Farewell, Roberto Mancini

May 14, 2013 in Premier League by Louis Baxter

Roberto Mancini gave me my most treasured moment as a Manchester City fan. It is extremely unlikely to ever be topped - outside of a last second victory in the Champions League final against Manchester United courtesy of a Phil Jones own goal - and for that I will be forever grateful. He is the first truly gifted manager City have had in my lifetime, with the respect to the ones that came in and did a great job to the best of their ability along the way. Mancini was a trophy winning manager of trophy winning pedigree that came in and ended our 35 year wait for silverware with the FA Cup in 2011, and the 44 year wait for a league title the following year. These are moments fans of many clubs will never get and I don’t think they would have happened, at least not in the way they did, if not for Mancini. So thank you, Roberto. City fans will remember you as a legend forever.

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But I believe this is the right decision. For multiple reasons. The first, and perhaps most important, being that Mancini’s relationship with the players has soured beyond repair. To the nation’s media, Mancini has unapologetically criticized Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards, Mario Balotelli relentlessly, Samir Nasri and captain Vincent Kompany, not to mention club officials Brian Marwood and Head of PR Vicky Kloss. Regardless of whether he has a point in any of the instances, this behaviour was not befitting of a manager of a club trying to build a positive reputation for itself. I’d argue that Mancini was an embarrassment in the media this season, and it’s not even like this abrasive style had a positive effect on his players, with of all of the spine that won City the league last year, Hart, Kompany, Yaya and Aguero, having at least less impressive seasons. You wouldn’t need the recent reports of a complete breakdown between Mancini and the players to see the signs.

The moment when he criticized Vincent Kompany for choosing to represent Belgium when he had recently returned from injury was the most galling for me. If Kompany was fit, he was entitled to play for his country, even if he had been unfit for the previous game for City. I think sticking with Mancini might have meant the loss of a couple of big names this summer, possibly Kompany included. It’s possible that Mancini overestimated which personnel the club valued over him, because if it were me reading the signs, I certainly wouldn’t have thought I would be valued over Vincent Kompany.

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But if you look at the results alone, there’d be a decent argument for his replacement even if the behind-the-scenes fireworks are a figment of the media’s imagination. The performance in the Champions League broke the record for worst ever by an English team for a reason. Mancini was tactically out-thought in almost every game, particularly by Jurgen Klopp and Frank De Boer, and seemed to self-destruct when things weren’t going his way. With cup exits to Wigan and Villa paired with a league campaign that sees City likely to finish 10 points behind United or possibly more, Mancini must have known that City’s performances on the pitch would leave him vulnerable, so rather than going on the offensive, relentlessly blaming others, anyone else really, perhaps if he had taken a more humble and respectful stance, he’d still be in a job right now.

This doesn’t really excuse the sideshow that was his dismissal, though. Granted, the stories about Manuel Pellegrini came from Spain rather than City itself, but the timing was horrific, it almost certainly cost them a piece of silverware, and once the story was out, there wasn’t really anything they could do. They couldn’t deny the Pellegrini stories if they were true, but they also couldn’t confirm them because Mancini still had a cup final to win. After that debacle though, Mancini couldn’t stay for the rest of the season, he just couldn’t. Fans might have wanted a farewell in the final home game versus Norwich, but Mancini would almost certainly use the opportunity to criticize the club top to bottom. They couldn’t allow him in front of cameras as a representative of the club again, so yesterday the axe fell, and Mancini is gone, without an immediate appointment yet made, and Brian Kidd to act as caretaker manager for the final two games of the season.

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Most reports seems to indicate a deal with Pellegrini is done every way but officially, so I think it will be just a matter of Pellegrini finishing the season with Malaga before he is officially announced as the new City manager. Mancini will be a tough act to follow for the fans, fans who associate sackings with terrible failures like Frank Clark or Alan Ball.  Hell, he is not the under-performing ex-United player Mark Hughes after all, he is the first title winning City manager since 1968, and the majority opinion in the stands was that he should have had the run of the club for life, come first or come tenth. They’ll likely be less forgiving of Pellegrini, and a second placed finish next season, playing much better football and being much more competitive than we were this season might not be enough to quell grumblings. The odds of the Mancini song being sung whilst Pellegrini or whoever else it maybe is in the manager’s chair upon a bad day are pretty much evens, as I think many City fans haven’t adapted to their situation or the ambitions of their club just yet. City want to rule the world, and for that to happen, sometimes things like loyalty and kindness will be disregarded. You can’t conquer the world politely, and you certainly can’t do it without slitting any throats. This is modern football.

But despite all these criticisms, Mancini is City’s greatest manager since Joe Mercer, and he’ll be remembered as much. It’s been a hard week for the old faithful, as since the new owners have come in, they’ve made every effort to preserve the tradition of the club, to keep the family atmosphere that City fans value so highly, to a degree that I think is more than could be expected; certainly more than Abramovich has done at Chelsea for instance. So on days like this, where not only Mancini has been sacked, but also Paul Power, City legend and current under-15′s coach, and Jim Cassell, responsible for the best batch of youth players the City academy has produced in recent memory in the 2000′s, have been shown the door, the illusion of safety and comfort will have been broken a bit, and City fans are no doubt fearing their club is descending into chaos. But I have faith in Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, as well as the entire City project, that this decision has not been made rashly; for better or worse is part of a plan, a plan that hopefully City fans will get to see bear fruit next season. For now though, it’s a full stop in stage 1 of City’s development. Thanks to the club and to Mancini, they now have a seat at the big boys table. What are they going to do with it?

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