Mancini must reassert authority
When Roberto Mancini casts off his black overcoat, things must be bad. When the Italian's trademark sky blue and white scarf goes the same way, it almost signals a crisis.
Mancini and Manchester City may not be at the tipping point just yet but the manager's impromptu striptease during the defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers was a public sign of the stresses and strains pulling on everyone at Eastlands.
City were touted as genuine Premier League title contenders after overpowering Chelsea recently but defeats against Arsenal and, far more worryingly because of the circumstances, Wolves have opened up cracks in the facade.
Mark Hughes was sacked last season for, as chief executive Garry Cook so memorably put it, a dipping "trajectory of results", so Mancini needs to repair the damage swiftly.
The fixture list has not made Mancini's task any easier, with a trip to surprise package West Bromwich Albion at the weekend before what could be a defining derby meeting with Manchester United at Eastlands the following Wednesday.
Mancini appears to be the main target for the flak, with inevitable suggestions that he has lost control of a dressing room full of lavishly rewarded players, some with too much time on their hands because of his rotation policy.
He has issued words of censure to some of his players - including England trio Joe Hart, Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson - for being captured drinking on camera in Scotland on a day off. Emmanuel Adebayor, in a rare outbreak of passion, fell out with Vincent Kompany at Molineux, while Yaya Toure and James Milner were understood to have had a disagreement at the interval during the loss to Arsenal.
Mancini's side were humbled by Wolves. Photo: PA
Throw in Roque Santa Cruz, who, in one of his few headline-grabbing moments since joining City from Blackburn for £18m, suggested the talismanic Carlos Tevez was homesick for his native Argentina, and the headaches are piling up for Mancini.
Tevez, whose own form since arriving from Manchester United has made him an Eastlands untouchable, has also had his moments with Mancini, such as their row at half-time during the 2-1 win against Newcastle United.
And yet City have hardly been a lost cause this season, with time still for Mancini to recover the situation. I have watched them in the flesh twice and they have been impressive on both occasions, beating Liverpool and, more significantly, Chelsea.
As always with Manchester City, however, there is a dark side to this great and hospitable club, which seems to lurch almost predictably towards the precipice.
There is talent in the camp but it is also accompanied by an undoubted sense of unrest - and without Tevez, City looked directionless and lacking in leadership at Molineux.
Before the start of the season, unconvinced by Mancini's display last term, I suggested his biggest task was the careful utilisation of the vast resources, not to mention vast wage packets and vast egoes, at his disposal. He has yet to come to terms with this.
City have an abundance of gifted players but they lack a definite structure, while Mancini himself appears lost in a tactical fog at times. He devised a perfect stifling gameplan to snuff out Chelsea but produced a puzzling answer to City's struggles at Wolves by bringing on defender Pablo Zabaleta for goalscorer Adebayor.
The suspicion remains that Mancini's natural conservatism is holding him back from using the attacking riches he has, such as Johnson and James Milner on the flanks and Adebayor and Tevez together through the middle.
Mancini's decision to let Craig Bellamy join Cardiff City on loan has also been revisited in the light of recent results but it was clear Eastlands was not big enough for the both of them under any circumstances.
The pressure will mount on Mancini if he cannot fashion a decent points haul against West Brom and Manchester United - but he must not stand alone in the blame game that is bound to ensue if City's troubles continue.
I have never been totally sold on Mancini and still question whether he is the right man to take City to the success commensurate with their riches but this does not stop me having a measure of sympathy for his current plight.
Mancini will accept his share of his responsibilty but is it not time some of City's players showed some responsibility of their own? He appears unable to fathom a culture that sees players head to Scotland for golf and drinking on a day off - and he is not alone.
Surely he is right to expect, at the very least, a measure of sensible recovery and preparation from players so richly rewarded? Should he really have to worry about what might happen on a day off? He is their manager not their father.
As the mystified Mancini rightly said after the incident in Scotland: "I don't understand why they have chosen this and I am unhappy about it. We are playing every three or four days at the moment and it is difficult enough to recover."
And what of suggestions that Mancini's departure would not be mourned by many of his squad, who have struggled to cope with his demanding training methods and supposedly stand-offish approach?
I have heard the dissenting voices at Eastlands from Manchester City fans unsure about Mancini but you suspect they would take the side of their manager in this debate. Plenty of City supporters would train morning, noon and night for a great deal less than half of the salary commanded by many of their squad. They would certainly accept a boss who was a bit slow to throw his arms around them.
Is it not time City's players stopped complaining and simply got on with the job?
The good news is that City are in a relatively healthy fourth position in the Premier League, although their Abu Dhabi owners will justifiably expect Champions League football as the minimum requirement for their huge outlay.
Mancini's task is to make sure Cook's infamous "trajectory of results" takes an upward curve in the next 10 days - but this is not down to the Italian alone.
Manchester City's players must somehow forge a bond among themselves and their manager if a club that almost prides itself on upheaval is not to be disrupted again.
Another of Cook's finest lines was: "Comedy has always been at the heart of what this club is all about." Now it is time to get serious.