While Manchester City's Premier League rivals queue up to voice their doubts over the club's title credentials, Roberto Mancini, the manager, is refusing to bite. Mark Hughes, his predecessor, was the latest to dangle the bait this week.
The Welshman, who was replaced by Mancini last December, chose his introductory press conference as Fulham manager to remind his former employers that second is not good enough. "Given the amount of investment they have already put into their playing staff, then certainly top four should be nailed on for them and really they should be looking to push on to win the Premier League," Hughes was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, at Chelsea, a club who know well that success should really be commensurate with outlay, it seems few are really convinced that City pose a significant threat to their crown. "I don't know if they'll be stronger, I'm not sure," Salomon Kalou, the Chelsea forward, was quoted as saying this week. "Just because you bring in 10 new players doesn't mean you're going to be on top of the table."
However, Mancini seems to be undeterred by the sniping. The suave Italian has enough of a grasp of English to know he does not need to say much more than he "hopes" for a title push this campaign. But no promises. Given the inflated expectations that come with being the world's richest club, an improvement on last season's fifth-placed finish is generally accepted as being a minimum requirement. Some argue that this summer's outlay, which is Dh438,992 million (US$119.5m) and counting, should translate into a title bid.
Whatever the target given to Mancini by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the owner, and Khaldoon al Mubarek, the chairman, during his whistle-stop tour of Abu Dhabi at the end of last season, he is unfazed by the challenge. In fact, he seems inspired by it. "I think this season will be a very exciting one in the Premier League, and I hope Manchester City can challenge to win the title," Mancini said in an interview released exclusively to The National.
"There are some very good players coming into Manchester City in David Silva, Jerome Boateng, Yaya Toure and Aleksandar Kolarov. They are players who can improve our team. "I enjoy the passion of England and their support for their football teams. I enjoy the challenge of coaching in a new country. "There are some excellent teams and world-class players in England. Liverpool have a new manager and signed Joe Cole, Chelsea will be very strong again and also Manchester United."
Mancini will have an immediate chance to gauge the quality of competition. City start their campaign on Saturday, August 14, against the Tottenham Hotspur side that beat them to the last Champions League place last season. "There are some important games for us early, playing Tottenham and then Liverpool," Mancini said. "It will be very interesting to see how we start." If the landscape of the Premier League has changed given City's improved standing in recent years, the geography of the city itself has also been challenged.
Accepted wisdom - at least among City's fans - was that theirs is the club best loved by Mancunians. However, Mancini believes the club now has a "heart and soul" that stretches to the UAE. "I know that the owners have really put their heart and soul into Manchester City Football Club," the manager said. "I want to help us repay their faith in us and to make them and the people of Abu Dhabi proud of the club. I know that more people in the UAE are starting to follow us because of the owners, and I assure them we will be trying our very best to keep you cheering for us and to win a trophy for both you and our Manchester supporters." @Email:email@example.com All 380 games of the Barclays Premier League 2010/11 season will be shown live and exclusive in HD on AD Sports. For all subscription information go to www.admcsport.com
Sunderland have made a bid to sign Joe Hart, the England goalkeeper, on loan from Manchester City. Hart, who has been vying with Shay Given for the No 1 shirt, spent last season on loan at Birmingham, and Steve Bruce, the Black Cats' boss, is looking for a temporary replacement for his injured goalkeeper Craig Gordon. "We've asked the question of City and we now just have to wait and see what they say," Bruce told the Sunderland Echo. "But the timetable is not up to us on when we get an answer, it's up to them. "With these new 25-man squad rules, clubs don't have to name their confirmed squads until the end of August, so if they wanted to, City could delay any decisions on their squad until then."