Manchester City and Mancini: two years on

Today marks Manchester City and 
Roberto Mancini’s two year anniversary.
Just hours after a Roque Santa Cruz double helped Manchester City to a 4-3 win over Sunderland in mid-December 2009, Sheikh Mansour and the City board issued a statement confirming that manager Mark Hughes had been sacked.

 

City had failed to win 41 of the 77 games Hughes took charge of. Despite spending close to £200 million during his City reign, the Welshman left City in 6thin the Premier League after eight draws in his last 11 games.
Sheikh Mansour and the City board decided that change was needed. They had already raised expectations themselves through vast investment, but they wanted to raise them even further. They required a manager who could not only believe in Manchester City’s potential, but achieve it also. Watching from the stands during the thrilling victory over Sunderland was one Roberto Mancini.
And despite the nature of the sacking – it was undoubtedly poorly done– it would be hard to argue that the change of manager was wrong.
The modern Manchester City are a club familiar with transition: passion and achievement with Kevin Keegan; potential but continuous disappointment with Stuart Pearce; promise but limited improvement with Sven Goran Eriksson; excitement but difficult boardroom goings-on and blind signings with Hughes.
And now high expectations – which have arguably been with the club since the Thaksin Shinawatra takeover in 2007 – are now being met under Mancini’s relentless rule.
The Italian is all about the small details. A self-confessed and proud perfectionist, Mancini gets his team to train as they would play, with strength, energy and passion. Not the meaningless kind of passion, though – the will to win, the desperation to play for the team and cement a place in the side.
The mentality of the players is important to Mancini. It was clear from the start of his tenure that he wanted to change the culture of the club; a squad that was used to second best. Out went Martin Petrov, Javier Garrido and Elano – in came, eventually, Kolo and Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, amongst many others.
It is a valid point to say that Mancini is incredibly fortunate to have a bottomless pit of money and so can go out and build his team; his Galacticos. However, as the much-used saying goes, you can have all the best individuals in the world – they won’t necessarily make a good team. To bring them together, to put the vision into practise and to turn them into a formidable team – and a well-utilised squad – requires an intuitive and astute manager.
Mancini’s style of play has been heavily criticised; the ‘defence first’, pragmatic approach draws easy criticism and hasty generalisations. The cautious play from City last season, though, has turned into – mostly – free-flowing football this term. A fantastically creative team and purveyors of possession football, City are now seen as one of the strongest sides in Europe (even despite their early Champions League exit) just three years after finishing 10th in the League after a massively mediocre season packed full with promises but delivering on few.
Of course, such an unyielding want for perfection and a willingness to change doesn’t work for everyone. While the majority of players will respond positively to Mancini’s philosophy of ‘work hard and show me why you deserve a place in the team’, it can sometimes translate as showing a lack of respect to certain players. But they are the players that Mancini has rid the club of – the players with the wrong mentality. The players who don’t want to fight for their place every week. The losers.
The public nature in which Mancini has discussed the Carlos Tevez Affair™ hasn’t exactly divided opinion because most will agree that Tevez is solely in the wrong. But players in the past have complained of treatment from Mancini – Emmanuel Adebayor and Craig Bellamy notably – and it is here where the fine line between cutting through the cack to find a fearsome squad, all willing to work hard for the cause, and alienating players is seen.
Mancini was charged with helping Manchester City make their dreams become a reality; not an easy task even with the obscene investment from above. He guided them to their first major trophy since 1976 in the shape of The FA Cup, while the emphatic 6-1 victory over Manchester United earlier this season must surely go down as one of the greatest victories in the club’s history.
Manchester City’s project began some years ago and Mancini appears to be the right man to lead the club forward. Whether he will bring instant, complete success is doubtful but that would be no fun for Mancini anyway. He likes a challenge: “If we are successful, we change the history of this club and we change it for life”. Mancini’s project is two years old now but this really is only the beginning.
Photo from Serigrapher on Flickr.
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