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Nov 2, 2010

Rich and richer

Positive vibes have been in such short supply around Manchester City in the last week, so under-fire manager Roberto Mancini will welcome a contribution from one of the club's former heroes as he struggles to plug the leaks in his side's faltering title challenge.

Back to back defeats against Arsenal and Wolves have piled the pressure on Mancini and his expensively-assembled squad, with rumours of dressing-room discontent refusing to disperse as the world's richest club feels the searing heat of the spotlight their lavish spending has attracted.

As Richard Dunne found to his cost, sentiment has not been part of the equation as City have looked to move onto the next level following the arrival of Sheikh Mansour and his Abu Dhabi consortium, with this long-serving fans' favourite among those culled as replacements were summoned from all corners of Europe.

After such a public rejection, Dunne would be forgiven for affording himself a wry smile at the reality that City's defensive line has barely improved since he was replaced with over £60 million worth of defensive talent, yet such personal gratification is not part of his repertoire. Instead, the Dubliner maintains a belief that his former club's rise to the top of the table is "inevitable" so long as patience is injected into their potent mix.

"I'm sure Manchester City will win the Premier League title sooner rather than later, but those in charge are realising that success will not come as quickly as they wanted," Dunne says. "The owners probably believed they could throw money at it and the trophies will start rolling in from the off, but they will need to have time with a settled manager and develop as a team.

"From what I have seen of City this season, with the exception of a couple of performances, they have become a tough team to beat this season and that is always a good starting point for any side with title ambitions. When you add in the finances they have behind them now, I'd say it is a matter of time before they get the success they crave.

"It would be great for the fans to have some glory because they were fantastic to me during my nine years at the club. I was Player of the Year four times and really enjoyed myself at City, but I have never been one of those who look back and wonder what might have been if I had stayed because that chapter is closed for me.

"Once you are out of the door at one club, you move onto the next place and don't look back and wonder what might have been. City have gone on to become a really powerful club with massive plans for the future, but regret is not an emotion I feel about my move Villa. I'm getting everything I want in football at this club, so I couldn't be happier."

City's loss has most certainly been Aston Villa's gain as while the Manchester wannabes have attempted to assemble a title winning defence by snapping up Kolo Toure (£16 million), Jolean Lescott (£24 million), Aleksandar Kolarov (£16 million) and Jerome Boateng (£10 million), Dunne has enjoyed something of a renascence since Martin O'Neill took him to Villa Park in the summer of 2009.

After his impressive performances last season earned him a place on the PFA's Premier League Team of the Year, Dunne is now targeting trophy success before he hangs up his well-worn boots in the not-too-distant future.

"Coming to Villa has been great for me and a fresh challenge may have been what I needed after so many years at City," the 31-year-old says. "Moving to a new town and working in a different environment can be good for a player who has been at the same club for a long time and I've been pleased with the ways things have gone for me on and off the pitch in Birmingham.

"Getting onto the PFA Team of the Year was a massive honour personally last season and we also came close to winning the Carling Cup Final against Manchester United, so the aim is to kick on now under Gerard Houllier's management.

"An opportunity has opened up for us in the Carling Cup once more this season and it would be great to get back to Wembley in that competition. We also want to try and maintain what this club have become accustomed to in the last few years, which means trying to challenge for a top-six finish."

Dunne's optimism is not shared by a vocal minority of Villa fans, who vented their frustration at Houllier's cautious tactics in Sunday's local derby against Birmingham on the radio phone-in shows after the game, yet the Frenchman's defensive kingpin has a quick riposte for the critics.

"I think we showed against Chelsea that we can play at a high level against the top sides and the same was true in our defeat at Spurs," he says, reflecting on last month's 0-0 draw and a 2-1 defeat respectively. "We matched two sides from the top four and had chances to win both games. That's the level where we believe we belong.

"A new manager has come in for us this season but he hasn't changed an awful lot since to be honest and, even though results haven't been exactly what we wanted, we have played well at times during games. The promising signs are there and we just have to build on them.

"I'm sure the manager will look to sign a couple of players in January, so we can look to the future with real optimism. With the Premier League being so tight at the moment, three or four wins would push us up the table very quickly, so anything is possible for us."

With a flawless ability to command respect from those around him and excellent communication skills, Dunne's leadership qualities would appear to be readymade for a future career in coaching or management, yet he is quick to dismiss such a notion.

"I don't fancy becoming a manager," he says. "I've been in football for a long time and, even though I have ideas on how the game should be played, they are probably all wrong! When you have been in the game for 20 years, jumping straight into a management after I hang up my boots wouldn't appeal to me. I don't see it happening."

So retirement back home in Ireland would appear to be more likely than a step into the coaching ring for Dunne, yet he will not want to end his playing days without a medal to confirm he will take more than a huge helping of respect with him into the football afterlife.

Richard Dunne was speaking to ESPNsoccernet in association with Thomas Cook Sport, which offers trips to football matches in England and Spain. http://www.thomascooksport.com

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