Although Roberto Mancini’s tenure at Manchester has included more successes than failures, yesterday’s 3-2 defeat at of bitter rivals Manchester United provided more evidence that he cannot take them to the next level.
Mancini has undoubtedly aided the transition from rich Premier League club to perennial title challengers, but however much City fans protest, the spending during this time cannot be overlooked. Of course the fact that Mancini (by and large) commands the respect of these global superstars shows he does have admirable managerial qualities, getting young men with more money than sense to do your bidding is no mean feat.
There is no question that either that Mancini has achieved at the Etihad, ending City’s 35-year trophyless run with the 2011 FA Cup, taking the club’s Champions League virginity and winning the league in 2012. Yet one cannot help feeling that with the irrepressible financial clout of Sheikh Mansour behind them, such occurrences were inevitable and if Mancini hadn’t delivered these results, someone would’ve eventually succeeded where he had failed.
As soon as the league was delivered the culture of Manchester City Football Club changed forever. They were now a team who had to challenge for major honours every season. While Mancini will always be revered by most City fans for transforming them from chumps to champs, the chances of him being the man to carry out this unforgiving remit seem slimmer by the day.
Even the manner in which he did deliver the league smacked of a guy slightly out his depth. Last season, he had unquestionably the best squad in England at his disposal yet City famously clinched the title with virtually the last kick of the season. Dramatic as it was, the reality was that with the squad City had, it should never have come to that. Sir Alex Ferguson’s United side were inferior to City in every department that season (as the two head-to-heads showed) but City only won the title on goal difference.
Playing fantasy football for a minute, and if in some bizarre world Ferguson had been in charge of City and Mancini in charge of United last season, it is not unreasonable to claim City would’ve wrapped up the title by April, such is Ferguson’s mastery at managing egos, squads and campaigns.
The quality of player at City is so high that in the Premier League they will win many games whoever is in charge. When they encounter teams with the same calibre of player, the sort of game where the manager’s role is invaluable, Mancini has countlessly been founding wanting.
The Champions League is a case in point. The sophisticated tactics of Borussia Dortmund and in 2011 the clinical counter-attacks of Napoli reduced Eastland’s idols to mere mortals. The difference between City and these teams was not ability, as the individuals on Mancini’s roster are as equally gifted, even more so in some cases. However for all City’s individual brilliance, could you really pinpoint how they play as a team?
As Mancini scrambled around trying 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-3 or 4-2-2-2 confusing players and fans in equal measure, Dortmund’s 4-2-3-1 giving them perfect blend of defensive solidity and attacking prowess saw them comprehensively outplay City twice. While Napoli’s at times one-dimensional reliance on counter-attack showed Mancini the fruits that can be bore from having a distinctive style of play.
After nearly three years in charge Mancini has yet to establish a clear style of play and whenever they face equally skilled opponents or slightly less talented individuals with definitive style of play, City invariably lose. Moreover if you compare Mancini’s City to Mourinho’s Chelsea the season after they won their first Premier League, you can see that where Chelsea headed forwards City are heading backwards. Chelsea led practically from the word go and won the league with 91 points. City are likely to be at least six points behind United on Christmas Day.
All season City have not played like Champions, poor against Liverpool outplayed for long periods by Arsenal and Swansea and the way in which Rooney’s first goal in the derby knocked the stuffing out of them completely until half-time, showed that their unbeaten start to the season was paper over obvious cracks.
Perhaps the biggest of which is Mancini’s blind faith in Mario Balotelli, whose wretched performance yesterday showed that lovable rogue though is, he cannot be trusted to lead the line for a title winning side. The negative influence of Balotelli’s eccentricity last season was seized upon by many pundits last season, but he nevertheless contributed 17 goals to City’s title-winning cause. So it seemed to a certain extent that he was worth the hassle.
However Balotelli so far this campaign, has been terrible and Mancini’s decision to start him yesterday ahead of Carlos Tevez, whose introduction so nearly salvaged the game for City, underlined the scarf-wearing Italian’s increasingly irrational decision making.
Mancini has failed in Europe twice and is likely to fail in the league this year as he so nearly did last term. If City want are serious about marrying millions with superclub status then the diversion of Jose Mourinho’s ever-growing trajectory towards Old Trafford, in favour of the Etihad Stadium, would be Sheikh Mansour’s best ever piece of recruitment.
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