The rumour that Roberto Mancini is on his way out of Manchester City has been repeated so many times that most of us now accept his departure as inevitable. Who knows? Perhaps it is a done deal and his days really are numbered. But are City really that daft?
Prevailing wisdom suggests that this season has been a failure. City appear to have relinquished their grip on the Premier League title and they crashed out of Europe in the group stages for the second year running. Even if they win the FA Cup, 2012/13 has certainly not been the campaign the club would have wanted. But to call it a failure and punish the manager with the sack seems a rather hysterical reaction to a minor setback.
Prevailing wisdom used to suggest that retaining a title was far harder than winning it in the first place. Perhaps the astonishing success of Manchester United in the Premier League era has altered expectations. Regardless, City have lost just three league games all season. It is hardly a collapse to mirror Liverpool’s 2009/10 slump from title contenders to Europa League chancers. The Champions League exit was disappointing, but hardly a seismic shock given the strength of their opponents. While Manchester United were drawn with Galatasaray, Braga and Dynamo Narnia, City ended up with the champions of Spain, Germany and Holland. Such is the joy of coefficients and heavy seeding.
We’re told that Mancini’s major problem is that his players dislike him. Well, is that such a bad thing? Disliking your boss is one of the fundamental rights of man. Who among us doesn’t think that our boss is a know-nothing fraud with all the natural charm of a weeping boil? (Erm…Iain, can we have a chat later? – Ed)
Why shouldn’t he criticise his players in public? That’s where they make their mistakes. That’s where too many of them have offered up little more than complacent lethargy in exchange for their GDP-sized salaries. Perhaps instead of whining about their hurt feelings, they could just play better?
Mancini has a dressing room full of truculent multi-millionaires, many of whom agitated for moves from their previous clubs. If he goes easy on them, indulges them when they fail to track back or invites them to call him ‘Bobby’ in public, City go off the rails in a month. His authority is all that he has.
And here’s the funny thing about authority in football; it grows with time. At Chelsea, where they change managers like Jordan changes husbands, the players are comfortable. They know that if they fall out of favour with the boss, they can just sit tight and wait until the summer when the next one arrives. But with every year that Mancini remains, that sense of false security at City is diminished further. If the players believe that it is they who are vulnerable, and not him, they swiftly fall in line. Mancini may not be the all-singing, all-dancing tika-taka maestro that City’s new supporters might want, but with his uncompromising attitude to performance levels, he’s still the one they need.
Perhaps it will be City’s old supporters who save him. The ones who have seen countless false dawns and can tell a good manager from a huckster. Not the green ones who turn up and shout, “Everyone mark someone!” at set-pieces, oblivious of Mancini’s preference for zonal marking. City’s established support have always backed their man. City’s board should listen to them. They know what they’re talking about.
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