x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Roberto Mancini walking the walk for too much talk at Manchester City

A tendency to criticise others masked the Italian's own shortcomings, but whoever replaces him at Manchester City has a tough act to follow, writes Richard Jolly

Roberto Mancini's domestic record in both Italy and England - despite City's failure to defend their Premier League title this season - is impressive, but failures in Europe could not be forgiven, it seems. Neil P Mockford / Getty Images
Roberto Mancini's domestic record in both Italy and England - despite City's failure to defend their Premier League title this season - is impressive, but failures in Europe could not be forgiven, it seems. Neil P Mockford / Getty Images

Happy anniversary, Roberto. Three-hundred and sixty-five days after the most glorious moment in Manchester City's modern history, the architect of an unforgettable triumph was dismissed.

Many, including some inside the City dressing room, will shed no tears for Roberto Mancini, and not least because an already wealthy man can expect a sizeable pay-off. During a disappointing season, even neutral observers became converts to the notion that City won despite Mancini, and not because of his efforts. The Italian was making more excuses, from lamenting the failure to sign Robin van Persie to blaming his players, to cover up for his own failings. That, in short, he got lucky last year.

In which case, it is a happy habit, because Mancini has four league titles in his last six full seasons as a manager.

It would be wrong to ignore the reality that money has helped, but plenty of other managers have had lavishly funded teams - at City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Anzhi Makhachkala, among others - without securing a title.

As was the case with Rafa Benitez at Liverpool, Mancini remained immensely popular with supporters, but was mocked by strangers.

Mancini's problem was that outsiders arrived at City. A manager who envied Sir Alex Ferguson for the level of control he exerted at Manchester United had his wings clipped when chief executive Ferran Soriano and director of football Txiki Begiristain arrived, intent on recreating Barcelona in the shadow of the Pennines.

Mancini, no Pep Guardiola clone, was too different, too independent, too outspoken for their liking.

If they bear responsibility for Mancini's sacking, they should be held accountable if, further down the line, it proves a mistake.

The reality is that while Manuel Pellegrini, their reported preferred successor, has a fine record at Villarreal and Malaga, he has yet to win a league title in Europe.

Mancini delivered, even if his methods were too costly for City's liking. More home-grown players certainly would be appreciated, especially with City building a £200 million (Dh1.2 billion) training complex, the Etihad Campus, to give them unrivalled facilities.

There was something predictable about Mancini coveting every world-class player who became available, whether Edinson Cavani this summer or Van Persie, Eden Hazard and Javi Martinez 12 months ago. More economical, less expensive methods would be appreciated.

Despite selling players of the calibre of Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal as Malaga's financial problems mushroomed, Pellegrini nonetheless reached the last eight of the Uefa Champions League, and until an improbable comeback from Borussia Dortmund, was seconds from the semi-finals.

Compared with Mancini's mediocre record in the competition - City twice failed to get out of the group stage, the second time miserably - it represents a vast improvement.

For Mancini, it is an unfortunate action replay. Inter Milan dismissed him because of his inability to win the European Cup - his replacement, Jose Mourinho, did - yet Mancini's record in domestic football was excellent.

So it is again that, while City's defence of their title failed, Mancini was correct to argue it was a consequence of their failures in the transfer market last summer.

Of the signings, only Matija Nastasic succeeded, leaving City over-reliant on their first XI. The difference between Manchester United and the rest came in the prowess of their squad players.

The last time United reclaimed the title, in 2011, it ended the reign of the previous manager to win the league. It may be an exaggeration to say Chelsea have never recovered from the firing of Carlo Ancelotti - they have, against all expectations, won the Champions League - but they have not challenged for the title and the atmosphere around the club has become febrile.

A hire-and-fire culture has become entrenched to the extent that Roberto Di Matteo was dismissed six months after conquering Europe.

City have long been likened to Chelsea, another club propelled to greater prominence by their wealth, and had done their best to shake off such comparisons. They had promised stability and long-term planning. Yet that is now at risk.

Because if Pellegrini becomes the new manager and does not win the title or reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, the speculation will start.

He will appear under pressure. Even before he takes charge, he starts at a disadvantage. Much as Chelsea fans resent Benitez for taking over from Di Matteo, City supporters have lost their champion.

That Mancini ended a 35-year wait for major silverware, a 44-year year wait for a league title and beat United 6-1 at Old Trafford cemented his status as a legend at Etihad Stadium.

He is their finest manager since Joe Mercer, a man who stopped City being the butt of the jokes and transformed them into a serious force. "Bobby Manc", as Mancini's name was lightheartedly anglicised, brought a feel-good factor to City.

Now he is gone.

 

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