James Lawton: City still look short of true champions' style
Thursday 13 January 2011
It may be true that Edin Dzeko, aka the Bosnian Diamond, is as Robert Mancini says. Perhaps he is the final piece in one of the most expensive football jigsaw puzzles ever assembled. Perhaps he will trigger the tactical sensation of Manchester City playing not just more than one forward but as many as five.
We might, however, also consider the possibility that the moon is composed of gruyère.
One thing seems self-evident. If you are Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti or Harry Redknapp, you are not in any mad rush to build a bunker.
Especially, Ferguson or Wenger, who have recently both experienced the extent of Mancini's aggressive instincts in matches which cried out for some evidence that the City puzzle, however many expensive forwards they sign, will ever look anything more thrilling than an oversized tank trap.
Against United at home in November they were so passive you had to wonder if football had ever seen so much money spent in pursuit of such little playing ambition or panache – and this month at the Emirates Wenger seemed bemused by the scale of City's defensive thinking.
Mancini sounded like a beggar scuffling for scraps when he said that if the other team is better the pinnacle of achievement is not losing. It is an impression hard to dislodge even in the wake of what some might consider a rare burst of fighting talk from the City manager.
But then there is fighting talk and fighting instincts and the more you study what Mancini now has to say, including his breathtaking assertion that one day he might send out Dzeko, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, David Silva and Adam Johnson all at the same time, the greater the invitation to scepticism. One new player, unless he is Maradona or Cruyff or Messi, doesn't set the boundaries of a team: he inherits them.
"Sometimes it will be possible to play all of them," said Mancini. "Any team must have balance but when we played Birmingham and Blackburn earlier in the season we spent 90 minutes in the box without scoring. In games like that it will be possible."
But you have to ask: in games like what exactly? In games where there is a huge imbalance of available talent, where one team fights desperately for any kind of parity and another is reluctant or psychologically incapable of exploiting its vast advantage? It is not in such chemistry that you find the making of champions, at least of style and thrilling development.
Is Mancini really saying that he will unleash his most talented dogs of war against teams who should really be beaten before the first shot is fired? Is he is saying that you can chop up a championship campaign into a series of set-pieces; an onslaught here, a retreat there, and maybe a scrabbling of sufficient points to sneak past the finishing line in first place?
If this is glory – or even value for money – it has never been painted in less exciting hues. Mancini says that he has imperatives and they are clear in his head. He has to qualify for the Champions League and one day win the title and if the latter prize comes this season, well, his job is done.
But is it? Has Mancini got his priorities in the right order, is his Bosnian Diamond a final piece of a brilliant jigsaw or just another widening of the muddle? Maybe, maybe not, but it is certainly too soon to shield our eyes against the light.
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