No days off and night training – Inside Roberto Mancini’s transformative first days at Man City – Dominic Farrell

Manchester City fans can enjoy Christmas Day nowadays without giving a second thought to football.

This year, the Blues were sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League table as Santa did his rounds.

From top to bottom, the club are an incredibly well-oiled machine under Pep Guardiola, with even a transfer saga such as the one presently involving Ferran Torres not threatening to knock anything off course.

The journey that has brought City to this point began in some respects exactly 12 years ago, when there could hardly have been less certainty or more turbulence around the whole operation.

Mark Hughes had been messily sacked, with a chaotic 4-3 home win over Sunderland on December 19 played out in the surreal circumstances of the manager and a packed Etihad Stadium all knowing his fate.

“The game we played against Sunderland, there was a really weird atmosphere in the stadium,” Nedum Onuoha, who played that day, told City Is Ours.

“Whether people liked him or they didn’t, it just felt weird. It wasn’t an obvious moment to be getting a new manager.

“But as players, you don’t get a say in who manages you anyway, so it is what it is.”

After an infamous unveiling press conference, where he revealed he’d been approached by City prior to Hughes’ downfall and embattled chief executive Garry Cook started banging the table, new manager Roberto Mancini wasted no time in trying to reshape the City squad in his image.

At a time of year when rest and recovery are generally prioritised within a hectic playing schedule, the first days of the Italian’s reign proved to be an eye-opener for Onuoha and his colleagues.

Barclays Premier League, Manchester City Training, Carrington Training Ground, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini
Roberto Mancini was quick to make his mark on the training ground

“From the get-go, you could see Roberto was completely different to anything we’d had before when it came to scheduling and the type of training sessions you were doing,” he said.

“I remember one thing that he did straight away was he brought floodlights onto the training field. That’s not normal. The reason he did it was he said he wanted to train the same time as we were playing.

“The workload that we were doing in those first few weeks was quite high relative to the time of year that it was, but it was because he wanted to instil his principles.

“In terms of a tough December and January, that was probably the hardest of my career because there was a lot of tactical and focused work that was done, which went against the fact we’d just had games.”

Those hard yards yielded instant returns.

Stoke City, who would become a staple of Mancini’s initial weeks in charge, were first up in Manchester on Boxing Day and goals from Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez secured a 2-0 win.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Carlos Tevez of Manchester City scores the second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Stoke City at City of Manchester Stadium on December 26, 2009 in Manchester, England.
Carlos Tevez scored in acrobatic fashion against Stoke.

That was the first of four victories in succession across all competitions, while City also pushed Manchester United heartbreakingly close in the semi-finals of the League Cup.

The strong run of form was in part down to a strong bond between players who were not allowed to spend much time apart from one another.

“He didn’t like days off, he hated days off,” Onuoha explained. “I’m not sure we had a proper day off for the first four or five weeks of his tenure. He definitely set the tone.”

Onuoha scored a rare goal in a 4-2 FA Cup win at Scunthorpe United, but a replay defeat at Stoke in round five – both games in that tie sandwiched a 1-1 draw against Tony Pulis’ team in the Premier League – meant City’s wait for silverware would have to tick on for a 35th and final year.

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 24: Goalkeeper Shay Given of Manchester City lies dejected after conceding the Stoke's second goal as team mates Nedum Onuoha and Pablo Zabaleta look on during the FA Cup 5th round match between Stoke City and Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium on February 24, 2010 in Stoke on Trent, England.
Nedum Onuoha looks on dejected at the Britannia Stadium.

“With all due respect, I really don’t like Stoke City. Every time I left there – lost. I hated it,” Nedum chuckled. “It was always blowing a gale.

“People saying, ‘Can you do it on a cold Tuesday night at Stoke?’. No, apparently I couldn’t.”

Even outside of the Britannia Stadium’s microclimate, it was a whirlwind few weeks for the Blues, but a time when Mancini non-negotiably set out his stall.

A statement 4-2 win at Chelsea was followed by patchy form that saw City just miss out on Champions League qualification, but the transformation from an ambitious but ragged collective into a focused and honed winning machine was well underway.

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“In the end, it kind of caught up to us because the methods were so different,” Onuoha added. “As to whether that was why we lost some games I’m not sure, but I think it was a realisation for Roberto.

“I think at times he thought stuff we were doing on the training ground would more or less guarantee a positive outcome, but it’s a very competitive league – especially when you go later on into the season.

“Maybe that helped him to adjust for the next year, when he won the FA Cup.”

That Wembley triumph in 2011 was followed by the Premier League glory a year later. Christmases, and summers for that matter, have never been the same since.

What are your memories of Roberto Mancini’s first Christmas at Manchester City? Follow the City Is Ours editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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