Sacking Mark Hughes was one surprise, appointing Roberto Mancini as his successor was another surprise and the pressure on him since he started the job is not a surprise- it is the unfortunate ways of modern football where the club you manage is owned by a very rich man.
Recent developments at Manchester City have shown that Mancini has landed himself the job at the worst time of the season. Prior to Hughes’s sacking there was no off-the-pitch problems. Yet stories of that are now running-over time. Has Mancini got full control of the squad? Do the players have reservations about his training methods, as it has been reported? What is the situation with the manager and the troublesome Craig Bellamy? Whether or not these questions go through the mind of the Italian when he puts his head on the pillow at night is something only he knows, but those unwanted scenarios only add to the pressure to do with on-the-pitch results- the crucial aspect being that fourth placed finish in the Premier League.
When it comes to the most important thing, the football side, City only has Champions League qualification to aim for. Being knocked out of both domestic cup competitions in a matter of weeks did not help his cause, nor did the fact that they only had two wins from eight prior to the fantastic 4-2 victory at Chelsea on Saturday, but it seems that what was always going to matter is if they finish fourth or not. Owners are more interested in the attraction of Champions League football coming to Eastlands and probably do not fully appreciate the meaning behind a cup final day at Wembley.
A test of Mancini’s mental strength is clearly going to determine whether he cracks under the pressure or not. It is quite sad that he is not given enough time to see if he is up to the task or not. The initial period of winning his first four games and beating Manchester United in the first-leg of the Carling Cup semi-final now seems a long time ago. The problem is that time is golden in the Premiership and there is just no patience with owners- this is a subject that appears too frequently. In the owners eyes Hughes was sacked because he was not getting the results. Firstly, making that assumption at Christmas time as it were is beyond belief and if the Welshman got sacked because of that, then what do they do if Mancini does not guide the team to a fourth placed finish come May? In other words, the next 11 games will shape the Italian’s future at City.
If Mancini’s training methods, his tactics and substitutions are being questioned then that is an easy way of exaggerating the pressure he is under. If a new manager comes in to a club, especially a foreigner, then what do the players expect other than his own style? Goalkeeper Shay Given has come to the backing of his manager and highlighted that with a morale-boosting win at Chelsea. He said: “Every manager has different methods. You get used to them. We are working on different things and both he and the team deserve a pat on the back for going to a very difficult place and coming away with a positive result.”
It has not helped Mancini so far that his appointment was a surprise itself, considering some of the names that were being mentioned. It is ludicrous to judge him after such a short period in charge, but unfortunately City’s owners have shown that this is exactly what they will be doing. Fans might be tempted to compare his approach to the way Mark Hughes did things and therefore there is greater scrutiny on substitutions and the way the team plays. If this is an example of the harsh pressure a manager from a certain club seems to come under every season, then it is certainly not something Mancini has never seen before because of his time at Inter Milan.
The truth is that even a fourth placed finish might not save Mancini from the sack but, even if he does, will the owners stick with him? Football has a strange way of coming back and biting you where it hurts when you least expect it.