Manchester City's dismissal of Robert Mancini proves once more that football is a painful business

Football clubs aren't like other brands that inspire loyalty, but stop short of love.
  • @Simon_Kelner

We have become well used to rewards for failure, but this may be the first case of paying the price for success. Roberto Mancini's dismissal as the manager of Manchester City is, for most of us who follow the football club, a disappointment bordering on a personal disaster, but it throws up a number of issues of wider interest. Is football simply a business where decisions are made for purely commercial reasons? It surely cannot be that a multi-billion industry is ruled by matters of the heart.

We show allegiance to many products and services in our daily lives. I've heard people talk in impassioned terms about their preference for Apple over Blackberry (or vice versa). We may choose the RAC over the AA. We can be evangelical about our favourite coffee shop. We feel attached to these brands and, like the support of a football club, this connection is sometimes passed on down the generations. But we wouldn't quail if the boss of any of these establishments were summarily fired, as long as the service didn't suffer. Shouldn't it be the same with football?

When the balance sheet of the past season is considered, it is hard to argue with the proposition that Mancini has under-delivered. In business terms, he missed his targets, he failed to recruit enough high-quality staff, his strategy for European expansion was a failure and, meanwhile, his closest and deadliest competitor (the Blackberry to his Apple) forged ahead to increase its market share. It was inevitable - and many would say perfectly sensible - that he should pay for this weak performance with his job.

But life is not as simple as that, and football - run by hard-headed financial types and patronised by devotees driven solely by emotion - is an arena in which the normal rules of business do not apply. Who would choose to run a company where there is no salary control, and where wages account for a obscenely large proportion of turnover?

The club - corporately, and in brand terms - is clearly much bigger than one person. It has a history, a tradition, a heritage that survives the comings and goings of players and managers. But it also has a spirit, a personality, a soul even, and that's where it's different to any other commercial concern. The question is: who is the guardian of that soul? Those who spend their hard-earned money in support of the club? Or those who spend the millions trying to provide entertainment and, of course, success?

We supporters feel we have made an investment in our club, but I'm afraid our stake counts for little around the boardroom table. It is a rather unsatisfactory state of affairs, and it has left a majority of Manchester City supporters feeling alienated and disenchanted.

Roberto Mancini's three-and-a-half years at the club were, by any standards, successful, the club claiming its first league title in 45 years. Yet, in this brutal world, you can't rest on past glories. And while directors are ruthless, supporters are fickle. So we'll be back next season singing the name of the new manager. For the moment, however, the message comes right from the heart. Thanks, Roberto, for the unforgettable memories.