As farewells go, it was a pretty extraordinary press briefing given by a manager who was wondering whether he should have seen the writing on the wall earlier. Roberto Mancini might have started the day still believing that the reports of his likely sacking were “stupid”, but come the evening he was starting to change his mind.
In a little room just off the tunnel at Wembley Stadium, Mancini recalled the last time he had been in this position. He had just won the Serie A title with Internazionale in 2008 and had long considered the suggestion in the newspapers that he would lose his job with derision until something changed his mind.
“I read the Corriere della Sera, a newspaper which is very close with Inter, and one journalist wrote that Inter will probably sack me. In that moment I understood that maybe it was true. For this reason I don’t know about my future, you ask me this [about Manuel Pellegrini]. I don’t know whether it’s true or not.”
By yesterday lunchtime, he will have been only too aware that it was true. Yet at Wembley on Saturday, still digesting a shattering FA Cup final defeat, he looked like a man who was preparing to walk the plank. The club’s chief communications officer, Vicky Kloss, also a club director, and now something of a veteran of City’s bloody managerial sackings, asked Mancini on more than one occasion if he wanted to stop. He carried on.
In his previous set-piece press conference, Mancini had asked why the club had not moved to quash the suggestions that there had been meetings with Pellegrini in Spain. In this subsequent briefing he went further and asked why it should be him who takes the blame for the club’s failings this year, when there were so many others involved.
Mancini has never held back when it comes to what he sees as the failings of those in his own club. As his club’s title defence has collapsed this season he has picked out Samir Nasri as culpable, and he has turned on the club for their failure to make bigger, bolder, earlier signings in the summer. He has pointedly said that Txiki Begiristain, the technical director, and chief executive Ferran Soriano, were not above him in the club’s structure.
He was wrong about that. As City warmed up for the FA Cup final on Saturday, Mancini stood next to their chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, on the touchline at Wembley. There was some conversation between the two men but there were long periods when there was not. If this was once the rock-solid relationship at the heart of City, it certainly did not look that way any more.
In his time at the club, Mancini’s fallings-out with staff and colleagues were endless. The former chief executive Garry Cook and the football administrator Brian Marwood – an absurd title deliberately chosen in order that the manager did not feel like he was lower down the hierarchy – were often in the firing line. His own medical staff copped it, especially over what Mancini saw as mistakes over injuries to Micah Richards and Sergio Aguero. And that’s before you even get to the players.
He was a perfectionist in an imperfect club and that was always likely to cause problems when the level of expectation rose so quickly and the rivals, no more so than over the fence at Manchester United, were so fearsome. But nonetheless, Mancini’s City last year won the club’s first title since 1968 and he delivered an FA Cup in his first season at the club. Apologies, or admissions of regret, however, were not forthcoming.
“I don’t have any problem, I am very proud of my job in this year, very proud,” he said. “What we did and my staff. We had always the support from the chairman [Khaldoon] that I consider a top man. Anything can happen.
“I have been happy with the team. I think that this team needs more players – that’s normal. We can’t think in three years we will be the best team in the world because we need the time for this. We are not like United, who have done this for 50 years, Chelsea for 20 years. Arsenal? No. Tottenham? No. Milan, Barcelona have the time to work. If one year we don’t win, OK the world is not finished. We start to work [again].”
And finally there were the supporters, whose loyalty to Mancini has been unwavering as the wheels have moved against him. “This is normal because I don’t think there will be another manager who will win 6-1 at Old Trafford against Ferguson ... because Ferguson has retired. I think I was the first manager who, after 30 years, pulled off the banner from Old Trafford.
“We won one Premier League, we won one FA Cup, we won a Community Shield. We lost this FA Cup, unfortunately. And for this reason we are very popular with the support. I love them, they love me and I’m happy for this. If in the end I will leave I will be the first supporter of Manchester City in the future. Now I can say nothing on all this. I don’t know...”
By the end of the 13 minutes for which he had talked, he appeared to have grudgingly accepted his fate. “Some players, some important players, didn’t play well this season.” No one outside the club could fault him for his frankness, although it was probably just another reason for the City hierarchy to push him out the door.