As Roberto Mancini’s thinly disguised complaints over Manchester City’s lack of transfer activity become more and more frequent, the sense of disbelief at his ignorance of the irony of his stance grows. Mancini presides over the most expensively assembled squad in the history of football, yet never fails to take an opportunity to demand that the club’s owners continue their excessive spending habits on his behalf. Last year, his request that he needed “two or three more players” to win the Premier League was attended to by the City board who sanctioned the buys of Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Sergio Aguero. However, by January, Mancini was complaining that player injuries and the African Cup of Nations meant he would “need more players” to maintain the club’s lead at the top of the table. It has been a familiar story this summer, with Mancini adamant that the burden of “winning again” rests on City’s ability to buy new players and “to change some players in some positions.”
Apart from his qualities of solid defensive organisation and a unique rapport with Mario Balotelli, it has been difficult to see what Mancini has added as City manager. Despite making full use of City’s riches he still required a last-minute goal to secure the Premier League title, and his obsessive quest to acquire new players ignores a manager’s duty to develop those he has already bought. Micah Richards, Adam Johnson and James Milner might feel short-changed by his public declaration that he “needs to change some players in some positions”, while Samir Nasri pointedly spoke of his need to “feel loved by the manager” in order to perform at his best. Mancini’s quotes and actions have never served to portray him as a manager who is also an individual fan of his players, and who embraces all aspects of management beyond the imperative to win. He jars most negatively in this regard with Nasri’s old manager, Arsene Wenger, whom Thierry Henry fondly described as having the rare ability to give players “confidence in themselves.” It was Wenger, not Mancini, whom Kolo Toure chose to call for advice upon discovering he had failed a drugs test in March last year.
If Robin van Persie follows through his intention to leave Arsenal, he would do well to remember what he will be leaving behind. He will be hard pressed to find a manager anywhere who cares as deeply about his players’ careers, or creates tactical systems that consider giving them a platform to shine as important as the function they serve in a team. Many scoff at Wenger for failing to bring trophies home to Arsenal but, setting aside the dedication and professionalism that propelled Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero to new heights last season, there has not been one player who can be said to have flourished under Mancini’s watch. This, along with his timidly defensive playing style, are indictments of his management that cannot be totally papered over by his ceaseless observations that his squad requires strengthening.