Had Manchester City blown the title last season, I believe their fierce and passionate manager Roberto Mancini would more than likely have been asked to clear his desk. Instead, after winning the title he signed a new five-year deal at the Etihad.
In what was one of the most dramatic endings to a Premier League season for a long time, Man City put their names on the Premier League trophy as only the fifth side in Premier League history to do so.
Considering that the title was won in the last minute of the season, it seems odd to say that it was City’s to lose throughout the campaign, yet it seemed that as soon as they lifted the FA Cup in May 2011 and purchased the majestic Sergio Aguero, the league was always theirs to lose.
And yet lost it they almost did it, throwing away their lead and then trailing eight points behind Manchester United. It seemed the title was over. Losing it like they almost did would have been seen as a capitulation and a sign of the mental block City had been associated with.
Europe is key
Although City did win the league in the end, was their season really a great success? Their side was the best in the league, but success should have actually been easier. I am sure “the special one” would have fared better with the talent at his disposal.
Their performances in Europe were the worry. Although he achieved success domestically last season, I have concerns regarding Mancini being the man who could take City and their wealthy owners to where their heart desires and European domination.
Where Mancini will be judged is on the biggest and main prize in world football today, the Champions League. This competition has always been the pinnacle, and as the top sides get richer, it has become even more important. Perhaps because of the monopoly the top sides have on their own domestic leagues, the real crown and the real glory has gone to those lifting the Champions League.
Mancini’s performance next season therefore will come from how he performs in Europe.
Inexperience or poor management?
The defence for Man City last season was that they were an inexperienced side in Europe, and although they have many experienced players in their squad, as a side they were naïve. At times they played immaturely, believing that they could play how they play against Premier League opposition and expect to win.
Their performance against Bayern in particular, where they lost 2-0, was a clear indication that Mancini did not understand the tactics required for European football, especially in away games. The Carlos Tevez incident enabled Mancini to deflect the poor tactics and performance which was convenient because it was a shambles of a performance from Mancini.
It appeared that, when faced with a world class side in Bayern, City were stumped (remember that Bayern played their second side for the game at the Etihad). Against Napoli, who at that time were firing on all cylinders, City looked devoid of ideas, tactical discipline and appeared out of their depth. It even took a last-minute goal from Aguero to get three points from Villareal at home!
One could put this down to the lack of experience, to the fact it was the first time in the competition for the club and the fans. Or one could say that it highlighted the deficiencies of Mancini on the European stage.
The expectation on Mancini and City this season will not be just getting out of the group. In fact, it will be to see if they can genuinely win it.
The talk of the long-term plan allows the fans to see the owners as long term investors to the club, yet the owners know that a marketable product requires exposure.
The impact that Barcelona’s success has had on their global brand has been remarkable. Continued success since 2006 (winning the Champions League three times) has made Barcelona one of the most marketable global brands, this is what Man City’s owners want of their club.
Man City have assembled a group of very good players, some world class ones, and built a championship-winning side with heavy investment in transfer fees and wages. With a very limited history, investment was the only way City would be able to compete and that they have.
But now the expectations are raised, and a Champions League semi-final is the minimum that must be expected of Man City this coming season.
Not good enough for the top level?
The issue is that Mancini's prior experiences of European football with Inter saw him fall short on too many occasions. This recurring theme highlights a serious question regarding his tactical skills and abilities on the biggest stage.
The Champions League contains more sides with calibre, money and prestige. Last season, the English Premier League triumph was as much like his Scuddetto titles; his successes were more indications of the poorness and lack of competition in the respective leagues at that time than his talent as a manager.
Whether scandals or simply through finances, Mancini has risen to the top on the back of others' demise. United should not have gotten close to the title last year. Although it made for thrilling entertainment, City were the only side with genuine world class players in the league last season and should have won with ease.
Much to learn from the past
In 2010, it was Jose Mourinho who was brought in to replace Mancini at Inter. Mancini was sacked not because of domestic reasons, he had won the Scuedetto three times a row (although two were given to Inter after Juve’s calciopoli scandal. The third in 2007 was won when Juve were relegated and Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio had been deducted points.)
No, the problem for Mancini came from his performances in the Champions League, of which his best achievement was getting to the quarterfinals in 2005/06. His departure came in May 2008 for this reason, and Moratti was vindicated when the special one brought European glory to Inter two years later.
Personally, I doubt Mancini’s ability to perform on the biggest stage, the stage on which City’s owners now expect to be. When he arrived at the Etihad, he did a very impressive job of building the defence before adding and freeing the attack to express their talents. It bore fruit and brought the title, keeping him in the job.
Yet the title was the easy part, yet next season he will be expected to win the league again and progress further in Europe. Therefore, he will need to be better tactically, which I am not sure he is capable of.
Mancini lacks the ability to be world class
As well as tactical issues, my other concerns for Mancini are twofold. Firstly, his ability to control his emotions will play a major part in his ability to take City forward. His attitude and demeanour when the season started getting tough screamed of a man who felt the sword of Damocles over him at all times.
The pressure of the job must be immense with expectation so high, yet a great manager is able contain his emotions. Mancini struggled to achieve this.
His sideline actions influenced the players performances, actions which almost cost City the title, he was simply not able to keep calm under pressure, and it was only after he had submitted the title where he relaxed and the team improved.
The second concern involves the constant stories of disputes and arguments with his players. There is no rule to say you have to be liked by your players, yet it seems Mancini seems intent on causing problems at City with certain players.
The best managers seem able to control a group of players, to impart their wishes and enable control of the situation, just look at Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in recent years to see the importance of control. Yet a manager is able to build relationships, something which Mancini does appear to lack and which creates a serious issue for the future success of Man City.
Too much too soon?
City’s issues stem from seeking to bring together some of the world’s best talent together in a short time. Many sides take decades to build a winning side. City have sought to do it in just four.
It has meant they have effectively stockpiled a group of egotistical players who cannot be moved on due to their wages being so high. City have achieved much in a relatively short time, yet with this method of extreme expenditure they have perhaps lacked the ability to assemble a genuine world class squad.
Although the spine of the side in Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Auero is world class, there are many in the squad preventing the club unlocking the key ingredient to success, cohesion.
With all the riches spent, City still need to improve the squad if they wish to be a genuine force in Europe. A world class defensive midfielder of the ilk of Gokhan Inler or Arturo Vidal will be needed to partner Yaya Toure and replace Gareth Barry.
Another key acquisition will be a central defender. Losing Jerome Boateng was not as costly as it could have been as City were lucky with injuries compared to their rivals. Yet clearly without Vincent Kompany, this side looked vulnerable. Javi Martinez is available for a price that only perhaps City could afford. His ability to play in both defence and midfield could be invaluable.
Five-year deal signifies owners intentions
As with any successful side, expectations are increased, and with the money spent by City and the team assembled, those expectations are not unrealistic. City must now seek to win the English league and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League as a minimum.
I do expect them to win the league next season, based solely on the fact they possess the best players in nearly all positions. This only gets you so far in Europe, however, and it is where I believe Mancini will be found out again as a tactically inept, hot-headed manager who lacks the skills and ability to create a successful European side.
However, by giving Mancini a five-year deal, Man City are for me admitting they do not wish to be successful in the Champions League. Until Mancini leaves the Etihad, I believe City’s fans and their owners will not achieve European success. Surely this is not a good business decision.
What are your thoughts? Will City easily win the Premier League? Do you think Mancini can actually be successful in Europe?
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