So Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has now met with representatives of Falco to discuss a possible future deal for the £45 million pound striker. One might think that a manager who is in charge of four world-class strikers and struggling to get enough goals out of them might consider such a move a damning indictment of his managerial qualities, but apparently Mancini has no such qualms. His attempts to dress up the naked poaching of any player who seems to provide a stop-gap solution to his problems as long-term team-building may find approval with his patient owners for longer than it does with others. However there’s only so long a man can pull wool over people’s eyes, and failure to get out of the Champions League group stages for two years in a row has nothing to do with inexperience and everything with incompetence – as does the failure to make the most of the lavishly gifted squad already at his disposal.
Tonight’s glamour match of the Champions League between Real Madrid and Manchester City represents an opportunity that Roberto Mancini would be foolhardy to pass up. City struggled badly under Mancini in a tough group in their first test in the deeper waters of the Champions League, during a campaign that did nothing to dispel the perception that a manager who had failed to replicate domestic success at Inter on the European stage had his limitations. However, if ever there was a chance for a manager and team who are both making steady and impressive strides to maturation to make the final leap to being serious contenders at the highest level, the luck of the draw has given them it. Cancelling out, or even overcoming as tough an opponent as they are likely to face in the Champions League is not beyond the realms of possibility for City anymore, and doing so right from the off will set them in good stead for the rest of the competition. If they seize the opportunity to shine against the best that has been presented before them tonight, it could serve as the graduation of City as a football team and Mancini as a manager to the highest level.
Both Manchester clubs have given Arsenal plenty of grief in the recent past, but it will still hurt more if Robin van Persie were to go to Alex Ferguson’s team rather than Roberto Mancini’s. City’s recent picking of Arsenal’s ripe talent has its roots in the club’s overall expansion and is devoid of any personal undertones. However, United’s bolstering at Arsenal’s expense, by acquiring their best player, cuts more deeply for a welter of personal reasons. It was not too long ago that Arsenal were United’s strongest rivals, and Wenger Ferguson’s greatest managerial foe. It would have been unthinkable then for Arsenal to be forced to sell their best player for the benefit of their most important rival. For Arsenal to now effectively play the feeder club role to Manchester United through the van Persie sale would be a painful and fresh reminder of how they have diminished in stature while United have kept growing. Add to that the image of van Persie and Rooney dovetailing together to score against Arsenal next season, and it is easy to see why his possible switch to United provokes stronger feelings than to his other two suitors.
Tactically speaking, fans may also wonder what Arsenal’s voluntary strengthening of both their Manchester rivals says about their ambition for the new Premier League season. This is a club that should not accept the status quo proposed last season of both Manchester clubs being a cut above the rest, and preventing United from becoming the first club to reach City’s plane through the acquisition of van Persie would demonstrate this.
If he has to go, better Arsenal explore and exhaust these options in the following order: Juventus, then City and then – only if the price is agreed on Arsenal’s terms without compromise – United.
“I don’t think we can play for the Champions League with this squad…We have to improve as players…if you don’t change a lot of players, you can’t hope to win like other teams.”
Is there not one Manchester City player who is as offended by Roberto Mancini’s most recent comments about them as I am? He professes his lack of faith that a team that won the Premier League can go far in the Champions League and urges his players to improve themselves, before declaring his wish “to change a lot of them” to continue winning.
With every plaintive comment expressing his dissatisfaction with those he coaches, Mancini reveals himself more and more as a myopic manager whose understanding of his profession excludes player nurturing and long-term development in favour of an almost childlike practice of buy, field, win. It would be interesting to see him cope at a club that did not have such a sizeable advantage to the rest of the field (City because of their riches, Inter because of Calciopoli), and where he would actually have to engage in coaching once again. In the meantime, it remains to be seen how City respond to his latest round of demands for players at a time when their expenditure has sent them on a head-on collision course with UEFA ahead of the onset of FFP rules in 2013-14.
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.