A stuttering start to Mancini's new dawn

Tottenham Hotspur provide an opening-day yard-stick that Manchester City must exceed this season.

Tottenham's Peter Crouch, centre, attempts a spectacular bicycle kick against Manchester City yesterday.
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The late Jack Walker showed it was possible to transform the fortunes of a slumbering giant 15 years ago when the steel magnate's personal fortune enabled Blackburn Rovers to come from comparative obscurity to break Manchester United's grip on what was then an embryonic English Premier League. Roman Abramovich's considerably larger reserves of Russian roubles enabled Chelsea to do the same a decade later and break what by then had become a duopoly involving Arsenal as well as Sir Alex Ferguson's United.

The stakes are continually rising for those seeking to buy the title, as Manchester City will surely discover over what they confidently expect to be a productive winter. City now have riches beyond the dreams of a faithful following who ensured Maine Road was well attended through decades of under-achieving and have more recently transferred their patronage to Eastlands. A first domestic championship since the golden era of the Swinging Sixties has been brought into view by the arrival of Abu Dhabi funding. City, for so long the poor relations in their own neighbourhood, are now the envy of all around them whenever the transfer window is open.

Roberto Mancini arrived from Italy seeking to provide a tangible reward to the club's owners in return for their massive investment. The City manager was shorn of his trademark blue and white scarf as a new campaign opened at White Hart Lane yesterday but the purse strings are still very much in the Italian's grasp as the eve-of-season recruitment of Mario Balotelli emphasised. The £24 million (Dh137.4m) signing of Inter Milan's talented striker and the likelihood of England's James Milner moving in from Aston Villa for about the same fee will take City's summer spending beyond £125m - an outlay which they would expect to reap the desired dividends.

Yesterday proved, however, that it takes more than money in the current era to bring success and it was a relieved City squad who left London grateful to the heroic display from a player who cost them a meagre £600,000 from Shewsbury four years ago. Joe Hart, out of favour for club and country last season as Shay Given was an undisputed first choice at Eastlands and several other goalkeepers were unconvincingly ahead of him in the England pecking order, is now relishing No 1 status at both levels.

And how he demonstrated why with a string of saves to prevent a dominant Tottenham Hotspur team taking what would have been a thoroughly justified three points to go with the six they took from City last term. Completing that impressive double enabled Harry Redknapp's Spurs to deny City a chance to perform in the European Champions League this season. On the admittedly brief evidence of yesterday's 90-plus minutes of goalless but entertaining action, they will be better equipped to give a decent account of themselves in Tuesday's qualifying round against Young Boys of Berne, Switzerland. Redknapp, who has created a local rivalry in north London with Arsenal to match the one that is developing in Manchester, warrants all the accolades that have come his way for achieving so much in such a short time at White Hart Lane.

His impressive line-up, assembled for a fraction of the price of City's, carved out chances galore in the face of isolated threats to their own rearguard. But for Hart's saves and some indecisive finishing they would have inflicted severe early embarrassment on their wealthy visitors. wjohnson@thenational.ae