One of the signs of a great manager is one who keeps calm when all around him are losing their heads. Sir Alex Ferguson is a master of it, Arsene Wenger has almost perfected it, Roberto Mancini – not so much. Despite being a super-cool, scarf wearing Italian who has guided Manchester City to two trophies in two years – more than they won in the previous thirty – he has, in the past week or so, worn the look of a very forlorn man.
On paper, things aren’t too shabby – his team are jostling near the top end of the Premier League table and the core of the squad which won the title in such dramatic fashion last season is still very much intact. There are, however, some concerns – performances have been relatively low key thus far, City labouring to wins and not exactly firing on all cylinders. There seems to be a lethargy to their play, that spark of last season failing to reignite at the early stage of this campaign. Oh, there’s also the added fact that their Champions League hopes are hanging in the balance following two points from a possible 12.
At a press conference earlier in the week (before the round of Champions League matches), Mancini was quizzed about discussions he had with French Ligue 2 side Monaco last year, stating: “I don’t understand why you continue to ask me about last year, last month. This is finished. Why? Why continue to ask me?” They were the words of a weary man, a man possibly finding City’s current form, or lack of, a worry to himself and to his players.
Fast-forward 24 hours and, following a 2-2 draw with Ajax, Mancini stormed onto the pitch at the Etihad Stadium to remonstrate with match official Peter Rasmussen about a couple of contentious decisions; namely a goal from Sergio Aguero that was flagged as offside and a late penalty appeal turned down when Mario Balotelli had his shirt tugged. Not only did the officials feel the force of the Italian’s rage – one particular cameraman was also subject to the outburst. Following the match, Mancini lamented the decisions, stating “The referee and his staff were really poor, I said to the referee ‘Congratulations – it was a goal’.” Whilst you can understand Mancini’s frustrations, what cannot be masked is that his team’s form in this Champions League campaign has not been good enough. Largely second best in defeats to Ajax and Real Madrid, and completely outplayed by Dortmund at home, despite somehow coming away with a point.
Thoughts for Mancini must now turn to the Premier League where his City side have been racking up points but not the performances, certainly not the ones of champions. Saturday’s 0-0 with West Ham Utd was another case of two points dropped, of which there have been a few this season. Signs of his frustration became evident when, just before the second half commenced, he sat in the away dugout by himself looking very pensive and, sadly, almost worn out.
While his team are still unbeaten and looking very disciplined and organised at home, their performances in Europe have been far from convincing and this must be a huge issue for the ambitious Italian who has tried and failed before to attain Champions League success at Lazio and Inter Milan. City’s billionaire owners must surely show patience with the man who brought the league title to City for the first time in 44 years but the managerial game is so cut-throat these days that you can imagine Mancini to be on tenterhooks about his position should City fail to make the second round of the Champions League in consecutive seasons. Stranger things have certainly happened – Carlo Ancelotti won the double at Chelsea and then found himself out of a job the following year.
His job shouldn’t be in question and the Champions League is a competition that requires patience – just ask Sir Alex Ferguson whose Man United side toiled and tussled with similar struggles to City in the early nineties. Same with Chelsea who rifled through a number of managers before finally coming up trumps last season with Roberto Di Matteo. If there’s one thing I’d remind the Abu Dhabi owners if they’re possibly feeling a bit trigger happy – remember where City were 11 years ago today – facing Gillingham (now of League Two) in a Championship match. Not long before that they were in League One. They’ve never had it better than now and while European glory may elude them for another year, they know they’ll have a good chance of retaining their domestic title this season. And City fans will take that all day long.
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