To the surprise of many Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini was sacked on Monday just one year after securing the title. Didsbury Dave suggests the outcome was inevitable…
It’s an old English saying, “Never sh** on your own doorstep”, but it is one that Roberto Mancini might have been wise to digest. As manager of Manchester City he deposited so many turds in so many places that when he slipped he was always going to find it hard to get to his feet again. And so it came to pass on Monday this week when he was relieved of his duties. Many people are blaming poor results for this, but the rot set in long before this season and whilst being in a minority amongst City supporters, I am not alone in feeling relieved.
One nil, eighty minutes gone. The atmosphere in Wembley stadium is crackling. The tension on both red and blue sides is reaching fever pitch. United are down to ten men and City have been the stronger and more dangerous side by some distance. The tide is turning in Manchester football and this day is set to become a landmark day in City’s history. United are starting to see a bit of the ball for the first time in the second half but all City need is to stay cool, stay calm and stay organized and they are in the Cup final. A simple message needs to go out to the players – don’t panic. Yet on the touchline a man is working himself into a frenzy. He screams, jumps and waves his arms around. On his face is a look of absolute fear and fury. It’s the manager doing exactly what he shouldn’t be doing. He’s lost the plot, not for the first time.
The players hang on and five week’s later have won the FA Cup. The team are lined up on the pitch for the customary photoshoot. Fireworks are erupting, champagne corks pop. City’s English centre half has obviously been watching English cup finals all his life and seems aware of the custom. Hestitantly and alone, he half heartedly aims a fizzing bottle of bubbly towards his manager. He hurries away, wiping the few drips from his Armani coat, straightening his hair. The other players decide discretion is better and proceed to cover each other in golden liquid and hugs. The manager makes sure his hair stays perfect for the post-match interviews. This is Roberto Mancini, a man for whom style sometimes overrides substance. A man who cracks under pressure. A man who delivered the FA Cup and the Premier League title, but has now been sacrificed for the good of Manchester City.
It was never quite right, it always felt like a slightly forced marriage. Most fans were underwhelmed and slightly embarrassed as he blinked in the face of the English press lions during a shambolic first press conference. This was not his fault. His interpreter struggled to keep pace with the questions, his English was plainly schoolboy standard. He’d been thrown to the wolves by City’s idiotic Chief Executive, and an off-the-boil Media Relations Manager, and the stage was set for a turbulent ride.
Immediately he ruffled feathers, and made a good impression by abandoning Mark Hughes’s man marking system and shoring up a leaky defence. The first rumblings of player discontent came out very quickly but most thought he was lancing boils and alienating dead wood. But then the football became turgid, fearful, defensive. City failed in their target of 4th place, went out of the cups and the season was over. But the club stuck with him despite loud mutterings of his replacement.
The next two seasons resulted in City’s spectacular shift to the higher echelons, with Mancini at the helm. There was some sublime football played by world class players in the famous sky blue. But even during Mancini’s two glory years, there were moments when it appeared the wheels had fallen off the wagon. A defeat to Liverpool which looked like the Champions League was gone. A year later a defeat at Arsenal seemed to signal the end of City’s title dream. And the rumblings of discontent never went away. The Munich incident with Tevez was embarrassing, and Mancini’s subsequent comment that Tevez would never play for the club again pushed both parties into corners they should never have been in. But by hook or by crook (and maybe a touch of luck) these hurdles were jumped, the trophies were won, and in spectacular style. It seemed that his abrasive style got results. However the problem with this confrontational managerial approach is that once the results dry up, there is no residual loyalty from the players and the Autocrat becomes isolated.
Throughout those glorious and historic times, the tension flickered away, sometimes crackling in the background, with a refused handshake or rant on the touchline, sometimes in front of the world, with a damning picture or headline. And the 2012-13 season turned into a disastrous one for Mancini, as the performances fell away and the trophies were crossed off the target list one by one. His experiments with the 3-5-2 formation, a formation the players clearly disliked intensely, showed his stubborn streak. Some might argue that the season never recovered after a humiliating Champion’s League campaign, where his penchant for criticizing players in the media came right to the forefront again. It became embarrassing, especially as he continued to pour scorn on the club’s hierarchy for not signing his “first choice” players in the summer. He was biting the hand that feeds him, and unfortunately, that very hand, wearing a Spanish wristwatch, decapitated him.
Friends of mine have contacts inside the club and the shocking stories of his behavior behind the scenes have been rolling in like summer storms for years. There was the player forced to travel to Russia minutes after his premature twin boys were placed in incubators, only to be an unused substitute. Then there were the players forced to return to the pitch against the advice of medical staff, and the bitter recriminations, sackings and compensation payments which resulted. There were ongoing spats and playing of politics with senior executives, including threats to resign. There was frustration in the dressing room at his aloofness and criticisms, which reached a crescendo this year with a public spat with his own club captain. This tension bubbled over in the dressing room at times when the players bit back, and the overriding sympathy always seemed to be with the player. One was even rumoured to have received a round of applause. Some of this, of course, could be put down to rumour, Chinese Whispers and sour grapes, but not when it framed by the evidence before everyone’s eyes: a bunch of individuals whose delivery on the pitch was less than the sum of their parts. And as I write this piece, I notice that some of these revelations are becoming public. Mancini’s chickens are coming home to roost. The Etihad Stadium doorstep is looking rather messy in his wake.
Roberto Mancini leaves all City fans with some golden memories. The 6-1 at Old Trafford, the Cup Victory and of course the unforgettable title victory are glittering parts of Manchester City’s history now, and he will always be synonymous with this glory era. Maybe his autocratic style was what the club needed at a time of breathtaking change. But this season has proved that, to paraphrase the Spanish executioner Txiki Begiristain when he dismissed the popular Frank Rijkaard from Barcelona, his “cycle has come to an end”. Begiristain appointed Pep Guardiola following that shock dismissal and the rest is history to the Catalan people. I believe this moment will prove to be a similar seachange in Manchester City’s history. The new appointment needs to be made quietly and effectively to calm fans and the media. And it needs to be someone with good housekeeping skills as well as football ability.