Mancini faces Robinho dilemma
Roberto Mancini, in one of the more spectacular revelations after a winning start to his tenure as Manchester City manager, announced: "Craig Bellamy is my friend."
It was a conclusion Mancini may have found a lot easier to reach after spending 70 minutes in close proximity to Robinho - and after hearing Eastlands afford Bellamy a rousing, and significant, standing ovation when he replaced the infuriating Brazilian.
Mancini's first game against a disappointingly tame Stoke was as comfortable as City's hierarchy intended it to be in the weeks they spent plotting the ham-fisted downfall of his predecessor Mark Hughes.
Hughes has gone, but one dilemma from his era remains and all the goodwill afforded the Italian and generated by this victory will not remove it. What will Mancini do about Robinho?
Robinho flirted with making a serious contribution to City's deserved victory, with his one major intervention being a questionable touch to Carlos Tevez's cross that led to Martin Petrov scoring the first goal of the Mancini reign.
It was all downhill after that and his final contribution was to allow a presentable pass slide apologetically past him into touch. Cue the beckoning finger from Mancini and a deafening welcome for Bellamy - which led to that most embarrassing of spectacles, namely Robinho milking an ovation that actually belonged to someone else.
Mancini has spent much of a treacherous first week at Eastlands talking up Robinho - a wise move if he hopes to garner interest for the under-achieving South American when the transfer window opens in a few days' time.
And if you judge a man by the company he keeps, the Eastlands crowd were advising Mancini to stay close to Bellamy, reportedly one of the more discontented after the departure of Hughes, who managed him with Blackburn Rovers, City and Wales.
In much the same way as Manchester United's fans always warmed to the efforts of Carlos Tevez as opposed to the more unpredictable contribution of Dimiar Berbatov, City's followers prefer the tireless nuisance of Bellamy when weighed against the more mercurial Robinho.
Roberto Mancini gets his feelings across to Robinho during the victory over Stoke
The test may come when 2010 is ushered in. If one of Mancini's early decisions was to prefer Robinho to Bellamy against Stoke, then his next may be to decide which one to keep in the transfer window. There should only be one out of the door if it happens - Robinho. Manchester City's fans made it deafeningly clear who they would keep. And they were right.
Mancini may wish to keep both, but with Tevez also in the mix he would be unwise to refuse any serious interest in Robinho, who made a flowery farewell when replaced by the more popular Bellamy.
Bellamy may be regarded by many as a gigantic pain in the neck, and it would be a surprise if he did not make his feelings about Hughes' departure clear, but he has been outstanding for City and represents a better bet than Robinho.
Robinho floated ineffectively around the edges against Stoke, the body language less than urgent, and Mancini was diplomacy itself when he put his substitution down to the £32.5m striker being "tired."
Mancini may regard this as a small cloud on a happy horizon after getting the three points City needed so badly after coming under an avalanche of criticism for the way Hughes was deposed.
City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak and chief executive Garry Cook looked particularly relieved as they shared a victory handshake - and so they should be given the flak aimed in their direction over the managerial succession at Eastlands.
Both have a large stake in Mancini's future success as the 14th City manager during the 23-year reign enjoyed by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. If he fails you suspect they may find it difficult to claw back lost credibility.
If Cook is so keen on "trajectory of results" - a corporate phrase I hope I never hear again in a football context and especially when a manager loses his job - then he must hope it is onward and upward under Mancini.
And this was a good, if unspectacular, start. Mancini, resplendent in large sky blue scarf, was well received before kick-off, and there was irony in his brief handshake and chat with Stoke assistant manager Peter Reid.
If Mancini needed a history lesson on how badly managers can be treated at City, Reid might have reminded him how he was mystifyingly ditched four games into the 1993/94 season.
The Italian was swiftly into his stride, to the extent of occasionally waving his new right-hand man Brian Kidd back into the technical area when he moved forward to offer advice. This is his show.
He applauded warmly when goalkeeper Shay Given came to claim a cross with confidence and thanked his "fantastic" players enthusiastically at the final whistle. Mancini will know already that if he is to build anything of substance at Eastlands, however long he may survive, it will not be done without this outstanding goalkeeper.
Tevez's goal in first half stoppage time effectively confirmed the win, and the second period allowed Mancini to display his pragmatism. replacing the tiring Sylvinho with the more energetic Micah Richards after 66 minutes and presiding over a plan designed to protect a lead rather than extending it.
City still showed the vulnerability that pock-marked the Hughes' era, and it would have been intriguing to see the reaction, on the pitch and in the stands, had Tuncay not been halted by Given early on.
Beattie was also frustrated by Given and Robert Huth headed wide at a point when a goal may just have made the difference - but this was a merited winning start.
Mancini made his way on to the turf and shared an affectionate exchange with Bellamy at the final whistle. With friends like Bellamy, who needs Robinho?
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