James Lawton: Mancini is failing to imbue City with courage of winners

Their self-belief, tactics and body language have hardly advanced since they squandered their Champions League chance in the spring
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The Independent Football

It is no light chore listing the accomplishments of Roberto Mancini the football man. As a forward with Sampdoria he won one Serie A title and four Italian Cups and the European Cup-Winners' Cup. When he moved to Lazio he promptly won another scudetto, two more Italian Cups and another Cup-Winners' Cup.

In 1997 he was voted Italy's footballer of the year, a prize to to go along with two awards of the Guerin D'Oro, a trophy previously handed to such luminaries as Diego Maradona, Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio.

He played 36 times for Italy, an impressive enough total that would have been significantly augmented but for the opposition of such stars as Gianluca Vialli and Baggio.

As a coach his record is no less formidable: two Italian Cups with Fiorentina and Lazio and three Italian titles with Internazionale. It is also true that, with the demise of Malcolm Allison, he is probably the only football coach on earth who could emerge from a row with Carlos Tevez or Emmanuel Adebayor still looking like a leading man who had just strolled off the set of a movie by Federico Fellini.

This, necessarily, is quite a lot to say before asking a question that might be interpreted as somewhat impertinent. However, it still needs asking. Is Mancini the right man to supervise the revolution at Manchester City, which this week displayed all the brash, bold swagger of a timid stroll into the dark corner of the local park?

Some still insist he is indeed the man. They say that convulsions involving Tevez and Adebayor, the sense that his hugely rewarded players are something less than a beautifully dovetailed unit manifesting optimum levels of discipline and commitment and the ability to give convincing reasons why they are among the richest young men on the planet, are the desperate confections of hacks lurching from one gin and tonic to another.

Whatever you think of that assessment, however, one thing this week was plain enough. As exhibited against Manchester United, the team who are supposed to be most firmly in their sights, City's self-belief, their tactics and much of their body language have hardly advanced since they squandered last spring the chance to burst into the Champions League arena, which, given the fact that they have now spent £350m on the team, is surely a basic requirement rather than anything like the peak of their ambition.

Mancini talks about a press conspiracy and absurd impatience with his work in progress. But he can hardly complain about excessive expectations. The one that wasn't met against United was not to do with the fact that they created, in front of their crowd, just one significant chance but that everything they did was riddled with the reason why this might be so. City were stifled by their own caution.

The richest team in the world played with one forward up, apparently in the belief that their challenge is to stifle the best and knock off the weak.

But is it the way to make a team equipped to fight at the highest level of the game? It wasn't in a stupefying, negative performance at the Emirates at the end of last season, when, disastrously, City elected to defend with an eye on beating Spurs in their final home game.

The worry is that under Mancini, for all his impressive attributes and background, City can marshal so many resources except maybe the one that has most vitally driven the development of every great club in the history of the game. It is the most precious quality of moral courage.