Just eight days after Manchester United announced the retirement of their most successful ever manager, their neighbours and closest rivals Manchester City have parted company with the man who delivered them their first top flight title in forty-four years. Roberto Mancini will leave his post with immediate effect, less than forty eight hours after watching his expensively assembled side lose the FA Cup final to Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic.
Those with a keen knowledge of football at the highest level had been discussing the likelihood of the Italian’s demise for some time, a few having been fairly certain that his time in charge at Eastlands would indeed come to an end this summer, and so it has proved.
Many will look at Roberto Mancini’s time at Manchester City, see the FA Cup triumph of 2010/11 –the club’s first trophy (apart from finishing top of the Championship in 01/02) since winning the League Cup way back in 1976 – and the afore mentioned Premier League title, won in such dramatic fashion at the end of last season, and feel that the City board have been harsh with their decision.
Indeed, many will feel, given the fact that major change is afoot across town at Old Trafford and another managerial change seems certain at Stamford Bridge, that perhaps City would have been wiser to stick by Mancini, use stability as a weapon and try to take full advantage of the insecurity created by the changes of leadership occurring around them.
Such points of view are perfectly valid and arise from clear lines of thought. After all, stability and continuity can be crucial to a football club’s development and three trophies (including the Community shield) in three and a half seasons isn’t too shabby either.
So, why has this decision been taken? Firstly, Manchester City have clearly regressed in 2012/13. A pale shadow of the team that set the Premier League ablaze in the first half of last season, City looked anything but defending champions, and never seriously threatened to retain their league title. Perhaps they were, as many pundits speculated, suffering from a lethargy brought about by their title success the previous season; perhaps not. What is certain however, is that Mancini was unable to rouse them from their funk and banish the lethargy cum complacency which dogged them throughout the campaign, a fact further highlighted by their FA Cup final defeat.
The Italian’s forays into the transfer market and his relationship with members of the squad will also have been cause for concern amongst the board at the Etihad. After initial successes, Mancini has failed to get the best out of several high-profile, big-money signings – Balotelli and Dzeko immediately spring to mind. The former’s success since returning to Italy (ten goals in eleven league games)is a telling indication that Manicini’s man management lacked what was necessary to coax the best from the mercurial frontman, and Dortmund’s interest in the latter (added to his past record) would point to the fact that the Bosnian has plenty more to offer than Mancini has been able to unearth.
The likes of Samir Nasri and Stefan Savic haven’t worked out for City. Scott Sinclair, one of their only summer signings last year, has hardly featured at all for club, whilst Jack Rodwell’s succession of injuries have kept the £12m man sidelined for the vast majority of the campaign. Who could forget last season, when Mancini’s very public bust-up with Carlos Tevez and the Argentinian’s subsequent treatment almost cost City that precious first Premier League title? Those arguments happen every day at football clubs across the world, but top managers at top clubs keep them in-house.
It’s been widely reported throughout his career that Mancini is a “cold shoulder” kind of manager. That’s all very well if the side is performing to its optimum level and picking up the right results, but when things start to go wrong, that kind of approach makes a manager all the more easy to remove.
The biggest reason for City’s decision to dispense with Mancini’s services, and in my opinion, by far the most important and valid of all, is his failure to make any inroads whatsoever in European competition, in particular the Champions League.
The owners at the Etihad have spent hundreds of millions assembling a squad that they expect to be competitive, not just domestically but in Europe too. The simple fact is that there is absolutely nothing in Mancini’s CV that suggests that he may be the man to make City a force to be reckoned with on the continent. Last season they were unfortunate to go out of the competition when they did. Finishing the group stage on ten points after picking up three victories, Mancini cited a lack of European experience as the reason for their early exit. This season however, City failed to win a single Champions League game, home or away; a spectacular slide and an embarrassment for the Champions of the so called “best league in the world”.
Historically Mancini’s record in Europe’s elite competition isn’t much better. His best effort in the competition came at his first attempt way back in 2003/4 when he guided his Inter side to a quarter final hammering by city rivals, AC Milan. Humbled 3-0, Mancini has never again replicated this early promise in the competition, never progressing further than the first knockout stage since. It’s worth pointing out (for those who may point to Inter’s perceived inferiority in Europe at the time) that Mancini was replaced at Inter by Mourinho, who had won the Champions League by the end of his second season at the club.
With all this in mind, the decision to part company with Mancini may not be as harsh as many out there think. City want to be a top club; the owners have spent a fortune and they expect the club to be in the top bracket, nowhere else will satisfy. It won’t have gone unnoticed that PSG, on the back of similar investment, not only won the French league at a canter but also were desperately unlucky not to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League, losing out on away goals to Barcelona. Neither will it have passed under the radar that, despite dropping off slightly domestically, Dortmund’s second bite of the Champions’ League cherry (in recent times) has seen them learn from last year’s experience, and advance imperiously to the final.
It’s the European failure which has forced City’s hand. The fact that Mancini didn’t listen to or get on with his players has just served to make his dismissal easier. The reasons behind his removal are sound; it seems that the board at City don’t wish to take a chance on Mancini getting it right, he’s been given his chance and it’s been a fair crack of the whip.
Just who will fill the void remains unclear at this point. Pelligrini of Malaga has been very heavily linked, but denies a deal has been struck; Jose Mourinho is certainly a candidate, despite rumour that he’s certain to return to Chelsea. However, for me, the best candidate is Chelsea’s current boss Rafa Benitez. A born winner and one of the most tactically astute managers in world, Benitez has delivered European and domestic success wherever he has been. If City want to build a dynasty; a side which will be at the forefront of the game both domestically and in Europe over a sustained period of time, they really should look no further.
Perhaps the only mark against the man who made Valencia the best club in Spain while he was there, delivered Liverpool’s fifth European cup (amongst other trophies) and is taking Chelsea to Amsterdam for this year’s Europa League final, is his pragmatic approach to the game. However, having seen Malaga’s progress in the Champions League this year (low-scoring, gritty performances) and knowing Jose Mourinho’s philosophy all too well, perhaps it’s not style that City are looking for; maybe finally it’s substance they’re after.
Image by Ines11thiago