Few Manchester City fans would have begrudged the award of a new five-year contract to manager Roberto Mancini in the wake of the club's dramatic clinching of the Premier League title in May 2012. After all, this is the man who delivered City's first championship in 44 years, having done the double over Manchester United (including that 6-1 rout) along the way.
But in the nearly five months that have followed, Mancini seems to have been trying very hard to destroy his own credibility, and City's chances of building on last season's triumph. A series of baffling transfer and team selection decisions have contributed to City's stuttering start to the Premier League, and now - after a 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund - being in danger of exiting the Champions League at the group stage for the second successive year.
Start in defence. The best central defensive partnership in the league last year - Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott - has been broken up so Mancini can play teenager Matija Nastasic. Some poor individual performances from Kompany partially explain why City have shipped 18 goals in 10 games this year, without registering a single clean sheet. But losing his partner has probably contributed to Kompany's loss of form. Nastasic does look a better find than Stefan Savic - another of Mancini's buys who left for Fiorentina as makeweight in the Nastasic deal - but 19 years is no age to be put up against the champions of both Spain and Germany.
At right back, City already had fierce competition between Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards, both of them good enough to walk into almost any team in the league. Mancini's solution to this non-problem was to bring in 31-year-old Maicon from Inter Milan. The Brazilian was clearly past his best when Gareth Bale destroyed him on behalf of Spurs in 2010. What did Mancini think would happen when he played Maicon against Cristiano Ronaldo? Of course, Real Madrid scored their three goals against City after Maicon had been substituted, but that was down solely to Joe Hart's heroics.
Now midfield. Mancini's fetish for holding midfielders was indulged over the summer, with the arrival of Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell. But another, Nigel de Jong, departed. Garcia is certainly a class act, although it's not clear what role Mancini wants him to play. The talents of David Silva and Yaya Toure mean City already have better ammunition available going forward. Defensively, a number of lapses from Garcia suggest that he doesn't offer the solidity that de Jong did, or which Gareth Barry continues to.
But even if we accept that Garcia is a quality addition, then it makes buying Rodwell look entirely superfluous. Promising prospect he may be, but City can easily afford to wait to find out if he is worth buying two or three years from now. In the interim period, the idea that he offers more to the team than de Jong - or the out-of-favour James Milner, who was a mainstay last year - is laughable.
On the wing, Mancini has swapped Adam Johnson for Scott Sinclair. This looks the most puzzling change of all. Johnson could be frustrating at times, but his ability to conjure goals out of nothing had earned numerous points for City. That Mancini left him out of the team is understandable, if he felt that an out-and-out winger didn't fit into his preferred system. But why exchange him for another out-and-out winger of plainly lesser quality? As with de Jong, personality clashes between Mancini and certain players - especially those bought by his predecessors - is surely the explanation.
Mancini didn't buy or sell any strikers over the summer, but that hasn't prevented him tinkering with City's attack. Carlos Tevez started the season in fantastic form, scoring in the opening four games and playing some of the best football of his career. Mancini's response was to drop him for City's biggest league game so far, against Arsenal, and then the must-win Champions League match against Dortmund.
Mancini's fondness for making odd decisions - such as bringing on a left-back for a striker whenever City need to score a goal - has always made him something of an enigma. Last season, it seemed to work. Either because he was tapped into some unseen current of the footballing imagination, or because he confused his opponents into submission, results went his way. It is also difficult to criticise the player-spotting credentials of a man who has brought Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero to the club. But City can only struggle for so long before Mancini transforms himself from enigma to liability.
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