James Lawton: European flop highlights shortcomings of Roberto Mancini

He was behaving as a parody of a coach who knew what he was doing

One of the more persistent absurdities accompanying Roberto Mancini's Champions League misadventures is the idea that suddenly he is going to exclaim "eureka". And then the mysteries of performing with even a basic adequacy in football's greatest club competition will suddenly dissolve.

Please, is it not time to get a little more serious about the fact that Mancini, barring something quite miraculous, has condemned himself to still another catastrophic European experience?

What is it that a man who has known – admittedly with resources that most of his rivals would die for – considerable domestic success in both England and Italy needs to discover about a challenge which on five occasions now has left him so confused?

Surely it cannot be that there is some extraordinary suspension of the normal rules governing success at any level of football.

It cannot be that Mancini, given all his experience as both a distinguished player and a successful coach, needs a prolonged education in the special demands of a competition which is so self-evidently a natural extension of a winning coach's work.

Jose Mourinho never played the game professionally but no one needed to tell him how to win the great prize with Porto and Mancini's old club Internazionale.

It was simply a case of more of the same. More drive, more confidence. More tactics geared to the potential of your players and some easily transmittable sense that you have the means to get the job done.

On the night Mancini was once again behaving in Europe as a parody of a coach who seemed to know what he was doing, one apologising for a crime he never began to explain, Jürgen Klopp, coach of the Borussia Dortmund team which so thoroughly outplayed Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, was reflecting on why it was his team had just brought down Real Madrid. They had done it with a performance that was resonant with both easy skill and the hardest effort.

The requirement, said Klopp, was an understanding and confidence in the strength of your players and a degree of boldness in taking on any quality of opposition. Frank de Boer might have said the same after his young Ajax team had so thoroughly thrashed City – or Huub Stevens after his Schalke's ambush of Arsenal at the Emirates.

It wasn't some blood-stained insight drawn from years of Champions League battling. It wasn't some dogged pursuit of a mislaid chord. It was what you do as a serious contender for one of football's great prizes.

You certainly don't criticise your players with the public frequency of Mancini. You don't dismiss the instincts of players as naturally whole-hearted as Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott – and especially not after revoking a declaration that Carlos Tevez had gone beyond all reasonable bounds of redemption when he refused to follow orders in a huge match in Munich, then sulked off to South America.

You don't engage in tactical debates over the desirability of three or four at the back, and necessary adaption times, in the wake of a chaotic defeat already guaranteed to drag your credibility as a top coach uncomfortably close to zero.

Yet still we have this crazed theory that City are not involved in a serious examination of their status as a potentially leading club in Europe but are on some kind of open-ended voyage of discovery.

Many of Mancini's rivals have very good reason to find it hard to believe that anyone enjoying such huge resources should be given such an easy ride of performance assessment at the highest level of the game.

In Milan, Internazionale allowed Mancini three attempts at making some impact on the Champions League. When he failed for a third time to get beyond the quarter- finals, the verdict came in hard and final.

Mancini may feel that, having won the Premier League title, even if it was by the finest, most hazardous margin despite a squad that was palpably the strongest in the land, he is entitled to at least as much indulgence from his Abu Dhabi owners.

Perhaps he will get it. Maybe he will continue to operate in the security of a bizarre role as a hugely rewarded student on a European training course. There is, of course, the possibility of another outcome.

It is that somebody in the Middle East will note that the apex of the club's ambition, the European crown for which there has been such giant investment, remains somewhere on the dark side of the moon.

Manny Steward, the trainer who turned boxers into legends

Most fight aficionados would say that in the hierarchy of great trainers, Emanuel Steward, who died this week at the age of 68, occupied third place behind Eddie Futch and Angelo Dundee. However, in such company a bronze medal glows like the purest gold.

Not that "Manny", whose greatest achievement was Tommy "Hitman" Hearns and the Kronk gym in Detroit, which in boxing terms became a kind of sweaty amalgam of Oxbridge and the Sorbonne, always exuded a sheen of absolute purity. He was a knowing denizen of the fight jungle, which made that possibility somewhat remote, but he was the most stimulating company over a glass of his favourite Chablis in a thousand late night bars.

He was also a superb reader of a fighter's potential. He variously discovered, produced and handled a record 41 world champions, including Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya and Evander Holyfield. Lennox Lewis, who was brilliantly rehabilitated by Steward after his shocking world title defeat by Oliver McCall in 1994 to the point where he became one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, issued the warmest of tributes yesterday. He spoke of someone who cleared away so many impediments threatening a fighter's ability to fulfil his potential. Steward was less successful in purging some of Naseem Hamed's vanities but when any career was placed in the hands of the man from Bottom Creek, West Virginia, you knew that it would never be short of the wisest prompting.

Certainly, the great Hitman always regretted his failure to follow the instructions in arguably the most intense and spectacular fight of the 20th century, his defeat by Marvin Hagler in 1985. For two rounds Hearns pounded Hagler but when his legs began to wobble in the third it was the confirmation of Steward's worst fears. He had hammered home the need to use the ring, to draw from Hagler some of his formidable strength.

But, many years later, Hearns recalled: "I thought I had to go to my limit. I had to gamble and I had no regrets when I lost, even though I knew I should probably have listened to Manny when he tried to rein me in. I'd worked so hard and my legs felt so heavy I didn't believe I could go 12 rounds.

"I felt I had to get him out of there. I'd never blame Manny – we had our rows but they were never about how good he was. If I had my time back, I would listen more to my great trainer. I would trust my legs, fight through the tiredness. I would box him, use my reach. That was the strategy Manny outlined a thousand times, but then the bell rings and you are in another reality."

In the small hours of the following morning, Manny Steward took a slug of Chablis, sighed and said, "Tommy didn't fight the way I wanted, but no one will ever forget what they saw, and I will never wonder why I loved him so much."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future