He's gone. The manager who took an underperforming squad, turned it into FA Cup winners in his first full season and then unforgettably lifted the Premier League trophy in his next has gone. And, on balance, I think it's the right decision.
Although Roberto Mancini's sacking came as no surprise bearing in mind the fervour of speculation that had been in motion for the past few months and which intensified in the build-up to Saturday's desperately shambolic FA Cup final, emotions among City supporters are still raw. Many feel the Italian has been harshly treated in the extreme, his record in charge of the Blues deserving of greater patience, while others argue the situation has been handled appallingly, denying Mancini the send-off he deserves. When the immediate feelings of anger and resentment subside, I think more will begin to realise this may be the decision that takes the Blues forward to the next level.
First of all, however, it is only proper - and genuine - to thank the Italian for the success he achieved as manager. Rightly, he will always be remembered fondly by City supporters for delivering the FA Cup and, on that quite remarkable day, the Premier League title after so many barren years. He has been in charge for some incredible moments in recent times and his contribution in transforming the club from a talented, yet wildly inconsistent, outfit into one which is challenging for trophies and securing Champions League qualification every season should not be overlooked.
He replaced Mark Hughes and immediately added a solidity to the previously directionless side. He brought with him a winning mentality, acquired from his achievements in Italy, and was intent on making City a more professional, hardened team. His man-management skills, which, in the end were a major reason for his downfall, worked initially, motivating a squad which had potential yet had been allow to coast for too long. At that stage, his confrontational and challenging approach provoked results.
In terms of how he benefited individual players, the results are clear to see. Pablo Zabaleta has gone from a reliable enough defender to one of the best right-backs around, his buccaneering presence down the right and his whole-hearted approach gaining him plaudits aplenty. Vincent Kompany was a powerful holding midfielder under the stewardship of Hughes, but Mancini turned him into one of the finest centre-backs in the country. Gael Clichy, often thought of as a weak link for Arsenal, has been magnificent since joining the Blues, his effervescence and anticipation so often the catalyst for our pressing game. Gareth Barry, initially regarded as a plodding and one-dimensional midfielder is now an integral part of the side, while even Joleon Lescott improved under Mancini. He was capable of turning good players into very good players, a good team into a very good one.
But could he take City to the next level? That is where the doubts crept in.
His faults, easy to highlight now that he has left, have, in fact, been manifest for quite some time. Our Champions League campaign this season was pitiful and while both this year and last were made extra difficult in terms of the quality of opposition faced, there was a regularity with which he was out-foxed tactically and an inability to convince that he was the right man to progress.
Three victories in two seasons at the highest level - and those were against a reserve Bayern Munich side and two wins over a Villarreal team which was later relegated - is just not good enough. And nor were there signs that was going to change. The ease with which Ajax, a supposedly inferior unit, swept aside the Blues in Amsterdam was embarrassing, Mancini's tactical naivety evident as he struggled to either contain or attack with conviction.
Even domestically, he has his default system and then little else. Of course, that is fine when all the players are performing as they can and City are strolling to victory, but all too often, Mancini was unable to alter the course of a match by his tactics or substitutions. An attempt to introduce a new formation for this year, 3-5-2, was admirable and the system itself has its benefits, but for it to work properly, you need pace and mobility in the wingback positions and in midfield. City had Aleks Kolarov and Javi Garcia.
Throughout this season, there has been a painstaking absence of variety in our play. The aesthetically pleasing football of which we are capable is great to see but it is only successful when played at a lively tempo. Ignore that crucial element and the opposition have time to get men behind the ball and provided they are organised and resilient, we don't pose too much of a problem. From a City perspective, the intensity, drive and purpose has been concerningly missing for quite some time and yet nothing has been done to rectify the situation.
Admittedly, Mancini can feel justifiably aggrieved that he wasn't supported in the summer when he desperately wanted to add quality to the squad, but he laboured that argument repetitively in his press conferences to the point where it just became soporific. He was correct in desiring top class signings in order to push the squad on and not allow the current stars to rest on their laurels, but when the necessary acquisitions weren't made, he needed to move on and concentrate on attaining the best from what he had at his disposal. He failed drastically in that regard.
Compare the players upon which City and Manchester United could call and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could argue that our rivals have a better squad, let alone one which is ten points superior. They don't. They have a talented squad but one that is, on paper, a certain amount weaker. Why, then, do they lie so far ahead of us in the table?
And at this point, you have to focus on Mancini's faults. For a manager who has achieved success everywhere he has been, he does have numerous weaknesess. The lack of tactical acumen, as touched on above, is one, as is his stubbornness in refusing to change. But perhaps the most important element is his relationship with others. Or, rather, the lack of them.
He's confrontational, argumentative and provocational and while that may work in the short-term in regards to motivating the players to prove him wrong or reach new heights, it quickly loses its impetus when he doesn't back down. The growing disharmony within the squad meant that his relentlessly critical style could not continue to work. The strong dislike of his managerial methods and lack of respect directed towards him from the squad has been oft-reported and is true, as has been written about at length over the past couple of days. It wasn't just those he argued with in public who felt that way. Along with Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Samir Nasri and Carlos Tévez, relations had, to put it generously, cooled with the likes of David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Aguero. I'm sure many others felt the same way.
It goes without saying that player power should not be the determining factor but when a manager is so strongly disliked by so many, it made his departure inevitable sooner rather than later. And that's without even mentioning his constant public barbs at Brian Marwood and others. Mancini spoke his mind and that was refreshing for a while but there was no semblance of managing individuals, no attempt to treat the players differently. There was one rule for all and that is no way to succeed in the long-term.
Equally, the players who have been so disappointing over the course of the season should not escape criticism by any means. While the manager takes the majority of the blame, it is easy to forget just how underwhelming so many of our stars have been during this campaign. With the exception of Zabaleta, who has incontestably been our player of the season, and with honourable shouts in the direction of Matija Nastasic, Clichy, Barry and James Milner, the rest have been largely insipid. Yaya Touré, a world-class matchwinner on his day, has lethargically loped his way through much of the season, Samir Nasri has offered a negligible amount of drive and guile while Hart, Kompany, Aguero and Silva, to name but four, have dramatically failed to reach their high standards. They may be delighted the manager has left but should take a long look at themselves first.
Will Manuel Pellegrini be an improvement? Only time will tell but the signs are that he's far more acute and flexible tactically, willing to allow the players greater freedom and, crucially, is adored by his former players for the way in which he treated them while still attaining results. For more information, the type of which all City fans want to read, I would recommend this piece in the Independent and this article in the Express for some detailed insights on our soon-to-be-boss.
Roberto Mancini was a good manager, perhaps a very good one, and he'll always be remembered for the trophies he lifted at City, but by the end his faults outweighed his positives. It's sad to see a manager depart, especially one who leaves with so many fond memories, but I believe the correct decision has been made in order to take City to the next level.
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