Mancini: The End
No one else could do it this way. No one. No other team would dominate headlines on the eve of the biggest domestic cup final in world football due to reports that their manager was about to be sacked. Ah, Manchester City, it’s good to have you back, just how I remember you. You been well?
One disastrous game and a weekend of recriminations later, and he was gone. Many commentators without a sentimental attachment to City will not see Mancini’s impending dismissal as harsh. Supporters of other clubs have often derided his ability as a manager, though they were probably clouded by the foolish notion that with money at his disposal, a manager should win everything. Now the few in the press pack that have pursued Mancini all this time and doubted his ability can perform their traditional U-turns and talk of City’s lack of class, how hard done by Mancini is and thus transform him into one of football’s greatest martyrs. After all, as many have already commented, City are no better than Chelsea because they got rid of the country’s 9th-longest serving manager.
But Mancini has not been sacked for finishing second in the Premier League. I’m not even sure he has been sacked for failing in Europe. If he had been sacked on results alone, I’d agree it was a disgrace, and City’s official statement mentions his failure to meet the goals set out for him. But he hasn’t left just because of results, and wailing that he has on Twitter, Facebook and message boards doesn’t change that. There are mitigating circumstances, but the constant chatter is of a breakdown in relationships repeatedly, not only with internal staff, not only with those in the dressing room (you lose the players and you are always doomed), but also according to a friend of Mancini, his relationship with City’s owner has broken down irrevocably. And if that last point is true, makes everything else redundant. This is all speculation of course, with Stuart Brennan at the Manchester Evening News saying a lot more will come out that will show that his relationships at the club had broken down. He can’t stay if this is so, though Mancini supporters will wonder how much propaganda is being fed to the media to paint a picture that suits them. Yes, the club are feeding a particular angle to the nation’s journalists right now, but these stories have been around before, and there are too many of him. The sheikhs’ 5-year contract for Mancini last summer showed they were not out to get him from the start, but during a truly disappointing season, Mancini has burnt his bridges.
It seems that Mancini does not help himself. You wonder if he will ever spend more than a few years at any club. He is not a people-person, he manages as he played – with fire, arguments and conflict. This is his way, and that is that. There is no right way to manage a football team, but when the results don’t follow, his way starts to look flawed. He has publicly duelled with pretty much everyone at the club, and criticised players in the process, though this is a method that can bear fruit. Zabaleta and Lescott hardly rushed to his defence this weekend, whilst Joleon Lescott hardly masked his distrust of the man, but then it is not their job to fight his corner, and you can read too much into banal comments. Mancini does not manage by making friends.
And players can be precious souls of course. Managers can fall out with them and still succeed, it just depends which players (and how many) he falls out with. If the squad feels generally as one, then there can be no happy ending, and Mancini’s many power struggles have a Machiavellian ring to them.
And let’s be honest, the club has gone backwards this season. The list of truly poor performances outstrips the truly great ones. Key players appear to have gone backwards, and whilst Mancini did not get the players he wanted last summer, he still had a damn fine squad. No one season should kill off a manager at a club that once had a perpetual-motion revolving-door, but it hasn’t helped when the owners want a Barcelona Mk II. And let’s not get started on him not having a man upfront for opposition corners. His inability to suss out certain teams, his stubbornness, his failed 3-5-2 system (not flawed in itself, but a flop at City), his strange substitutions and his occasional inability to react during matches have all helped seal his fate. The reports that he never stepped foot in the academy could be the most damning story of all, but it’s all speculation.
But he has still been let down. There is a palpable sense that he has been hung out to dry. It feels like Mancini has been a dead man walking since the day he was appointed. Rumours of his demise have followed him around like a loyal dog since the start. Questions about Mancini’s future should have been banned from press conferences. No further discussion should have been allowed. This is the man that brought the club success, and is a legend to most fans. If he leaves, it feels all a bit tawdry that it is happening like this.
City’s PR department is widely lauded as one of the best in the country by journalists, though you wonder how much of that is due to City being so accommodating. Either way, it is clear that this PR department was nowhere to be found on the two days before the Cup Final when journalists were keen to know if there was any truth in the Pellegrini rumours. But having said that, I’m not sure what else City could have done about the rumours, which were little more than irregular betting patterns. If, as seems the case, the rumours are true, they couldn’t confirm it obviously. Nor could they lie and deny it. Perhaps a quick statement about a review at the end of the season and Mancini having their full support for the rest for the season may have helped? Whatever, the team was a disgrace at Wembley. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, no player should need encouragement to perform in an FA Cup final, especially against a depleted relegation-threatened opposition.
Still, hysterical wailing on Twitter for news and a campaign to get Vicky Kloss sacked makes us all look like idiots. Classy. After all, I’m sure Vicky decides City’s policy herself, and gets no guidance from above (#sarcasm). To think that Vicky is solely to blame for any PR gaffes is buffoonery of the highest order, unless you know something we mere mortals don’t. Criticise City’s PR all you want, but the perceived mistakes do not come from one person. And Mancini made spats public as part of his own agenda, so don’t blame City’s PR for not clearing up the mess every time.
As for making the announcement a year to the day after we won the title, I really couldn’t care less. Nothing will ever diminish that day. Fans were wailing for days for City to make a statement, and when they did, they bemoaned the timing. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Once the decision to remove Mancini had been made, and the news had leaked, his position was untenable. We all wanted to say goodbye next Sunday, but it wasn’t a realistic wish.
But as the owners move on, the Pellegrini rewriting of history has begun, before he has arrived. I didn’t want Mancini to be sacked, but I can still be excited at the possibilities of our new manager, a man who gets the most out of squads, who maximizes potential, a people-person who will fit into the ethos of the owners’ vision and embrace the new academy. Quoting a lack of trophies won (whilst ignoring the trophies won outside Europe) is a very simplistic viewpoint considering that the likes of Mancini or Ferguson could not have done more with Pellegrini’s Malaga and Villareal squads, and his single season at Real Madrid saw a 96-point haul and the sale of two key players against his wish. And if a single season of failure is an argument not to hire someone, presumably it’s enough to dismiss Mancini too.
The owners are not interested in sentiment. They didn’t go to Lincoln or Wycombe, or have 25 years of taunts from across the city (and beyond) rammed down their throats. They aren’t swayed by a lovely video of Mancini with an emotional soundtrack on vimeo, nor obsessed at ripping THAT banner down. They are interested in making City one of the greatest clubs in the world, and will act accordingly to reach that aim. They are looking at the widest of pictures, and are planning long-term. And if you don’t like it, well tough, because without them we wouldn’t have any silverware, we wouldn’t have our Aguerooooooo moment, and we’d be discussing on Bluemoon whether it was worth taking a punt on bringing Joey Barton back to the club whilst bemoaning finishing 8th in the Championship. Harsh I know, as we are all entitled to express our disquiet at anything that happens at the club we love, but the truth is harsh, and perhaps we can’t handle it. I wanted stability and perseverance at this club, but it seems that will have to wait, for now.
But the vast majority of City fans are deeply upset at Mancini leaving. They don’t care about internal rifts, PR (until now), or how much money we spend. All they know is that the last three years have been the best of our football-supporting lives. Roberto Mancini was the man who brought us our first trophy in 35 years. He was the man that brought us our first league title in 44 years. He brought us one of the greatest moments of our lives. He masterminded a 6-1 win at Old Trafford, and a Wembley win over United. He challenged Ferguson, he argued with him on the touchline, he brought success, and he punched the air in delight with the rest of us at the madness of it all. He had style, panache and a winning smile. He was, as Sam Wallace commented, a perfectionist at an imperfect club. All those memories he gave us will never be forgotten, in a wonderful period in this club’s long history.
And I swear, we’ll never see anything like it again.