May 162013

This time last year it was all going so well for Roberto Mancini and Manchester City. Two goals deep into injury time during the last match of the season against QPR meant the Italian had delivered City’s first title in 44 years in the most dramatic circumstances imaginable. The long wait was over. City, who for decades had been a laughing-stock, found themselves at the summit of the English game. The days of winning ‘Cups for Cock Ups’ had gone; the Premier League trophy now had pride of place. Mancini’s position in City’s history books was secure.

Twelve months later and the landscape has altered considerably. Mancini has been sacked, with the club preparing to bring in Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini as manager. The Chilean yesterday denied reports that he is set to be installed at the Etihad, but that’s standard practice in these situations: he doesn’t want to upset his current employers, and needed to be seen as respectful to Mancini, who was still officially in charge when the denial was made. It’s become an ugly yet familiar managerial transition at City, after Mark Hughes and Sven Goran-Eriksson suffered similar fates. With the fans so emotionally attached to Mancini, this is an important appointment for the club. If it goes wrong, the relationship between the board and the fans – which has so far been serene – may be damaged somewhat.

City fans are quite rightly angry at the way it’s been handled. A not-so-private meeting with Pellegrini’s agent gave rise to intense speculation about Mancini’s future back in February, with Guillem Balague getting hold of information that a contract between City and Pellegrini’s representatives had been agreed. The Spanish journalist then proceeded to leak the information on Friday evening, just hours before City were set to play their second FA Cup final in three seasons. The rumours became so intense that the board were forced to sack him on the anniversary of that glorious day last May, denying him the opportunity of a proper send off in our final home match against Norwich. Typical City is alive and well.

Struggles in this season’s Champions League meant Mancini’s European record, and his suitability to make City the force they crave to be, came under intense scrutiny last Christmas. Pep Guardiola was the name initially touted as a replacement; a logical assumption given his links with Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain whom he worked with at Barcelona. However, Guardiola soon agreed a deal to take over at Bayern Munich, leaving Pellegrini as the man most likely to become Mancini’s replacement. The club have done very little to quash those rumours and take the pressure off Mancini, something which he rightly feels aggrieved about.

Of course, it’s difficult to feel totally sorry for the outgoing manager. He was appointed in similar circumstances when he joined City, and also held talks with Monaco last season when his future was uncertain. Most people accept that secret talks are part and parcel of football, however, the timing of all this, coupled with the fact that Mancini is so well liked, means the City fans are upset. Once again, our club’s reputation has taken a hit.

Despite the undoubted success he brought us, Mancini’s management is certainly not to everyone’s taste. Public criticism of his players, best exemplified by his admission that he wants to ‘punch’ Samir Nasri for not fulfilling his potential, has led to suggestions that Mancini’s propensity for confrontation has had an adverse effect on team morale; dividing a squad that was buoyant after a title win. City’s two Champions League campaigns under the Italian saw two early exits, with City this season becoming the first English side to finish without a win in the group stage. Our defence of the Premier League title has been dreadful, effectively over in March after yet another defeat to Everton, scoring 26 fewer goals than last season, and playing without the verve and vigour that saw us tear sides apart with ease. It’s been a trophyless and disappointing campaign, unacceptable given the level of investment since Mancini took over.

However, the idea that Mancini’s reign has been a failure (perpetrated by many opposition fans), is deeply flawed. He inherited an imbalanced squad that was leaking goals at an incredible rate, and spent his first months in the job making City competitive. By the season’s end, he’d took the side up only place, finishing fifth and missing out on Champions League qualification, but the difference in professionalism and organisation was clear. It was those first seven months which laid the foundations for what was to come. The following season he delivered the FA Cup, City’s first major trophy in 34 years, and then in 2012 the title, playing the kind of football City fans had only ever dreamed of. This season was the first season in which Mancini’s City didn’t progress.

It’s probably fair to say that Mancini deserved another season to try to put City back on the upward trajectory he himself kick started, but it’s also clear that his influence was waning, and if the board feel a change was needed to really satisfy their thirst for success it should be viewed as the kind of ambition we need. This season, the squad has been disjointed and lacking in focus, with no Plan B if our narrow 4-2-3-1 formation failed. Mancini experimented with three at the back with little success, and there was a dire lack of width in the side. His last-minute trolley dash around Europe saddled the club with a string of players who now need to be sold, and the direction and momentum built up over the first two-and-a-half years in the job was lost. Brian Marwood has, quite rightly, taken much of the blame for this summer’s poor procurement process, and should be sacked during the current clear out, but Mancini still rubber-stamped those rushed transfers.

Although Hughes’ sacking was handled in much the same way, the backlash from the City fans will be much fiercer this time. Hughes’ arrogance, poor results, and inability to take responsibility for anything that went wrong under his stewardship made him a repulsive character, whereas Mancini, pretty much to man, is not just respected but loved by the City fans. His behaviour has largely been exemplary, and when he said he would win trophies at City, he delivered. His time in charge wasn’t perfect, but he will always be remembered at Manchester City as a manager who implemented free-flowing attacking football, and ended our wait for a trophy. He’s the first manager in my time watching City (Peter Reid onwards) that lived for being City boss. It wasn’t just a job, or a stepping stone, or an easy payday, this was Mancini’s life. For three-and-a-half mostly glorious years he gave everything to our club, and for that reason he leaves with the respect of every City fan.

May 132013

Manchester City have tonight confirmed that Roberto Mancini has been sacked. The news was leaked to the press ahead of City’s defeat against Wigan in the FA Cup final on Saturday but Mancini appeared to think it was just paper talk.

“You continue to speak about this for six months and also too much in the last two weeks,” he said after the game. “I don’t know why the club didn’t stop this because I don’t think it’s true.”

However, the club have today confirmed that it is true, with Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini favourite to replace him.

Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: “Roberto’s record speaks for itself and he has the respect and gratitude of Sheikh Mansour, myself and the Board for all of his hard work and commitment over the last three and a half years. He has clearly also secured the love and respect of our fans. He has done as he promised and delivered silverware and success, breaking the Club’s 35-year trophy drought and securing the title in 2012. I would like to personally and publicly thank him for his dedication to the progress that he has overseen and for his support and continued friendship.”

Assistant Manager Brian Kidd will take interim responsibility for the remaining two games of the season and the post-season tour to the United States.

Feb 112013

Any lingering hopes of a charge towards the title evaporated yesterday as City lost 3-1 away at Southampton, leaving United with the chance to extend their lead at the top of the table to 12 points with victory over Everton today. It was the first time under Roberto Mancini that City have been so comprehensively outplayed in the Premier League; a defeat inflicted on us by a very average side. This was Southampton’s first victory against a team in the top half of the table, and only their sixth win this season. City left the south coast embarrassed and with Chelsea and Spurs breathing down our necks in the race for second.

Not since the shambles that was the 3-0 defeat to Spurs back in 2009 have City been so totally dominated in a league game. Back then we had Mark Hughes in charge and poor displays were largely expected. We were all over the place when under Hughes: leaking goals at a ridiculous rate, and playing with all the strength of a Liberal Democrat pre-election pledge. Sides cut through us with ease and we struggled to find any kind of consistency.

As soon as Mancini took over in December 2009, things quickly started to change. He may have only moved us up one place (Hughes left us in 6th and we finished that season in 5th), but the difference in our approach was obvious: we looked a professional outfit capable of stringing together unbeaten runs. Mancini was laying the groundwork for our future success.

What followed that season has been consistent improvement domestically, with no side managing to beat us in the manner Spurs, and many other sides, did under Hughes… until yesterday. Southampton were simply better than us in every area of the pitch. Take away the clangers from Hart and Barry and you’re still left with a shambolic display that proves beyond doubt we have gone backwards since we won the title in May.

And Mancini, the architect of our rise top the top of the English game, must take some blame. We ended yesterday with four, yes FOUR, full-backs on the pitch. Barring an injury crisis of extreme proportions, when does any side need four full-backs on the pitch?

He also opted to start Javi Garcia at centre-back, despite the returning Kolo Toure being available, a decision which backfired hugely as he struggled with the pace and positional sense needed to play that role, with City looking Hughes-era bad defensively. We’ve seen flashes of decent play from Garcia, but if we’re honest he’s been a disaster since his summer move. He lacks the pace and range of passing to be truly brilliant midfield player, and judging by this performance he’s certainly not a centre-half.

Mancini’s decision to remove Silva in place of Maicon was another head-scratching move from the Italian. Why take off your finest playmaker in a game your chasing? It made no sense to me whatsoever, and Mancini would do well to explain it.

With the title race all but over, City must now focus on securing second spot and winning the FA Cup, but if we are to do that we must start picking our strongest side and stop making nonsensical substitutions that stymie our play. Silva must be played more centrally and should be playing full 90 minutes consistently; Tevez, when available, should be starting ahead of Dzeko; and Samir Nasri should be dropped permanently after was can only be described as a dreadful season from him. Mancini deserves time to put right our current troubles, and our transfer strategy this summer must be far better than last. In the meantime, there are ways the manager can stop contributing to our own downfall.

Jan 042013

The decision by Trafford Borough Council to deny Manchester City the opportunity to build a fence around their training facility in Carrington high enough to block out the camera lenses of snooping photographers has turned out to be a rather damaging one. Cameramen can sit in a tree on a public footpath and take snaps of City’s sessions as they please. Any incident that flares up is caught on camera and subsequently scrutinised by the media and fans. It is a problem exclusive to City.

The latest incident to leak out of Carrington is a bust up between Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli. Whereas scuffles between players has been the cause of past embarrassments, this time it involves the manager. It’s Fleet Street’s dream and they have lapped it up. Previous incidents between City players (Balotelli vs Boateng, Adebayor vs Kolo Toure and Balotelli vs Richards) have been brushed off as indicative of training grounds all over the country, but when a club’s manager is involved the problem suddenly seems more serious.

Balotelli went in hard on Scott Sinclair during a practice match, only for Mancini to take exception and order the Italian inside. Balotelli refused, sparking the coming together that was photographed and distributed to the press within minutes. The pictures embarrass the club again and have somewhat damaged Mancini’s reputation. He appeared to be the aggressor.

Today, though, Mancini faced the press and true to form he managed to take the heat out of the situation. He is known as a combustible character, but when he needs to he can nullify intense media-induced hysteria.

“We were playing a game and Mario kicked his team-mate. I told him to leave the pitch, he said ‘no’, and I took his shirt and pushed him from the pitch. That is what really happened – nothing special, no fight. These are things that can happen, usually between players. This was different because I wanted him to leave the pitch for what he did against another player.”

Asked whether the row meant Balotelli would leave City, Mancini said: “No, no, no, no. This is not important – it doesn’t change my thoughts on this.”

“Mario made a tackle on his team-mate that I would prefer to see in a game and not against a team-mate.”

“I asked him to leave the pitch – he said ‘no’ so I moved him off. That’s all that happened and it was nothing more than that.

“Nothing has changed between Mario and me and my thoughts have not changed about him and these things happen from time to time.

“Will Mario have more chances? I will give him 100 chances as long as I can see him trying to improve and working hard for this football club.”

Mancini admitted losing his temper temporarily.

“For two seconds, yes. Three, four seconds later no. He didn’t want to leave pitch. No fight.”

It seems like Mancini’s comments have ended the frenzy, which, in truth, got somewhat out of hand. Gary Neville took to Twitter to make the point the point that incidents like this weren’t a rarity, but the media storm continued unabated. The real issue here is the privacy of City’s training facility – the quicker they move, the better. It’s a bizarre situation that a club the size of City are constantly dealing with leaked images from their training sessions.

Much has been made about Balotelli’s future at the club, too. Mancini’s comments today, and his treatment of Balotelli in the past, suggest that this incident doesn’t signal the end of his time as a Manchester City player, however, perhaps for the first time, many City fans appear to be of the mind that the time for Balotelli to leave may be now. Mancini has shown an almost weird amount of faith in his £24m signing but the striker is struggling for form and continues to cause problems. Mancini clearly wants to be the man who cracks the Balotelli code. He sees huge potential and wants to turn him into one of the finest players in world football, but temper tantrums, poor performances, ill discipline and even the threat of a taking the club to court have all combined to test Mancini’s patience. In a world of indetikit footballers, Balotelli seemed like a breath of fresh air, but City fans now want to see their loveable rogue realise his undoubted potential. It’s been a long time coming.

Aug 102012

Manchester City were undoubtedly the best team in the country last season. They scored the most goals, conceded the least, and played the best brand of football. Dominating the English game and amassing trophies is their long-term plan; a distinct possibility given the resources at their disposal.

Despite the obvious positives of City’s first championship since 1968, the fact remains that it was only secured by virtue of a better goal difference than Manchester United – the closest finish to a league season imaginable. United, despite their perceived failings, pushed City right to the final seconds, making it the most anxious season finale in history. The melodrama of that day in May will never be matched, but the message it sends is clear: City aren’t miles ahead of their rivals and cannot rest on their laurels.

Despite that, City are yet to make a single significant transfer this summer, an issue that clearly grates on manager Roberto Mancini, who has twice this summer berated sporting director Brian Marwood for his failure to secure the players he feels will bolster his title winning side. Marwood’s silence has been worrying but it’s easy to second guess his defence. He would argue that ridding City of the Mark Hughes-era dead wood is proving difficult, and that under UEFA financial fair play (FFP) rules City have to be more prudent and sell before they can buy.

So far, however, his effort to offload Hughes’ flops has failed spectacularly, with Wayne Bridge the only unwanted high-earner to leave (moving to Brighton on loan with City paying the majority of his wages). Santa Cruz and Adebayor remain, clogging up the wage bill despite clearly being out of contention for even a place on the bench. Marwood hasn’t sold and hasn’t bought, leaving City’s development, which had hitherto been impressive, on hold.

After landing the title, Mancini has a new sense of confidence and standing at the club, so much so that he has refused to let this pass quietly. He has been vocal in his belief that the structure at the club isn’t working and that Marwood has failed.

“After four months, I don’t know what to say,” Mancini said today. “You need to ask Brian Marwood. I am not the sporting director. I can’t say anything about players.”

In response to a question about whether the current management structure was acceptable, he responded: “I am not happy – but I don’t know what to say.”

Whilst on tour in Beijing recently, he was equally as scathing: “For this question [potential Van Persie transfer], speak to the man in charge. I am not in charge of this. It is important [to get players quickly] because, after what we did last year, we must continue to win. This year will be harder than last, so we need to improve our team. We have a man who works for this and we hope that they can do a good job.”

Mancini’s frustration is understandable. He fought hard to deliver the title only to watch Chelsea and United be competitive in the transfer market while City have dragged their heels. He is under constant pressure to deliver at ‘the world’s richest club’ and he knows full well that if City fail to defend the title and improve on their Champions League showing, he will be the one blamed, not Brian Marwood. Marwood’s role should be straight forward: ask Mancini for a list of players and then strain every sinew to get them in. As yet, there is little evidence of what he has done this summer.

United, let’s not forget, welcome back Vidic, the only central defender in the league in the same bracket as Kompany, and have brought in Kagawa, who looks an astute piece of business by Fergie. The word is that Van Persie fancies United over City too, and if he were to go there it could easily be argued that United start the season as favourites. Chelsea may also emerge as contenders again after their spending splurge, although attempting to overcome a 25 point deficit will be tough. One thing that’s clear is that City’s rivals have been boosted whilst they have stood still.

City need to add to their vastly capable squad if they want to be competitive at home and in Europe, ideally by recruiting three top quality players: a left footed defender who can play at both left back and centre back, a deep-lying midfielder who loves to pass, and a winger with pace. One or all of these and City would be well placed to better last season, yet, the reality is, with the Community Shield and first league match of the season just around the corner, City haven’t signed anyone of distinction. The idea that Mancini will get the names at the top of his list is now fanciful at best.

A deep-lying pass-master of a midfielder is what City are most in need of, a Xabi Alonso/Andrea Pirlo type player who loves to link up the play with a range of passing. David Pizarro gave us an idea of how useful that type of player is during his loan spell in the second half of last season but his legs had pretty much gone. A younger, better version is what City are crying out for. Javi Martinez was touted as the answer but these rumours have dissipated somewhat, with Barcelona and Bayern Munich seemingly stealing a march, and Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Biesla even threatening to resign were he sold. City would be foolish not to make a player like him a priority. Gareth Barry was outstanding last season but when he is out City looked less well oiled, and his career is entering its twilight. A midfield player prepared to pick the ball up off the back four and start play is an absolute must if City want to progress. There’s a dearth of talent in that position which makes Martinez even more sought after and even more imperative to get hold of.

That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom for City, far from it in fact. They have a brilliant spine of Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero – the best in the league. They also have a great mix of youth and experience. Despite what you read in the papers, i.e. that City are comprised of a bunch of mercenaries whose only focus is money, they actually have one of the most hardworking sides I’ve seen. The criminally underrated Pablo Zabaleta exemplifies this the most, along with Silva, Aguero, Kompany and Milner, to name a few. Tireless running and hard work is demanded by Mancini; anything less and your place is under threat.

City will, of course, be challenging for honours again this season but things could have been a lot easier had they been more competitive in the market. If they had gone for the jugular and kicked on after last season, I would have had no doubt that they could have challenged for both Premier League and Champions League trophies. Now, I’m not so sure.

Jul 052012

Despite having delivered huge success since taking the reins at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini is yet to really receive the level of praise his performance merits. Whilst Harry Redknapp and other more media-friendly managers are lauded over for their average achievements, Mancini is left relatively ignored despite his impressive record during his short stint in English football. His conduct off the field (imaginary card waving aside) has seen him garner friends but no-one seems overly keen to trumpet his accomplishments. But the question is why?

It would seem he is weighed down by being the manager of ‘the world’s richest club’, with his achievements met with indifference and any failures magnified. In other words: when City do well, it’s expected due to their wealth, and when they do badly, the criticism comes thick and fast.

But is it not time to start lauding Mancini and the job he has done?

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