Robinho and Emmanuel Adebayor. Along with Tevez, they represent the highest-profile and most talented players at the club.
The Brazilian was both flagship and record signing, the poster boy for a new regime. The Togolese has scored in five of City's seven league victories, an indication of his potency when motivated. Adebayor is a doubt today with a slight ankle problem, but if fit, his status will be as instructive as Robinho's. Pick both and Mancini may win them over, convincing two mercurial performers that while Hughes distrusted them, he appreciates their talents and that, as one flair player in his distinguished heyday, he can manage two more. Mancini does, after all, have a reputation as an attacking coach that should appeal to Adebayor and Robinho. His own career is sufficiently recent and suitably glorious to suggest he could be a kindred spirit.
Yet omitting Bellamy and Santa Cruz would suggest a side who are not picked on merit. Moreover, it could alienate Hughes's loyalists, a category that includes his former Blackburn players. While the Paraguayan's contribution was negligible before his brace at Sunderland, Bellamy has been scintillating. He is City's player of the season and the individual who was closest to the deposed manager. Reassurance of his importance has already been provided by Mancini, but the ultimate proof will be on the teamsheet.
He has had a week to determine if Adebayor and Robinho are disruptive influences or influential or destroyers, to decide if Bellamy's fire can be channelled, as it was by Hughes, or whether the flames the Welshman ignites will burn his new employer. Then he has to address the department of the team that, more than any other, was responsible for Hughes's exit. A defence who have conceded three goals in each of their last three games are proving far too leaky. If too many attacking players have a reason to be included, plenty of their defensive counterparts have provided grounds to ignore them. Significantly, it has been a priority of Mancini's on the training ground already.
Out of form Wayne Bridge and Joleon Lescott will both be out of the side due to injuries. With Nedum Onuoha the latest man sidelined, Mancini is short of defenders, let alone reliable ones. Vincent Kompany, who was strangely overlooked in the final few weeks of Hughes's reign, is one option. Nevertheless, his treatment of Kolo Toure is more intriguing. Appointed captain by Hughes, who perhaps should have plumped for Gareth Barry instead, the Ivorian has proved error-prone. It is a damning indictment that City have conceded as many goals now as they had at the same stage of last season, when they were in the relegation zone and when the then captain, Richard Dunne, ended up being exiled to Aston Villa. The obvious focus for January expenditure is in the heart of defence. Against Stoke and at Wolves on Monday, however, Mancini has to make do with those bequeathed to him.
That may be especially difficult today. The aerial ball has troubled City all season and few use it better than Stoke. A battery of six-footers, coupled with Rory Delap's infamous long throws and Matthew Etherington's accurate crosses, make them an awkward proposition. Stoke have a capacity to provide a culture shock to more established Premier League managers, let alone a new arrival from Italy. But with 21 games to achieve his aim of qualification for the Champions League and the transfer window about to open, Mancini's impact will have to be accelerated. Each choice, every substitution and any directives from the touchline will be examined for a guide into his style of management.
In turn, his new charges only have two games to impress Mancini before he has the option of replacing them. Few things are certain where City are concerned, but this is guaranteed to be revealing. firstname.lastname@example.org Manchester City v Stoke City, KO 7pm, Showsports 1&2