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Sven back but in uncharted territory

After the rank tedium of season 2006/7, Manchester City have reverted to the chaotic type that their long-time fans know and, perhaps secretly, love.

Just ten goals at home all season meant the axe for Stuart Pearce, whose tenure as a manager showed he can marshall a defence but not a cohesive unit capable of scoring goals.

The combined goal tally of Bernardo Corradi, Darius Vassell and Giorgios Samaras would embarass most single strikers and it was left to Joey Barton, Sylvain Distin and Richard Dunne to provide backbone to the side as Micah Richards continued to show great promise.

But now Barton, in disgrace, Distin, out-of-contract, and Pearce, sacked, are gone. Which of course, tells nowhere near the whole story of what awaits Manchester City for the new season.

A disgraced former Thai Prime Minister and a disgraced former England manager are now their figureheads.

Both Thaksin Shinawatra and Sven Goran Eriksson have courted plenty of other clubs before ending up at Eastlands. But it is Manchester City, for the second time in recent years, who give a former England manager the chance to resurrect his career.

As for Thaksin, nicknamed 'Frank' by City fans (think Sinatra), his dalliances with Liverpool and Fulham, as well as being pictured in a Manchester United shirt, have made him as controversial a figure as seems possible in the Premier League. Messrs Abramovich, Tevez and Glazer are all claimants here yet neither are an exiled man accused of embezzlement or human rights abuse.

And Thaksin's recent insistence that a couple of Thai players will feature in a new-look City have a chilling foreboding of the type of owner interference that is rarely considered acceptable in British football, the example of the chaotic scenes at Heart of Midlothian being perhaps the most extreme.

Eriksson, having bossed Lazio in the time of Sergio Cragnotti, may be more used to having decisions made for him, and some might say that his time as England boss, where player power seemed a considerable force, points to Sven being not so ill-disposed to outside interference.

His spending so far, surely not at an end, has been prolific if curious. £8.8m for Rolando Bianchi, a player who impressed for struggling Reggina after being largely scoreless at Atalanta and Cagliari, does not completely have the look of the signing an out-an-out goalscorer to soothe the goal-starved stomachs of the City faithful.

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Geovanni, a Brazilian most famed in the football world for a brief and unflattering spell at Barcelona at the start of this decade, looks an intriguing signing, though the record of South Americans settling in Manchester is not good. One thing in his credit account among City fans would be a goal that ended United's participation in the 2005/6 Champions League. Very much a 'wait and see' player, Geovanni has as much as anyone to prove at City.

In enticing winger Martin Petrov from Atletico Madrid, Eriksson showed he still possesses some standing in the transfer market. Petrov has been a genuine star for club and country and his explosive approach could add some zest into City's previously somnambulent attack.

Eriksson's contacts book has been fully used in adding to a squad he described as 'good' on his anointing at Eastlands before then listing the need for reinforcements in just about every department. Countryman Andreas Isaksson impressed in goal last season, and stalwart Nicky Weaver has departed after nine years at the club.

Defensively-speaking, Eriksson inherited a decent if sparse unit. Pearce's know-how made a better player of captain Richard Dunne, a player of hidden pace and poise. His partner of recent seasons, Distin, has joined the dad's army at Portsmouth, and so a central defender was required. Croatia international Vedran Corluka, at 21, may be expected to fill the spot, but may find himself at full-back with Javier Garrido, signed from Sociedad, and again young at 22.

Another option in the centre of defence may well be Micah Richards, in whom Eriksson has an England player too young even to have featured for him, but perhaps one he would have liked to call on. Richards has been linked with almost all the big boys of the Premier League and may well be an asset to cash in, though this will come at the time of the January transfer window at the earliest.

Nedum Onuoha starred for England's U21's in the summer, ironically under the tutelage of Pearce, and will look to use his versatility across the defence. Meanwhile Michael Ball, a man capped by Eriksson in his first ever England game, never to be called up again, may have more than a point to prove to his new boss after being awarded a new contract after a decent short-term deal in the second half of 2006/7.

After the addition of Brazil's Copa America-winning Elano and Swiss U21 captain Gelson Fernandes, midfield is a well-stocked unit, though in lacking Barton it has lost recent seasons' main driving force. Dietmar Hamann has a bit to prove after all the efforts made in the summer of 2006 in stealing him from under the noses of Bolton. Ousmane Dabo may wish to be remembered for being more than a training ground incident which hastened the departure of Barton. Stephen Ireland's class on the ball needs protecting, and an all-action midfielder is surely required. Elano was signed from Shakthtar Donetsk to be just this man

And in attack, the aforementioned trio of goalshy strikers, along with Paul Dickov, will surely be behind Bianchi and Emile Mpenza, Pearce's last and greatest signing for the club, whose goals rescued tedium from disaster in keeping City ahead of the relegation battle. Eriksson has been courting Petrov's Bulgarian compatriot Valerin Bojinov, a player of whom much was expected in Serie A without him ever able to establish himself at any team.

So, this is not an embarassment of riches for a man once used to coaching England's supposed 'Golden Generation' but Eriksson should be desperate to recover his reputation as a club manager.

Let us not forget his showings at Gothenburg, Benfica, Sampdoria and Lazio before we judge his ability to do the job. They may be long in the past, and the records of post-England bosses is not great, with perhaps only Bobby Robson ever truly enhancing his reputation after leaving the 'impossible job', but Eriksson has been given another chance.

Has, in Manchester City, a club known best for high farce and base comedy, Eriksson found a true home? It could be a lot of fun finding out. The Blues may well line up as a completely different side to that which bored Eastlands into submission last season. And City fans might not mind that.

  • Any thoughts? Email John Brewin.