x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

You think you have problems? Meet Mr Mancini ...

You know, I hate it when I feel sorry for a manager who is lavishly compensated, ludicrously famous, enviably employed in the field of his passion and desirably rich in life options.

For all those who pity Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, for having to deal with the likes of Mario Balotelli, right, there are plenty who also wish to have such problems, and talent, on their side.
For all those who pity Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, for having to deal with the likes of Mario Balotelli, right, there are plenty who also wish to have such problems, and talent, on their side.

In a strange world, there comes a time when one can feel sorry for a manager who is lavishly compensated, ludicrously famous, enviably employed in the field of his passion and desirably rich in life options.

Last Sunday evening, there came such a time.

You know, I hate it when I feel sorry for a manager who is lavishly compensated, ludicrously famous, enviably employed in the field of his passion and desirably rich in life options.

Yet it does happen sometimes, and in many a sport.

Somewhere between one hilarious song from the gargantuan Arsenal choral group and one howler of a red card, I felt sympathy welling for Roberto Mancini. It gathered steadily. It amassed force. It began rushing across the brain unstoppably.

The song, of course, went "Carlos Tevez, he plays when he wants," and while that did not contain a lot of painstaking words, neither did The Artist. It rang over Emirates Stadium as Tevez warmed up for Manchester City, and it succeeded well enough to make you wonder as to the identity of that first puckish sort who came up with it.

How many claim to be that person by now?

The red card came after a wise voice in the room forecasted it, and I considered that forecast risky only 10 minutes from time.

Then we all watched as Mario Balotelli tacked on that second yellow card to add up to a red, not to be confused with the red card he already should have incurred unrelated to either of the yellows.

(Should we keep colour-coded charts at home? I guess not, now that he won't be playing for a while.)

It hit me with full brunt at last, what it must be for Mancini to try to hammer toward cohesion through such an assortment of talents sprinkled with malcontents.

Soon, I began romanticising Mancini's team-orientated playing past in Italy, his essence as a manager before he ever became a manager and, of course, his scarves.

Across many sports, you see managers such as Mancini and hear people rant: "He cannot be that good! Look at all that talent they gave him!"

And of course, one fitting reply to that in some instances would be: "He must be really good. Look at all that talent they gave him."

This means we evaluate managers on two levels, sort of. We tend to reserve awe for the underfunded sort who cobbles together a real team and mines the loveable scrappiness toward results that exceed the expectations of sport experts who, of course, number in the billions.

Lately, though, a bit of attention has tilted toward that other kind of manager, the one who navigates a roomful of coveted talent with all its conceits and keeps the whole thing from spilling into lunacy.

That just happened in a major American sport, where the University of Kentucky and coach John Calipari won the men's national college basketball title with starters who will proceed pronto to the NBA even though their ages are 18, 19, 19, 19 and 20.

Calipari coaxed them into one force, goes this just bit of thinking.

It's one kind of excellent managing. It's both the enviable kind (wow, big talent!) and the unenviable kind (oh no, big talent!).

Living a misspent life following games can avail you to the times it goes sour.

Once upon a time 11 years ago, the biggest threat to the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA was big-payroll Portland, until it stockpiled too much talent and began blowing ugly gaskets all over the floor.

Upon that coach's sacking, it was hard to know whether to extend sympathy or congratulations.

A divergent example came right about that time in Seattle, where a baseball club shed talent to the ravenous market. The Mariners lost top-tier pitcher Randy Johnson in 1998, banging outfielder Ken Griffey Jr in 1999 and alleged best-player-in-the-game Alex Rodriguez in 2000

The upshot? They won an American League-record 116 games in 2001, and just being in their camaraderie-rich dressing room for interviews could give a person hope for the future.

When they lost to the Yankees one rung from the World Series amid post-September 11 emotion in New York, it seemed unfitting.

It still does.

For their manager, Lou Piniella, at least you could feel he had a marvellous life experience.

For managers on the other end of the star-gathering business, well, feelings can get mixed.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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