Ian Herbert: Why sacking Roberto Mancini would be a mistake for Manchester City
City are set to lose their reign as Premier League champions
Yes, there are managers who you feel would be capable of stepping into Roberto Mancini's shoes, if Manchester City's owners decide that he isn't taking the club to the place they want to occupy. Frank de Boer, for example: so very impressive when he held court in the depths of Ajax's stadium before City played and lost there last October, expressing his pride in the fact that Mancini's four strikers "cost more than the annual turnover here", yet recognising there was nothing immoral about Abu Dhabi spending. "They do nothing illegal. We have no money like that so we have to be inventive and creative and we try to use our academy to develop young players and that's how we survive."
What an extremely snug fit that is with the messianic desire of City's new Catalan and Basque executives, Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, to build organically through youth. The 42-year-old De Boer's four years at Barcelona might equally play in his favour, as would those of Swansea City's Michael Laudrup, another whose cloth looks cut for City.
Removing Mancini now would be a mistake, though, even if City's season is effectively finished by the conclusion of Sunday's FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea. While Monday's 2-1 win at Old Trafford reveals City and United to be clubs not poles apart, the removal of the manager who has delivered them a title, an FA Cup and, most likely, a runner-up position in the year Manchester United took winning to a new level in the modern era, would reveal City to be a club whose manager has no time or space to breathe, err, take stock or experiment. Neither would it persuade the elite players the club will seek to buy this summer that they are being attracted to a stable club.
Everyone wants to win immediately, of course – and the lazy argument runs that millions upon millions buy that instantaneously. But as Gary Neville puts it, "ultimately, in the Premier League era, what is eroded is patience. Everything has to be instant – and that's the same in life. We want to know the news yesterday, we don't want to know it today. We can't even wait for a newspaper to come out any more." Neville proffered this observation as he pondered why more members of the strong City youth sides of recent years had not made it to the first team.
When I put the question to a former City colleague of Mancini's, who has no reason to go in to bat for him, he observed how difficult it is these days for a Manchester City manager to feel the security to try a young player. If Mancini is sacked for failing to retain City's first title in 40 years, what confidence can any successor have in inculcating the Manchester United faith in youth? A successor will be riding a new rollercoaster and City will be starting another dippy revolution, at a time when Uefa's financial fair play regime makes buying a new squad no longer conceivable.
The case for Mancini would be weaker had he no commitment to youth. The problem for him, as for those Chelsea managers who have presided over accelerated growth, has been the question of how his young players can actually improve the team at his disposal. There have been questionable decisions, not least the one to cast aside the warning – put to Mancini in the summer of 2011 – that Jack Rodwell's injury problems might make him a risky buy. But Karim Rekic, Denis Suarez and John Guidetti are players who have genuinely interested him. There is a tight compact between Soriano and Begiristain, who are low-key to the point of invisibility where the media are concerned and want it that way. It is difficult to ascertain whether Mancini's relationship with Soriano and Begiristain is as harmonious as he says it is, though the noises seem right. Mancini is not hugely popular within his club but his willingness to accept Mario Balotelli's departure, with no replacement, suggests he is acceding to his place in the new hierarchy. If so, it is another reason to stick.
Less comfortable is Mancini's relationship with his players – his proclivity for criticising his team in public is something he must put away in a hurry. Talk has turned to this when some of City's players have encountered Manchester United colleagues outside of club football in the last year. It would be pushing it to say that the Old Trafford fraternity are all fond of their manager – players rarely are – but they will all declare that Ferguson does not hang them out to dry in public, even when they know they might deserve it. Joe Hart did not give anything of himself in a fairly wretched interview session last Thursday, during which questions on the subject of Mancini were declared off limits, and it might have been the company of newspaper journalists that makes him seem so deeply miserable, rather than life at this club. But Mancini's relationship with the goalkeeper is in particular need of repair.
"We dropped points at poor times," James Milner reflected. "[The title race] should be closer but that's our own fault, along with United being clinical." The point being that City, a side not so far off, can progress through evolution, not revolution.
5 things City must do to reclaim the title...
1. Buy players who can inject pace into proceedings
Even on Monday at Old Trafford they lacked the ability to threaten in wide areas. City rarely cross the ball, with the wider midfielders always cutting inside. As Gary Neville argued in The Independent on Monday, this makes them predictable.
2. Encourage loyalty
There is a feeling in the squad that Roberto Mancini's recent public censure of captain Vincent Kompany, who has worked so tirelessly for his manager as much as for the club, is unwelcome.
3. Create more options
The fall-back position is generally the use of a three-man defence, with Pablo Zabaleta and Gaël Clichy attacking down the flanks. Neither are match winners. Maicon has the talent to change games but no longer the fitness.
4. Buy early this summer
City do need strengthening with three new players, if they offload others. Avoid the mistakes of last summer when they missed out on Eden Hazard, Javi Martinez, Dan-iele de Rossi and Robin van Persie.
5. Inject some width
Mancini sold Adam Johnson to Sunderland as he was not using him but City were shorn of their one strong wide player, replacing him with the anonymous Scott Sinclair. Another area where there is a deficit compared to United.
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