Mancini must retain title in style to save his job at City
Anaemic final European defeat and questionable summer signings leave Italian's future in doubt
Roberto Mancini has five months to demonstrate to his club’s Abu Dhabi owners that he is capable of reviving a group of players who seem to have lost the desire to help him take Manchester City to the next level.
The City manager's job is safe for now but he was confronted with evidence that his squad have simply lost the desire to win, in the anaemic defeat at Dortmund, which left the former City player Dietmar Hamann questioning whether the high salaries commanded by the players had 'taken the edge' off them. Mancini needs to deliver the Premier League title with some style to demonstrate that he has not taken the club as far as they can go, in their pursuit of global status.
The sight of Maicon, chatting at length with Borussia Dormund's Sandro before leaving the pitch on Tuesday night suggested that he was certainly not devastated by the manner of City's 1-0 defeat. Mancini made it his aim to sign Maicon at all costs from Internazionale, this summer, at a time when he was prepared to allow Nigel de Jong and Adam Johnson go. The Brazilian is looking like an even more questionable signing than Javi Garcia, who put in another poor display in Germany.
"[City] bought a lot of players for their name," Ruud Gullit, Hamann's fellow Sky TV analyst, who won the European Cup with Milan in 1989, said of City. "I don't think they bought players for other reasons. I don't see the reason they bought Maicon. Maybe someone can tell me that. They had some good players and they sold them. The manager takes the responsibility when you win and when you lose. If their intention was to win to get in to the Europa League then they made a fool of themselves. It was dreadful. There was no team at all."
The view from within the Premier League elite sides is that a place in the Europa League knock-out stage is unwelcome. Clubs actually lose money on it unless they can reach the semi-finals, which is never a certainty considering the pitfalls in far-flung locations. But the manner of the defeat to a weakened Dortmund side - which left City's campaign as the worst of any English side in Champions League history - has potential to be defining.
"It's a tough group but this borders on embarrassing, to get so few points," said Hamann, who won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005. "City really don't have the conviction to play in this league. The gulf looked very big. Borussia rested some of their top players. The players who came in for City all cost a lot of money. The Borussia players didn't. I saw one team that had the will to win and one that didn't."
The most substantial questions now facing Mancini, after a night on which Scott Sinclair was also unable to grasp the opportunity of his starting place, surround his transfer market business this summer. Sinclair and Jack Rodwell were among the manager's top-five targets this summer, which gives him no room to argue that he has not been backed financially to build on last season's Premier league title. The two Englishmen have not featured prominently, and Sinclair barely at all, but they were alongside Eden Hazard and Robin van Persie at the top of Mancini's list, with Daniele De Rossi as the back-up option if the move for Javi Garcia failed. The departure of de Jong to AC Milan has left Yaya Toure with increased responsibility to prevent sides running through City's midfield, as many European sides have. Johnson's release has left City short of naturally wide players.
The manager can point to the 'group of champions' City have had to contend with in Europe - and ahead of Wednesday night's round of games his own side actually featured fifth in the league table of passes attempted and completed in this season's group stage - behind Porto, PSG, Ajax and Barcelona. But even against a weakened Dortmund team there was not the intensity to up the tempo and drive through.
Match summariser Alan Smith pointed to the obvious bond between Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp and his players, evident again on Tuesday. That kind of closeness is just not Mancini's style. Some at the club thought he might have nurtured something out of Johnson, given more patience. A nurturing ability is certainly a quality valued by City's new chief executive Ferran Soriano. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho share an ability to "make their players grow professionally and at a personal level," Soriano has said. "They generate the optimal conditions and state of mind for that to happen." If there is a flaw in Mancini's management, then it is failure to do this.
Soriano - who transformed Barcelona between 2003 and 2008 - will want to know whether Mancini, who will get no money this winter, can really turn things around in the way that first Frank Rijkaard and then Pep Guardiola did for him in Catalonia. Barcelona were ranked 13th among world football's revenue earners, with half of Manchester United's turnover when Soriano took over, and half measures were not an option. "Consumers in general are able to remember five or six brands in each category [of business]," Soriano has reflected. "But not 20. In 2003 [at Barcelona] we were running a very high risk of not being able to bridge the gap with the top clubs and Barcelona remaining a small local brand." City looked a long way from global brand recognition against Dortmund.
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