James Lawton: Mancini casts off the shackles to unleash a revolution of riches
The poverty of ambition displayed recently was replaced by a faster tempo and the idea that this might be a team finally prepared to make something of its riches
Monday 04 April 2011
Maybe Roberto Mancini had a few revolutionary phrases buzzing around his head when he produced a team-sheet which might have fluttered in from another planet.
You know the kind of thing: "what have we got to lose but our chains?" or, perhaps, "it's better to die on your feet than live on your knees." Not that anyone would have been in much danger of dying against the Sunderland team that yesterday masqueraded as a member of a front-rank football league, but there was, certainly, the whiff of a new Manchester City.
So much so that Mancini has surely made himself the captive of an astonishing concept, one that says that a club which spends something like £300m on its squad, has players of the attacking bite of Carlos Tevez, David Silva, Adam Johnson and, when he isn't making chest-high tackles or throwing darts at junior players, Mario Balotelli, should really try to develop a certain sense of built-in confidence and aggression.
Against an embarrassing Sunderland, the poverty of ambition displayed recently – and not least in the recent doomsday performance against top-four rivals Chelsea – was replaced by a faster tempo, a recognisable pulse and the idea that this might indeed be a team finally prepared to make something of its riches.
Of course the old mantra welled up even in these extraordinary circumstances of a 5-0 win when Joleon Lescott was asked about the distinct impression that this was a side with a new emphasis on attack and, consequently, a capacity to play truly arresting and intelligent football. Lescott agreed that it was probably the most impressive effort of the season – the vote here, though, would be go for the powerful victory over Chelsea at Eastlands last autumn – but he wanted us to remember that: "It's nice to play well but it is the results that are important."
Here, though, you have to believe was a new option: a combination of both.
Most confusing of all has been the argument that somehow there was a conflict between City's ambition to join the big guns in the Champions League next season and a brand of football that exploited all of the wit of Silva and Johnson, the finishing thrust of Tevez and a midfield equipped for both creativity and destruction represented by Yaya Touré and Nigel de Jong.
City's European prospects are looking solid enough now, especially with the under-performance of Tottenham in the shadow of their visit to the Bernabeu tomorrow, and it may also be true that the watching Sir Alex Ferguson may have put a hold on his euphoria after his team's impressive resurrection at Upton Park.
Mancini's team gave United almost as much as they could handle at Old Trafford in the recent derby match and if at least some of the promise of yesterday's performance can be reproduced against a seriously competitive team at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final later this month the noisy neighbours might indeed have something significant to shout about.
Meanwhile, the City manager's obligation is to show further evidence that he may have finally realised that the gap between resources and performance had become absurd.
Has Mancini seen the light? Or has someone upstairs told him that what everyone was seeing with increasing clarity was a serious shortfall in value for money. Yesterday City, whatever the failings of their opponents – it is hard to overstate them – looked like a very well-equipped football team. Of course, they have always been that but the difference now, who knows, may be that they will get the chance to prove it.
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