Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini’s future continues to hog the headlines simply because it remains so up in the air, but is he already a lame duck or does he still have some authority in the corridors of power at the club, at least enough to guarantee him one more campaign at the Etihad?
It’s getting to that stage in the season where everyone takes stock and looks back on what has been achieved, or for most, what hasn’t been achieved at various clubs up and down the country; when it comes to silverware, every cup competition is nearing its inevitable conclusion and promotion tilts are either in the bag or down and out, and the same could certainly be said of City’s desire to retain their Premier League crown this season, with Mancini declaring the race all but over on Thursday with an unassailable 15-point deficit to try and claw back in the nine remaining games a thankless task. When it comes to judging the team’s overall performance, they’ve been deeply disappointing and have failed to live up to expectations and then some, but is all of that the Italian’s fault? And will he be given a chance to redeem himself?
Under the guidance of the 48-year-old former Inter Milan boss, the club have been on an upward curve ever since he took over and this season remains their first tangible setback – the failure in the Champions League, where they exited without even a win to their win saw them finish bottom of their group and fail to even drop into the Europa League and for the second season running, they left a lot to be desired, seemingly unable to stamp their authority on any game of importance against continental opposition and that presents a major concern.
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Right through his recent managerial career, Mancini has shown an inability to make an impact in Europe, with his Inter side torn apart every season at the quarter-final stage or earlier despite being the runaway leaders in Serie A. In all honesty, do the club’s fans expect him to improve upon that ropey record next term? Probably not, and he’s managed to consign himself to being something of a domestic specialist incapable of truly breaching the top tier, which is where City’s ambitions dictate they must end up eventually.
In that respect, City’s owners may see the end of this season as the ideal opportunity to get rid of Mancini, particularly with Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho thought to be looking for a return to the Premier League, with Chelsea in the running. Is there really much point in keeping faith with a manager when there are such large doubts about how far he can take the club in the future? The league is often seen as the bread and butter, but that’s not why countless millions were invested in the playing squad and star names such as David Silva, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero were purchased, the owners will want to make a splash of sorts in Europe and the jury is well and truly out over whether Mancini is the man to deliver that progress, with the evidence that he can in short supply.
Mancini has presented an inconsistent stance to the media with regards to the constant questioning over his future, sometimes going on the attack and other simply laughing everything off, but last month in a press conference saw him reveal his true feelings on the matter: “We started our project here three years ago. In that time we’re always at the top fighting for the title. We won three trophies, we’ve the chance to win more this year. All the people who talk about this do not understand football. Because if City should sack me, the other 19 teams in the league should be without a boss. I speak with Khaldoon (Al Mubarak) every week. He is like me. When we lose, he’s upset. We have a good relationship.”
He clearly feels he is safe because by and large, his relationship with the owners has remained strong even despite recent setbacks. Nevertheless, with Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano moving in upstairs, there is the danger that a power-sharing duo could push him out if they see fit, especially with Mancini’s position weak at the moment and their recent arrivals meaning they possess as much power as they will ever do.
When you compare the club to the side that Mancini inherited from Mark Hughes, the difference is huge – he’s professionalised the ranks, made the squad a lot more balanced and got them into that winning routine while also attracting better quality players than the Welshman ever could. However, there’s still a sense that the system the team uses is heavily reliant on a few key individuals to play well, with six defensive players simply hoping the creative quartet manage to do some damage at the top end of the pitch and in terms of a plan B, they’ve looked clueless at times this year, with the experimental 3-5-2 formation doing more harm than good.
For all of the money that the club have spent too, they simply don’t look good enough to become a force in Europe and there’s a real lack of depth and quality in several positions, which points to a flawed policy of which Mancini is responsible of and he is a difficult man to control, liable to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, which is not always conducive to a healthy long-term dressing room atmosphere when everything isn’t going according to plan.
There are plenty of positives about Mancini’s reign on the whole, but when it comes to evaluating job performance, the most important factor in deciding any manager’s future is the one just gone and without an FA Cup triumph, he could be ushered out via the back door with a handsome pay-off.
His future is intertwined largely with that of Mourinho, given City will be faced with a paucity of viable alternatives should the Portuguese boss move elsewhere. You suspect he’ll be given one more year before the club moves for someone like Jurgen Klopp, Joachim Loew or Diego Simeone, but he simply cannot afford another campaign like the potentially trophyless one this year or even his influence with the owners won’t be able to save him.
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