After facing the side his team beat to a fourth place finish last season, the Tottenham Hotspur boss, Harry Redknapp’s comments were particularly forthright. A 0-0 home draw with Manchester City at the weekend was followed by this friendly concern for his opposite number, Roberto Mancini: “Can he keep the players happy? It’s difficult. He’s not going to do it.” He may have felt emboldened to make such a claim after his side largely dominated their opponents whose bench included Shay Given, Joleon Lescott and Emmanuel Adebayor. Redknapp went further by saying, “I wouldn’t tip them from what I’ve seen. I wouldn’t say they’ll win the championship. They have a long way to go.” The Tottenham boss has a vested interest in seeing their lavish football project fail but do his words speak an uncomfortable truth for Manchester City?
Having spent over £100 million this summer there is immense pressure on City to qualify for the Champions League at the very least this season. It is little wonder that Mancini can be depicted as having simultaneously the best and worst job in the division. Based on their performance against Spurs they may struggle to reach their ambitions targets. Tottenham were collectively strong and had outstanding individual contributions from Gareth Bale and Luka Modric whilst City were kept level by the outstanding performance of Joe Hart. Mancini proffered this explanation: “We are going to need time to learn how to play together. That is normal when you have new players.” The Italian will have the enviable task of assimilating Mario Balotelli and James Milner into the squad in the coming weeks.
It is to be expected that a revamped squad will require time to gel and bond. Redknapp contrasted City’s team unity with that of current title holders Chelsea. Yet the core of that squad has been stable for many years making it a slightly perfunctory analysis. It is surely too soon to speculate on the chances of a squad still in flux, especially since Redknapp only recently said they had a chance of winning the league. Nonetheless his comments struck a chord with pundits and commentators who similarly questioned the ability of Mancini to mould a coherent side. After using three defensive midfielders on Saturday the manger’s tactics were derided as being negative and typically Italian. Using Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure certainly ostracised Carlos Tevez as their lone striker. Strangely they were in desperate need of a Stephen Ireland figure to bridge that creative divide. Mancini, however, should be applauded for the defensive discipline he has installed in his players. Judging by his record at Internazionale and the attacking players he has there will be room for flair in his team. Yet there is a balance which needs to be found which was missing under previous manager, Mark Hughes.
The bigger concern for Mancini’s City is instilling that togetherness which cannot be bought. He has already taken proactive action to remove divisive characters like Craig Bellamy from the dressing room with others set to depart the club. In an attempt to forge some unity and make room for new stars, Mancini should be cautious of not removing elements of the team which progressed five league places last season. Cardiff City’s latest signing left Eastlands saying, “I came here at a great period of the club’s history. I was brought to bring that club on to the next level and I believe I played a big part in doing that.” Bellamy who was popular at City was not engaging in self-promotion and his on-field effort neatly contrasts with Tevez’s statement that he is lacking motivation. If City’s highly paid stars are in need of extra motivation and spirit Mancini should remind them that the whole league is waiting for them to fail.