Life in Manchester was never going to be easy for Roberto Mancini.
December 19, 2009 marked the start of a new era for Manchester City Football Club, as Mancini was appointed manager. City were struggling to find form, winning only two of their last 11 games under Mark Hughes, and the City board felt that change was imminent. Mancini’s track record spoke for itself, as he won Coppa Italia titles with Fiorentina and Lazio, as well as claiming three consecutive Scudettos with Inter Milan, during his time in Italy. It was no surprise that he led City to their first trophy in 35 years and their first Premier League title in 44.
Last weekend, City advanced to their second FA Cup final in three years, by defeating Chelsea. Mancini’s men currently sit 13 points behind Manchester United with five games to play in the title race, and it’s evident that they will concede to their rivals. Although City won’t claim the “two big trophies that matter,” Mancini’s men are heavy favourites to defeat Wigan in a few weeks time.
Ethan Dean-Richards downplays the importance of the FA Cup when he says,
“There are two big trophies to compete for these days: the Champions League and the Premier League. Neither of these, if you read carefully, is The FA Cup. Mancini should be leaving City regardless of whether he manages to get his fringe and scarf combo up the stairs at Wembley.”
“It’s not just that winning The FA Cup will have involved beating only three Premier League teams this season—Stoke, Wigan and Chelsea—teams that haven’t done anything impressive this season. For all I know, knocking off Leeds, Watford and Barnsley represents as tough a run of fixtures as exists in football.”
First, The FA Cup is a prestigious trophy in English football. And regardless of City’s expectation, which I’ll address next, potentially adding silverware to their trophy cabinet for the third straight year will always be a positive. Secondly, City are incapable of selecting their opponent, and if they defeated Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United, what would that prove? No one remembers the route to the final, but they remember who was in the final and claimed the title. Nevertheless, Dean-Richard’s piece does make one valid point, and it’s that Mancini has failed this season.
Many will classify City as underachieving this season, but will one bad season cost the Italian manager his job?
Mancini’s record in Europe has been quite dismal throughout his career, failing to ever make it past the quarter-final stage in the Champions League. The Italian did reach the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 2002/2003 with Lazio, where eventual winners Porto knocked his side out, but besides that, Mancini has struggled on the continent.
City has been placed in the group of death twice, and has failed to progress out of both groups. Mancini’s men picked up 10 points – which is usually good enough to progress, but in a group consisting of Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villareal, it wasn’t. This season, they were unable to claim a solitary victory against Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid or Ajax – all champions in their domestic leagues. In both group-stage appearances, City has been placed with sides that are technically and tactically superior to them, which many tend to overlook.
Is it possible that the media and many football fans exaggerate the strength of City?
Frankly it’s a problem many English sides have faced over the past few years, and if any other English side had been placed in those groups, they would suffer similar defeats. Along with City, Manchester United and Chelsea have failed to progress past the group stage over the past two seasons, which exemplified that City wasn’t the only side struggling in Europe. Of the four English sides, Arsenal has been fortunate to receive favourable draws, and despite progressing out of the group stage yearly, they find themselves getting thumped in the knockout rounds. The decline in quality of the Premier League becomes clear as time progresses, as all of the top English sides have several areas to improve on.
Mancini has been criticized for his complacent team selections against inferior opposition, as well as constantly switching systems during games. Mainly, Mancini’s decision to play three at the back has been maligned, but some positives have come from it. City has picked up wins against Spurs, Chelsea, and a tie against Madrid, in which they played better after Mancini’s tactical switch. Mancini was never known for his tactical prowess, but he’s improved slightly during his time in England.
City experimented with three at the back during pre-season, and although he’s been unsuccessful at times when tinkering with the squad, it’s more of an indictment on the players for not being able to adjust to different systems.
“If you don’t understand that, then you are not a top player and you cannot play for a top club. I understand what people are writing but we work every day here on tactical situations. We didn’t concede when we changed the system [to three at the back] we conceded a third because of a stupid mistake in a one-versus-one.” – Mancini comments via The Guardian
Is it fair to judge Mancini on his European failures, knowing that his teams were inferior to the great and elite sides in Europe?
One of City’s problems this season has been goal scoring; City scored 93 Premier League goals last season, and they currently sit on 58 with six games to go. Sergio Aguero’s injuries have played a huge factor, as the Argentine scored 23 league goals in 34 appearances last season. Aguero has netted 10 goals in 25 appearances this season, as Mancini’s best striker has struggled to play a certain amount of games consecutively to find his form. City’s strikers have scored 32 goals this season, compared to last season’s 54, and that has been the difference maker in the title race. Vincent Kompany being sidelined has also had an affect on the squad; despite Matija Nastasic blossoming this season, Mancini’s men missed the presence of their captain.
Manchester United beating City in the race for the signature of Dutch striker Robin Van Persie this summer also affected the title race. Van Persie has scored 21 league goals thus far, including the winner at the Ethiad, and his goals have been the difference between the Manchester clubs. At the start of the new year, Mancini briefly commented on the summer transfer saga.
“Robin van Persie is a very important player for United, He has changed their situation. He is the difference between us.” – Roberto Mancini via BBC
“We wanted Van Persie because we knew he could be an important player,” added Mancini. He is totally different from our other strikers. We wanted him for the Champions League and for the Premier League.” – Roberto Mancini via BBC
It’s known that no one has better knowledge of his side better than the manager, and Mancini has displayed that. Many questioned the Italian’s desire to sign Van Persie, seeing as they already had four strikers at the club, but he surely could have used the Dutch striker this season. With Balotelli’s petulance, Dzeko’s poor form, Tevez’ goal drought and Aguero’s injuries, City’s reliance on their goal-scoring strikers has let them down significantly.
Aguero’s 94th minute winner against QPR last May was enough to see City lift the title on goal difference. Over the summer City spent £54m on players such as Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia, Maicon, Scott Sinclair and Matija Nastasic. Meanwhile, Ferguson spent £48m on Van Persie, Shinji Kagawa and Alexander Buttner. City might have spent more money than United, but Ferguson’s signings have had a greater impact for United than Mancini’s have for City.
Clearly Mancini was looking to strengthen his side, as teams should after winning trophies. With the opposition always aiming to improve, hoping to challenge for silverware, it only makes sense to purchase players of a higher quality. Winning a title on goal difference should never keep City, Mancini or any side content, and the purchases of Rodwell, Maicon, Garcia and Sinclair were inadequate.
This question needs to be asked: would any of the aforementioned players crack the starting line up for any of the elite sides in the world?
Many of Mancini’s key players from last season have seen their form dip over the past 12 months. Aguero, Silva and Kompany have all suffered injuries this season, while Yaya Toure’s absence at the African Cup of Nations also played a factor. Mancini has been unable to cope without his top players, and he doesn’t have the personnel capable of making a difference off the bench.
In City’s latest defeat against Spurs at White Hart Lane, Andre Villas-Boas made three half time changes, which led to three goals and more importantly three points for his side. With Silva and Aguero unavailable, Mancini had Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair and Aleksandar Kolarov to choose from. A side that many expect to be fighting for domestic and European trophies cannot possess a bench with that quality and expect to succeed.
Mancini’s side is great when Silva, Aguero, Yaya Toure and Kompany are in the side, but without them, City is marginally better than the three sides fighting for European football this season.
During a press conference two weeks ago, Mancini stated,
“We had the chance to get important players, players that this year could have been the difference in this team.”
Mancini may sound like he’s making an excuse for his side’s failure this season, but the Italian has made a great point. Acquiring Eden Hazard, Javi Martinez, Daniele De Rossi, Daniel Agger and Van Persie would have improved the side dramatically; frankly signing two of the five would have improved City, and given them an ideal chance of winning more silverware this season and getting out of their Champions League group.
Mancini’s time at the Ethiad may come to an end this season, albeit being able to say that he’s won silverware in the three full seasons he was in charge.
Last season, Mancini was rewarded for his success as he signed a five-year contract that would see him at the club until 2017. City’s owners have shown stability and patience with Mancini in the past, and if they’re able to identify that inadequate transfers made in the summer played a huge factor in City’s poor season, he may still be their manager next season.
City, like many sides in the Premier League, have plenty of work to do if they intend on challenging on both fronts on a yearly basis. The blame may be put on Mancini, but he’s doing his best with what’s available.
Mancini has assembled a great core of world-class players in David Silva, Aguero, Yaya Toure and Kompany, while Joe Hart is one of the best keepers in England. City must now bring in players of equal quality that can blend with that core.
The media may choose to remember Mancini’s time at the Ethiad for the negatives, but what he’s accomplished in Manchester should never be forgotten.