Many have tried and many have failed to take on the master of mind games Sir Alex Ferguson. It’s a dangerous game to play, just ask Kevin Keegan and Rafael Benitez.
Keegan’s ‘I would love it’ rant all but conceded the title to United in 1996, whilst Benitez was in charge of a Liverpool team top of the table before he started ‘talking about facts’ and Ferguson ended up claiming another title.
Then along came Roberto Mancini, who last season you could argue became the first man to triumph over Fergie in the battle of the mind games. As his team continued to pick up points and close the gap on United, Mancini took all the pressure off his players and piled it onto the shoulders of United, claiming his team ‘were not favourites’ and United had ‘easy games.’ All said in a calm and methodical manner, with a face that suggested he had been spending his time at Arsene Wengers poker school in Govan.
Of course City ended up winning the title, and one of the abiding memories of an incredible season was Ferguson and Mancini’s touchline bust up during the second half of what was essentially the title decider at Eastlands. The image of Ferguson’s face red with rage shouting expletives at the Italian, will be one that could be defining. Mancini held his own, made his point and then calmly swanned back to the dugout with hands in pockets. He had clearly got under Fergies skin, and ended up coming out on top.
What is interesting about Mancini’s approach, is that he has never gone after Ferguson directly in the way Benitez or Keegan did. He has kept his distance, ensuring he doesn’t personally provoke the United boss. If he did, you feel there would be no way back, as Mancini is aware Ferguson has been the master for decades. There is no doubt Fergie has plenty more tricks up his sleeve, and is just biding his time to make his move.
However Mancini has started this season where he left off his title winning campaign, by playing down City’s title chances in a bid to take the pressure off his own players and pile it on to United.
“I was serious last week when I said United where favourites” he said nonchalantly. He had previously stated his multi-million pound team of superstars were “maybe in second third or fourth position” when it comes down to the favourites for the Premier League title.
Mancini has expressed his dissatisfaction at City’s lack of activity in the transfer market, but it is hard to see where they could actually improve? Is this all just a cover up to take the pressure off his side? Another centre back is seen as the priority, and the remaining days of the transfer window will give a clearer indication to City’s potential to retain their title this season.
With the mind games beginning before the season had even kicked off, you can be sure it will be an enthralling battle once more. The way Mancini played it last season indicates the Italian could be the successor to Fergie as the new master of the mind game.