Most managers who have left Manchester City in the last 20 years have been distinctly unpopular. With the odd exception, such as Joe Royle and Sven-Goran Eriksson, the majority oversaw a period of decline and left with their reputation diminished.
Roberto Mancini was one of the few who was very popular with the City fans right to the end.
In fact, to many, he was a hero. Mancini wasn’t perfect, but he had ended City’s long wait for a trophy by winning the 2011 FA Cup, their first piece of major silverware for 35 years, before delivering the club's first title in 44 years in 2012. All this after taking over from the disastrous Mark Hughes—a man who had spent big, yet delivered, well, absolutely nothing.
However, Mancini’s popularity with the fans wasn’t reflected by the staff and the players, and after a season of disharmony and disunity, the board took the difficult decision to get rid of the Italian. The way it was handled may have been messy, but the opinion of the decision makers at City was unanimous: Mancini's time had come.
In came Manuel Pellegrini, and after a short period of mild resistance from the fans who still adored his predecessor, he set about altering City’s style of play. A high-tempo, pressing game, with quick passing and an emphasis on attack was the blueprint, and he made the signings he felt he needed to implement that style.
In came Jesus Navas to offer pace and width, Alvaro Negredo to give a physical presence up front, Fernandinho to bring some energy to a midfield lacking verve and Stevan Jovetic to add some flair.
The speed with which City brought those players in was impressive. After a poor summer the year before they struggled to land their targets, before a last-minute trolley-dash around Europe brought some unwanted gifts, this time, City were quick out the blocks, with Txiki Begiristain now overseeing recruitment.
It offered the new manager a full month to prepare with most of his players in place—exactly what every manager would ideally want.
There were some teething problems initially. When a manager brings in a host of new players and attempts to revolutionise the club's style of play, there are bound to be difficulties. Away defeats at Cardiff and Villa and a draw at Stoke held them back, but there were signs that City had the capability to be the best in the league.
And now, with 2014 just hours away, they are clearly developing into a major force. Their form over the last six weeks has been excellent, and they find themselves just one point off the top of the table, into the last 16 of the Champions League for the very first time and into the Capital One Cup semi-final.
Since the defeat Nov. 10 at Sunderland, they have won 10 and drawn one of their 11 matches in all competitions. They've scored 54 league goals in their 19 games and have managed a remarkable 82 goals in all competitions. Some of the performances have been quite exceptional.
Many connected to City were upset by the handling of Mancini's departure, but it's clear that the team are entering an exciting new phase under Pellegrini. His steadfast commitment to an attacking style of football is commendable, and it's yielding results.
2014 should be a very exciting year for Manchester City fans.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.