4 November ~ Quite different results over the weekend have done little to change the positions of Roberto Mancini and Chris Hughton among the favourites to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked. Newcastle's derby day victory might have brought a statement of support from the club, but Hughton remains second in the odds, behind Avram Grant, with the City boss close behind. At the end of the season the current favourites for the sack may well have the last laugh on the bookies and the press that drives the speculation, but it is difficult to find managers who, in terms of style or club setting, could be more different than Mancini and Hughton.
If reports are to be believed, both have faced divided dressing rooms. When Hughton succeeded Alan Shearer for his latest spell in charge, the consensus was that the Newcastle dressing room was united only by the sense of mutual loathing players had for one another. Steven Taylor talked earlier in the year about the divisions that had existed in the past, "The lads here always sat around in three groups: foreign, young and older", and about how unresolved grievances were carried over into poor individual performances on the pitch.
There is little doubt that relegation, the need to move some players on and some robust changes to the club's bonus culture strengthened the manager's hand. But it is equally true that the new manager's openness and honesty have been an important part of bringing players together. Alongside this, he has, apparently, made clever use of his senior players – all strong personalities – by forming them into a "players' committee” that can act as a conduit between the dressing room and the manager.
By contrast, Mancini's time at City has been characterised by publicly aired grievances and suggestions that the manager is too aloof. He has been quick to set out the differences between his sense of priority and those of some of his players – the culture of drinking, of players' focus on the next day off rather than the next match and the importance of physical fitness and preparation. In his previous managerial roles Mancini has shown a willingness to confront players who do not follow where he wants to lead. If he is to succeed in bringing about the changes he seeks at City he will need to get influential players on his side. Mancini has talked about the time it took Alex Ferguson to establish himself at Old Trafford, but he is unlikely to have that luxury and might have to look at other approaches if he is to deny the bookies odds.
Although both clubs have enjoyed strong and loyal support over the years, the current expectations appear quite different. For City, a top-four finish, ideally ahead of United, seems almost a minimum, whereas Newcastle's aspirations are far more modest. Mancini must manage with the curse of unlimited resources available to him. Despite a net spend approaching £300 million it is not hard to find people who believe he still needs to strengthen every department of his team. Hughton, however, must manage largely with what he has. In his early career, at Fiorentina and later at Lazio, Mancini established a reputation for achieving success on limited resources and perhaps in the long hours of the night he dreams of being back there. The limitations Hughton faces give him the luxury of appearing astute, with signings like Cheick Tiote or the cruelly injured Hatem Ben Arfa.
Chris Hughton has had his local derby success and that might translate into a speedy resolution of his contractual position. Conversely, a desire to recruit a big name may undo his good work. Mancini has his local derby around the corner – victory might buy him a little more time but, however unreasonably, defeat might easily shorten the odds on his dismissal even further. Brian Simpson