Last night, the managerial axe was wielded over Roberto Mancini’s head, held aloft by Bryan Marwood, Txiki Begiristain and co, the backroom officials at Eastlands, and brought crashing down down on the Italian’s neck, decapitating his regime with a clean break before the final two fixtures of the season.
Medieval metaphors aside, the former Manchester City boss has been operating on borrowed time over the last few days, following their FA Cup final defeat to Wigan at the weekend, leaving the section of the club’s trophy cabinet dedicated to the current 2012/2013 season bare. Despite the Citizens finishing up in fifth place in the Premier League just four seasons ago, and Mancini leading the club to their first top-flight title since 1967 a year to the day of his dismissal, a campaign with no accolades or silverware apparently now constitutes as a complete failure at the Etihad Arena.
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But the truth is, it was not simply 90 minutes that decided the 48 year old’s fate. The plans to shaft him as soon as the justification arose have been in circulation for a while, with the influx of Barcelona executives arriving at the club seriously challenging Mancini’s powerbase, and the lingering feeling that Begiristain and Ferran Soriano would much rather have their own man at the helm than one they inherited.
What better superficial excuse than a lack of silverware? It’s undeniable and centred around a material object; it eradicates the need for a debate over the nitty-gritty details of Mancini’s reign, and leaves him only with a weak-willed defence of ‘it’s not my fault’ to save his tenure and reputation.
The City officials’ man is Manuel Pellegrini – Malaga’s head coach whose lead the club to unprecedented levels of success domestically and on the continent since taking over at the Champions League quarter-finalists in 2010. But is he really the right man for the job? Do his accolades in the game prioritise him over other managers who are or could be in the running for the post at Eastlands? Furthermore, is he more likely to win the title next season than his predecessor?
The Chilean certainly has some noteworthy achievements on his CV. He learned his trade in South America, lifting Argentinean Primera titles with River Plate and San Lorenzo, in addition to winning the continent’s equivalent of the Champions League – the Copa Mercosur – with the latter. Similarly, he’s transformed two La Liga minnows in Villarreal and Malaga into successful top-end clubs, at least whilst he’s been at the helm, breaking Real Madrid and Barcelona’s dominance at the top of the table by finishing in second with the Yellow Submarines in 2008, and this year leading his current club to the dizzy heights of the Champions League’s knock-out stages.
Yet during both tenures, Pellegrini has been privy to considerable investment from the boardroom and a surplus of finance, and at Malaga, the club pushed their excessive funding so far they’ve become the first victims of UEFA’s financial fair play laws. It creates a confusing picture of the 59 year old, especially considering Villarreal are now currently plying their trade in the Spanish second tier, and Los Boquerones are amid an exodus of talent, including Pellegrini himself, as a result of the club’s exclusion from Europe’s most prestigious cup competition. It’s certainly not a David Moyes style legacy that their league position and ascension from mediocrity might have you believe.
Furthermore, the favourite for the City post’s only spell at a big club resulted in failure. He was appointed Real Madrid manager in 2009, only for his tenure to be cut short after a single season, with a collective transfer bill of £210 million, bringing in Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Karim Benzema, unable to stop a humiliating 4-0 defeat in the Cup to third-tier club Alcorcon, and elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Lyon. It should raise more alarm bells than provide incentive for the Citizens to hire the former Chile international, and similarly, how much can a man who’s spent his entire career playing and coaching a single breed of Latin American and Spanish football, be expected to know about the ins-and-outs of the physically robust and tactically traditional English top flight?
It begs the question as to whether the Skyblues would be better off with Mancini at the helm for another year. I’m certainly not the Italian’s biggest fan; his role at Eastlands has been more one of a glorified babysitter than it has a head coach, and at no point during his tenure has he got the best out his unruly children. There is clearly exceptional talent at the club, yet their tactic during Mancini’s era appears to have been to remain steady at the back and hope one or two of the £30million signings turns up to secure a victory at the other end of the pitch with some individual class.
Similarly, I’ve never agreed with open criticism of players in the media on a name-and-shame basis, and the use of 3-5-2 at the beginning of the season, especially in the Champions League, smacked of idealism and naivety that you wouldn’t expect from a stereo-typically pragmatic Italian.
But let’s not forget that the former City boss has an FA Cup and Premier League title to his name – turning around a huge points deficit with only a handful of games remaining at the end of last season to pip local rivals Manchester United to the post and become Champions on goal difference, in no small part due to Mancini’s alleviation of pressure on his players and onto those at Old Trafford by announcing early that the title race was over. Similarly, he’s spent four years at a top club, which amid the current climate is an achievement in itself nowadays, and the current campaign is the Italian’s only step backwards in terms of league standing or silverware.
His biggest advantage over Pellegrini however is undoubtedly his knowledge of the English game, which begs the question as to why City haven’t looked closer to home regarding the vacancy, especially considering plans to oust Mancini in favour of the Chilean have been underway since the turn of the year.
Perhaps I am once again flirting with the theme of medieval fantasy to suggest that Roberto Martinez should be Mancini’s successor, considering the Spaniard is the man who toppled the king off his throne at Eastlands, but taking into consideration the finance and resources available at Wigan, in comparison to Malaga or Villarreal, are Pellegrini’s achievements any greater or more magical than those of the Latics boss, whom furthermore trumps the Chilean and Mancini in his knowledge of the English game from top to bottom?
Similarly, there are a host of managers throughout Europe that outweigh the Malaga manager in Premier League experience, European experience and accolades and silverware. Jose Mourinho’s availability appears to have been all but ignored by the City board, yet surely the Special One’s knack of bringing about trophies wherever he goes is the perfect remedy to the club’s impatience in their bid for greatness.
Furthermore, Carlo Ancelotti has proved throughout his career that he can handle big clubs, big money and big personalities, and win domestic and Champions League titles in the process, whilst Rafa Benitez has affirmed his reputation for getting perhaps not the best but at least the expected level of performance out of his players, and the prospect of him winning a title with City’s star-studded cast would certainly not be out of the question, and his consistent triumphs on the European stage are well known from his Liverpool days.
Yet, due to the current era of club football being dominated by Barcelona, La Liga football – it’s flair, style and success, -has become the fashionable trend, and judged as the perfect model of how to build a legacy, which despite City’s impatience in sacking their manager, is apparently what they are trying to achieve at Eastlands. Furthermore, Pellegrini may not necessarily be the fans’ choice, who sung Mancini’s name throughout the FA Cup final as a rejection of rumours over his tenure coming to an end, but he is certainly the choice of the Citizens’ board, officionados and bureaucrats, whose heart and soul is centred around Spanish football.
But it is a shame that one manager has been relieved of his duties, after building a title-winning team, for a superficial lack of silverware over the course of a single campaign, whilst his successor will have not lifted a trophy since his UEFA Intertoto Cup successes almost a decade ago. And furthermore, the logic that a South American, who has never plied his trade in England, presents less of a risk than one currently working in the Premier League is truly concerning.
Is Pellegrini the man to lead Manchester City to the heights of Champions League successes, Premier League titles and monopolisation of the English game? Does he even present a better opportunity to pounce on Manchester United’s unavoidable year of weakness next season and lead the Citizens to becoming Champions again in comparison to Mancini, Mourinho, Benitez or even Martinez? I am yet to be convinced, and my gut reaction is a resounding ‘no’.