The timing of Roberto Mancini’s dismissal was awkward, the wording bizarre.
Barely 48 hours after Manchester City had lost the FA Cup Final to unfancied Wigan at Wembley, the club released a statement revealing they had parted ways with their manager of three and a half years.
Mancini’s sacking came exactly 12 months after he had helped end City’s 44-year title drought and about four days after reports surfaced linking Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini to the job the Italian would soon be relieved of.
“Despite everyone’s best efforts,” read an official Manchester City statement, “the Club has failed to achieve any of its stated targets this year, with the exception of qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League. This, combined with an identified need to develop a holistic approach to all aspects of football at the Club, has meant that the decision has been taken to find a new manager for the 2013/14 season and beyond.”
That City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners would have preferred to conclude the campaign with a trophy goes without saying, but that Mancini’s fate seemed sealed before Saturday’s kickoff only reinforced the notion that it was success in Europe that mattered most of all.
And in that regard, Mancini delivered much less than what was asked of him.
In neither of the Champions League campaigns into which he took City did Mancini guide his side out of the Group Stage, and in 12 matches over the two years, his teams won only three times, scoring only 16 goals while conceding 17.
The 48-year-old’s tenure at Eastlands was already insecure when City lost 1-0 at Borussia Dortmund on December 4, but as the reigning champions dropped further and further behind Premier League leaders Manchester United down the stretch, you could already hear the death knells being sounded at Etihad Stadium.
And it’s to Chelsea’s that Manchester City’s managerial strategy would seem most aligned. While Manchester United were putting on a weekend festival to honour the more than 26 years of service provided by outgoing manager Sir Alex Ferguson, both the Blues and Sky Blues were playing out the string with bench bosses they knew wouldn’t be there next season.
Although the next Manchester City manager will be just the third to take charge of English football’s richest side since Sheikh Mansour and his consortium took control of the club in 2008, it’s not at all hard to envision a coaching carousel similar to the one that has been spinning at Stamford Bridge since 2003.
In the 10 years since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, the Russian oligarch has employed 10 managers at the London side, and while his impatience with the personnel in charge of his big-money players has invited much derision, it has also resulted in a period of success unprecedented in the club’s history.
Abramovich’s trophy cabinet includes three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two league cups and the Champions League.
That’s 10 pieces of silverware in as many years—the same number Manchester United have accumulated under rather more settled circumstances.
But Manchester City are not about to hire a Sir Alex Ferguson-type figure, or even look for a long-term hire similar to incoming United manager David Moyes.
Pellegrini will turn 60 in September, and there’s nothing to suggest his time at Eastlands will exceed that of Mancini. In 11 postings on two continents, the Chilean has lasted more than two seasons at a club just twice—with Villarreal in the middle of the last decade and with his current club Malaga, whom he joined in 2010.
And while he’ll undoubtedly bring a pedigree of some Champions League success to the Etihad, even with a trophy here or there it’s unlikely he’d survive a season similar to the one Mancini has just been through.
City’s Abu Dhabi owners might be in it for the long haul, but their managers almost certainly won’t be.
And that’s just fine.
As Chelsea have proved, success isn’t contingent on stability.