Tag Roberto Mancini

Tag Roberto Mancini

United in triumph over divided City

April 9, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 29 comments

There was a fleeting moment of guilty pleasure just prior to 6pm on Sunday night. The pleasure as Mario Balotelli finally, deservedly, saw red and Manchester City’s title bid evaporated at the Emirates. Guilt as a young City fan broke down in tears, live on national television. Inconsolable heart-break played out for all to see in its humiliating indignity.

Oh no. That’s right. It was, of course, pure joy. Every last moment.

Not least because of the £210 million spent over the past two summers under Roberto Mancini’s management; each moment of presumptuous crowing last autumn; and every last reference to United’s apparent demise. “This City is ours,” they cried. Not yet it isn’t.

City’s defeat was all the more fun for the spineless manner in which the Blues caved against Arsenal. In a match Mancini’s men absolutely had to win, coming after United’s victory earlier on Sunday, City was fortunate to escape north London without suffering a severe hiding, so abject was the side’s display.

Yet, if City’s demise has brought joy to United fans, who can now prepare to celebrate domestic title number 20, what machinations must Mancini’s paymasters in back in Abu Dhabi be planning? Half-a-billion pounds investment has earned, if not the title, then a dignified campaign. This has been anything but.

On the pitch City’s autumn form, which brought a string of eye-catching wins – not least that match – disappeared as the year turned. That Mancini’s side transmogrified from the ‘next Barcelona’, to a side that cannot win on the road, and whose collective spirit is broken, can do little else but shock. Not least when placed in stark relief with a United side that has powered to 11 wins in the past 12 Premier League fixtures.

Moreover, while Mancini’s performance is judged predominantly by results, it is off-the-field events that have largely shaped City’s season. These are events in which Mancini is highly culpable.

Carlos Tevez’ refusal to play warm-up against Bayern Munich in last September precipitated a break down in team unity that has only been magnified by Mario Balotelli’s irresponsible behaviour. Far from the lovable rogue of a thousand articles, the Italian has proven to be little more than a petulant thug with an overbearing sense of entitlement. From training ground fights with Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng, to the disgraceful studs-up challenge on Alex Song at the Emirate.

Mancini may not be the cause of his players’ errant behaviour, but he is certainly responsible. That is, after all, management in a very literal sense. And as a senior City executive – “the most important employee” as Sir Alex might put it – so too comes accountability.

The Italian has shown little to date. Only now when the desperation of his team’s situation is in full bloom has Mancini rounded on Balotelli, claiming that the young striker may never play for the club again. After a similar statement about Tevez, the coach has no credibility left in the bank.

“I like him as a guy and a player,” said Mancini of Balotelli, who signed from Inter Milan for £24m.

“He is not a bad guy and a fantastic player but I’m very sorry for him as he continues to lose his talent and his quality. I don’t have any words for his behaviour. I hope for him he can understand he is in a bad way for his future and I really hope that he can change his behaviour in the future.

“He will probably not play in the next six games. I need to be sure I always have 11 players on the pitch and with Mario this is a big risk. Mario made a mistake and I hope for him – not me – that he can change. He clearly created a big problem, but he has also scored important goals for us this season. He needs to change his behaviour if he wants to continue to play.”

Yet, it is almost unimaginable that Ferguson would have tolerated Balotelli’s behaviour, no matter how talented the Italian. Ravel Morrison will attest to that. So too will a string of former United players who failed to conform to Ferguson’s demand for a unified front.

How Sir Alex must have enjoyed the campaign, despite European failure. The Scot, often at his obdurate worst when discussing the club’s financial situation, has nevertheless taken criticism of his squad’s quality as a personal affront. It has proven to be a key tenet of United’s season.

Many an assessment of Ferguson’s squad is legitimate; structural weaknesses in midfield and defence have been exposed at times this season. Not least in Europe, where the Reds suffered two humiliating campaigns. But Ferguson has forged a side that is, to invoke the old cliché, greater than the sum of its parts. Certainly one whose unity is admirable.

No wonder Ferguson was so sharp in his assessment of City’s public division after Balotelli and Aleksander Kolarov squared up during last weekend’s draw between the Blues and Sunderland.

“I wouldn’t allow it but it can happen at moments in a game,” said the United manager on Friday.

“Peter Schmeichel used to have a go at Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister and they’d give it back. Roy Keane used to do it. There’s a difference, though, a distinction there. The general demeanour of a team is more important. The general atmosphere when a team scores a goal. That’s how you judge it. You need unity if a team is going to win the league.

“Teams are about unity – we have got experience of that. Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs can ensure that’s the case. Young players in the dressing room can look at how they have lasted so long – they are great examples. We take unity for granted here. We expect it – but it doesn’t happen everywhere.

“The unity and spirit you get when players stay together is now coming through,” added Ferguson, who took his side on a three day golfing break to Scotland before United’s victory over Fulham last week. “That trip to St Andrews was fantastic.”

How Mancini could learn something from Sir Alex’ ability to forge a group. The Italian’s brusque style, in contrast to his laid-back public demeanour, has seemingly served only to create tensions among a group of players brought together primarily for financial gain.

Ferguson is often painted as a bruiser, unleashing the hairdryer at the slightest provocation. Yet, there is unlikely to be a United player unwilling to lay everything on the line for the cause this season. Mancini cannot make that claim, which is an assessment that if also concluded in Abu Dhabi, may yet lead to the Italian’s demise.

And despite the frustrations of a campaign that has often overwhelmed, United will come out with a 20th domestic title. Far from the greatest team to don United’s red this may be, but beating the most expensively assembled team in the history of English football is no little feat.

In that there is much joy for United fans, with not a hint of guilt.

The day City possibly, maybe, blew the title

March 12, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 36 comments

Schadenfreude is a dangerous sport, not least when it comes to the ebb and flow of a Premier League title race. But there was undoubtedly a collective chuckle from the Red half of Manchester on Sunday at the delicious sight of a Manchester City fan breaking down in tears. Was it a death in the family that caused such public, and humiliating distress, mooted writer Daniel Harris? Perhaps the outbreak of war, or a death in the family. None of the above your honour; simply the trauma of City falling a goal behind to Swansea in the 11th-to-last match of the campaign.

Thousands of Manchester United fans joined in the fun, readily mocking John Millington, the City supporter, and joyously celebrating the Reds’ return to the top of the Premier League table. It was, or at least seemed to be, a turning point in the campaign. For all City’s wealth, and United’s catastrophic winter injury crisis, here was United taking top spot after beating West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford, while the Blues lost again on the road, this time at Swansea City.

Winning the title isn’t that simple of course, and while the momentum is squarely with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, the single point gap is hardly a royal flush waiting to be called. Indeed, just as City had not won the title in October, despite the Robert Mancini-led outfit storming to a seven point lead, the Reds will be wary to prematurely claim a 20th domestic title with 10 games to go.

Yet, there is undeniably a sense of panic enveloping Eastlands, with Mancini sporting a rabbit-in-the-headlights expression when questioned about his side’s chances of victory come May. United will drop points, surmised the Italian; the unconvincing aside coming barely a day after Mancini called on his players to win all of their remaining Premier League matches.

Worse may come for the Blues, with Mancini’s side facing another five games on the road before the season concludes. After all, the Abu Dhabi-owned outfit has recorded just eight points from a similar number of games away from Eastlands. Banana-skin fixtures against Chelsea in Manchester, Stoke City away and Martin O’Neil’s vibrant Sunderland come before March is out.

By contrast United faces no team inside the top 10 before travelling to meet City in a potentially decisive fixture in east Manchester on 30 April. Decisive, that is, if City is still within touching distances by that point. Indeed, the business-like manner in which United is now racking up the points, despite all the injuries, lack of squad depth, and a calamitous European campaign, says much for the mood at Old Trafford.

“It was a great performance,” said Sir Alex of United’s comfortable victory over West Brom.

“We took a bit of time to get the rhythm of the game right but once we got that we played some exciting stuff and some really good football. We could have scored a lot of goals today. If there is a criticism then that is it. But we produced a stern performance; it was determined and there was a great will to win.

“We created a lot of chances and missed them. Fortunately we got the second goal and we still missed chances after that, but we kept our drive for the whole game, which was good. The players didn’t stop; they tried to score from every attacking situation.”

Profligacy could still cost the Reds, as could complacency of the kind displayed at Norwich City a fortnight ago. Change comes in a heartbeat, and United’s weekend fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and then City’s three days later versus Chelsea, could bring yet another swing.

Such is momentum’s importance that Ferguson is unlikely to disrupt United’s domestic flow on Thursday when the Reds meet Athletic Club in Bilbao. United’s tie at Wolves ensures that supporters can expect a fringe and reserve squad to face the excellent Basque outfit, despite any claims that Ferguson’s side can turn the tie around.

At this point the consequences of fielding a full-strength side and still potentially losing, outweigh any benefits victory brings. After all, elimination from the Champions League, and defeats to Athletic and Ajax in UEFA’s second string competition, have brought no discernible negative reaction domestically.

Meanwhile, City face Sporting in Manchester followed by the home clash with managerless Chelsea. City’s home form is imperious; Chelsea’s record on the road has brought four defeats. The odds on two home victories are high, but such is the battering City’s confidence has taken that a reversal in either game will no bring surprise.

Mancini’s rhetoric is adding little more than doubt to the equation. It is as if the Italian believes no longer in his side, or his ability to turn it around. The excuses are flowing quickly now, in stark contrast to Ferguson’s confidence. Despite two Serie A titles, Mancini is a relative novice in England, and this time there is no Calciopoli to aid the former Sampdoria striker’s managerial progress.

“There are 10 games to go, and it’s important we start to score and win again,” said Mancini after City’s 1-0 loss in Wales.

“Some players may be tired after seven months of the season, but I think we have a lot of energy to get back to the top. It all depends on us; we have 10 games and anything could happen. We have to be strong, when you’re at the top it’s easy, when you’re not you have to be strong. I don’t think we deserved another result like this, but now we can do nothing.”

By contrast Ferguson exuded experienced calm after United’s routine win at Old Trafford; a man, more than 25 years into United job, who lives for these moments. While much of the Scot’s side exhibits the callow enthusiasm of youth, a core of Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney are sure to start United’s biggest games from here on in. It is a quintet in which Ferguson trusts.

United’s focus and City’s troubles is a truism that will resonate strongly at Eastlands, where pressure has been building since Christmas.

“We felt if we came through those tough away fixtures [during the winter] we would be setting ourselves up for the rest of the season,” added winger Ashley Young.

“We have managed to do that and now our home form is key. A lot of people might not have thought we would be in front of City but we have that belief. As long as we are winning our games, the pressure is on them.”

So much that the returning carpetbagger Carlos Tevez will be welcomed back into the first team with open arms when the 28-year-old is match fit. After Mancini so publicly defenestrated the Argentinian any move to welcome Tevez back is little more than an act of desperation, critics will correctly add.

Meanwhile, Ferguson is brimming with confidence; a man who has once again confounded the critics and supporters by taking a thin United squad further, domestically at least, than many has predicted.

“We have that experience and it does help,” concluded the United boss.

“We won’t get nervous. Against West Brom we kept playing our football even at 1-0 when the fans were thinking ‘just get us a second’. It didn’t concern the players one bit. It is good to see that kind of temperament.”

Over at Eastlands the crying supporter has rapidly become a poster boy for the moment. Millington denied his public distress – he could do little else. But the fan, much like Mancini, will have woken this morning with a significant dent to both pride and confidence.

Raise that City banner high

January 28, 2010 Tags: , , Just for fun 5 comments

Manchester City’s cocky nouveau riche attitude fell a peg or two last night as Manchester United deservedly reached the Carling Cup final. It was City’s biggest night in years and the Abu Dhabi-owned Bitters badly choked at the final hurdle. With City in the FA Cup it is premature to raise the “35 years” Stretford End banner, but surely that’s only a factor of time.

“This football club will be without doubt the biggest and best in the world,” the hapless City CEO Gary Cook said in a New York bar last week.

“People don’t like to hear it but I’ll make no excuses for saying it, and I will never stop saying it because I truly believe it with the resources and capabilities that we have – and when, not if, we’re at Wembley having beaten Man United yet again!”

Cook later backtracked and claimed to believe the meeting was “private” despite the presence of a TV camera crew. The CEO is widely mocked in football circles after City’s incompetent failed bid for former-AC Milan midfielder Kaká last year, where he accused the Italian outfit of “bottling it.” Classy. Not.

Then the Brummie lied to the national press, claiming not to have opened talks with manager Roberto Mancini before incumbant Mark Hughes found a P45 waiting in his Eastlands office.

Not that Mancini’s predictions have born any more fruit.

“When we go to Old Trafford, we will take that banner down,” said the former Italy international striker who no doubt believes City have the Premier League’s widest pitch, tallest floodlights and bluest shirts.

“This is the last year because we will win.”

Perhaps about time City stopped staring into that blue-tinted the crystal ball, eh?