Mind Games From Mancini or Sheer Madness?
The title race begins on Saturday; the Premier League elite have been limbering up over the past two months and are only just settling into their starting blocks. No points have been earned, no trophies have been won – besides a largely insignificant shield – and yet Roberto Mancini is again making every effort to rule Manchester City out of contention. In recent weeks he has declared his neighbours favourites, condemned the clubs lethargic transfer activity and praised Carlos Tevez. Has he lost his marbles or have the mind games already begun in Manchester?
Sometimes it’s worth considering the view that managers like Roberto Mancini have the hardest job in football because with unlimited funds comes the unbearable weight of expectation. You only have to look the division’s other Italian manager to realise that even success on the biggest European stage doesn’t guarantee you security at a club. Mancini may have just been handed a new five-year contract but can anyone see him surviving for its entire duration?
Mancini is no doubt well aware that the wealthy hierarchy at Manchester City will be keen to build on last season’s achievements. The minimum requirement is surely to retain the league title whilst looking competitive in the Champions League, perhaps even getting down the final four. The pressure of such rigorous demands will be overwhelming and perhaps prompted him to announce this:
“I think [Manchester] United start as favourites this year. We are maybe second, third or fourth.” (Guardian)
After the initial shock of such a remark subsides, it’s clear the onus will be on Manchester United to regain superiority in the league and the city itself. Sir Alex Ferguson and his beloved Red Devils are accustomed to the title of ‘champions’ and losing their crown to their fiercest rivals, in the manner in which they did, will surely still hurt to this very day. Mancini’s apparent ignorance regarding the strength of his own squad will continue to help keep expectation at a realistic level.
Maybe Mancini does have doubts about whether his side can reach the same heights. Since the season ended back in May the Italian has watched the teams around him lure in some of the finest talent from across Europe. The club’s failure to win the signature of Eden Hazard and secure long-term target Danielle De Rossi has clearly unsettled him and encouraged criticism of Brian Marwood, the club’s sporting director and ruler in the transfer market.
In a recent press conference Mancini referred to want-away striker Robin Van Persie as an “Arsenal or United player“, adding: “I don’t think we have any chance of this now. I don’t know [why]. You need to speak to Brian.” However he didn’t miss an opportunity to slip in this sly insult.
“If United buy Van Persie it is better for them. United need a player like Van Persie. He could play for any team because he is a top player.” He later added: “We scored 90 goals last year so I am not too worried about the striking situation.” (Guardian)
In the space of a few short sentences Mancini subtly urged the club to step-up their pursuit of the Dutchman, slated United’s inferior strike force and conveyed the opinion that they might not even need him. His only signing so far, Everton’s Jack Rodwell, adds depth to an already supremely talent squad but it could also be perceived as ‘getting one over on Fergie’, given that the midfielder was long thought to be a target for United.
City are without doubt the ‘team to beat’ this season. United will be chomping at their heels in order to regain top spot, Chelsea will be attempting to win the battle of the financial superpowers whilst a new, heated rivalry with Arsenal has emerged from the transfer of Samir Nasri. Andre Villas-Boas and Spurs will need to prove they are still worthy of a top four place and the promoted trio will consider The Citizens as their most prized scalp. Is it really any surprise Mancini has been dipping into his mind game manuscript already?
Mancini is your typical Italian man, eccentric, charismatic and he looks good in a suit. He has managed to win the war with a new lean Carlos Tevez, despite spouting a few more grey hairs in the process and he will surely benefit from the improved Mario Balotelli we saw at Euro 2012.
However, he’s a touch volatile in high-pressure scenarios, opting for the ‘us against the world’ mentality rather than falling in line to help diffuse a situation. His insistence to react to adversity with a touchline tantrum or a frustrated remark in a interview will perhaps one day come back to haunt him. His new contract may have loosened his tongue a bit too much and he will do well not to upset his superiors. It might even be worth mirroring Ferguson’s vocal support of the Glazers.
In many ways Mancini is just like Mourinho, acting as the rogue, unconventional individual who ensures the spotlight is always on him rather than his squad. As last season proved, this media tactic can work wonders despite the almost daily attempts of Balotelli and Tevez to unhinge the wheels on his runaway bandwagon.
I just wonder that in his more drastic and bizarre attempts to regain control, the constant attention will cause his Manchester City side to implode in amongst the barrage of criticism and ridicule that lands at their door. It’s also worth remembering that the season is a marathon, not a sprint and I for one cannot wait for it all to kick off.
Join me on Twitter @theunusedsub where I am trying to confirm reports that Mancini has been spotted wearing his infamous scarf despite the fact it’s August.