Wave of optimism: City's winning welcome for owner

A rapturous reception as Sheikh Mansour makes Eastlands bow and Manchester City's owner is rewarded with a 3-0 victory over Liverpool.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, centre, with Khaldoon Khalifa al Mubarak, left, received a rapturous welcome from Manchester City fans at the game against Liverpool at the City of Manchester Stadium on Monday night. It was the first time Sheikh Mansour had watched a game at Eastlands.
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MANCHESTER // "Welcome to Manchester" read the famously mischievous city-centre poster erected to mark Carlos Tevez's transfer from United to City. On Monday night, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed was afforded his own welcome to Manchester. It was rapturous, too. The Manchester City owner received two loud ovations when he appeared, flanked by Garry Cook and Khaldoon al Mubarak, on the big screen before kick-off.

A 3-0 demolition of Liverpool ensured the Sheikh's evening proceeded smoothly on his first match at the City of Manchester Stadium. Whereas Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the Liverpool owners, are pariahs on Merseyside, City's benefactor was embraced at Eastlands. There is a second banner of relevance. It declares: "Manchester thanks you, Sheikh Mansour". Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester Unied manager, who accused City of "kamikaze spending" had a direct view of it during a one-sided game. That expenditure amounts to some £355 million (Dh2.1billion) on transfers alone during the Sheikh's two-year reign.

But as James Milner, the £26m midfielder, made an assured debut, there was evidence to suggest much of it has been money well spent. Tevez's elevation to the captaincy was unexpected, but the £25.5m striker opened his account for the season with a brace. Yaya Toure, bought from Barcelona for £24m, is becoming a physical force in the midfield. City's transfer fees are not always unaffordable to other clubs, however. Joe Hart, recruited for an initial £600,000 in 2006, made a stunning double save to thwart David Ngog and Fernando Torres; Adam Johnson, who increasingly appears a bargain at £7m, produced an outstanding performance on the right wing; and Gareth Barry, a comparatively cheap addition at £12m, broke the deadlock. The overall impression was of a serious professionalism, one that brought comparisons with Chelsea when they were managed by Jose Mourinho. Job done, the emphatic nature of the victory allowed a relaxed Roberto Mancini, the coach, to say: "I hope he [Sheikh Mansour] will come every week."

The smiling Italian fielded questions if his recent haircut was because of his employer's appearance. More importantly, he suggested the result will furnish City with confidence. "If we go out on the pitch with a good mentality then we can beat any team," he said. "It's hard to score three goals against a team like Liverpool. We needed this win to believe in ourselves." For Nigel de Jong, the Dutch midfielder, a marker had been laid down. "Monday's performance was one that should set the tone for the season. It is not often that anyone beats Liverpool 3-0. I think you could tell we were all so determined," he told the club's official website.

The owner's visit took the players by surprise, but they used the opportunity to suggest his investment will yield some silverware. "We want to win this league," De Jong said. "That's the ambition but to do that we have to hit these standards every week. What this win has done is make sure we have made a positive start just like United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs." The Premier League's new 25-man squad regulation impacts City more than any other club. The benefits of their six summer additions are apparent, not least to the players already in situ.

"There is no doubt that the intensity has upped in training with the arrival of the new players. Everyone is working and fighting for each other," De Jong added. "There are lots of positive things in this team. You have to raise your game when players like we have signed come in the group. But it is not just them, it is younger ones, too, pushing from underneath. There are lots of things to be positive about but we must not get carried away with one result."

February's 4-2 victory at Stamford Bridge apart, it was their finest result under Mancini. The Italian's preference for a solid base to his side has been questioned but, three games into the season and after encountering Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, City are yet to concede. Forty-five goals were conceded last season and it is apparent that Mancini has targeted an improvement. In the event, the absence of Aleksandar Kolarov and Jerome Boateng, the first-choice full-backs, was no impediment.

Minus both, Sheikh Mansour only had the opportunity to see two of the six signings he has financed in the last three months, in Milner and Yaya Toure. Both debutants were given a rousing reception, but the most enthusiastic Mancunian greeting was granted to the man whose millions have helped transform the club. sports@thenational.ae