Instead, I am going to write about the team who really should have been challenging at the top of the Premier League. Everyone at Manchester City and in the wider football world would have expected it to be them that was playing in the Champions League quarter-final this time next year, but they now find themselves in a tense struggle to secure the fourth qualification place that is the very minimum they need. More specifically, I want to talk about Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini.
There is absolutely no doubting the pedigree of the man in terms of his playing or managerial career so far.
As a player, Mancini won two Serie A titles, eight Italian Cups and three European trophies. He picked up thirty-six Italian international caps and featured in their third placed finish in the 1990 World Cup. As a manager he has three Serie A titles and six Italian Cups. In other words, in football, Mancini has ‘been there and done it’.
It was always going to be difficult to bring together the multi-million pound talents at his disposal at City as with those talents come some major egos. Keeping a large squad of players, who all feel they should be playing every game, happy, would be a challenge for anyone.
Having said that, I do believe that Mancini is starting to show that he is struggling with the weight of expectation on him and the team. He knows that his side should be challenging at the top and the fact that even a fourth place finish is going to be a battle to the end, is simply not good enough.
Monday evening’s 3-0 defeat at a Liverpool side without Glenn Johnson, Daniel Agger and Steve Gerrard was a new low point. After the game, Mancini said that the defeat was nothing to do with his players, but was entirely down to him.
“We didn’t play for the first 20 minutes when Liverpool played well but tonight I made a mistake. It was my fault. We can do better. I am sorry for the fans. I am disappointed with myself. I made the mistake for this game not with the players, the players played 100%. I made a mistake in the last two days, I know why. It is important I understand this for the next game. It was my mistake because we did not prepare very well. I made three changes, bringing in three fresh players, our focus was not good. Liverpool played fantastically in the first 20 minutes, we left a lot of space for them, and they were very aggressive at the start and we played very soft. After 20 minutes we started to play but it was late. For this it is my fault, it is important for me to understand this.”
It is really difficult to know what Mancini actually meant by all this. He left out Nigel De Jong and David Silva, pesumably with an eye on the weekend’s FA Cup semi-final, but the replacements were international players and should have been good enough. He had Dzeko and Balotelli on the field who are both liable to chants of ‘what a waste of money’ from opposition fans, and that may well be where the big mistakes have been made.
More likely, however, is that Mancini is simply trying to deflect pressure and criticism away from his players. Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are all experts at doing this, but they do it without actually saying, ‘It was my fault, not the players’. They are much more clever and more subtle than that. Maybe, it is just because Mancini’s grasp of English is not yet good enough to get his message over, but I think it is just a desperate attempt to shelter his players.
With City now likely to be without their talisman Tevez for the FA Cup semi-final at the weekend, that game is starting to look even tougher. It is possible that come next Monday, fourth place in the Premier League is all they have to play for. That would surely mean Mancini’s exit at the end of the season whether they achieve it or not.
You really do have to wonder if things are any better at Manchester City than they would have been if the owners had stuck with Mark Hughes, don’t you?
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