“He who loses money, loses much; he who loses a friend, loses much more, he who loses faith, loses all”
In many respects, Roberto Mancini has the best job in world football. The bottomless pit of money, the plethora of talent and the realistic expectations of Champions League football next year should all work in his favour. And he has spent big, he has recruited talent and his Manchester City side currently lie in the fabled fourth spot. Yet tonight, the axe looms menacingly over his head and it is certainly justified.
The snowball has started to gather momentum particularly after two uninspiring 0-0 draws. His team lacks imagination and creative drive but more crucially, his team simply don’t appear to trust him. Mancini’s overly cautious approach has left his attacking options displaying a clear lack of faith which underpins a simmering tension around Eastlands.
The Italian’s decision to deploy three defensive midfielders has angered football fans everywhere. The purists and the neutrals have been queuing up to lay into him. Mancini is essentially playing fantasy football with the embarrassing riches City possess. So it was frustrating to see them line up on Wednesday as though they were a newly promoted side in desperate need of a point.
With the emphasis clearly placed on being hard to break down, results hinge on the attacking players conjuring up plenty of magic. This is where Mancini’s shortcomings are laid bare.
Craig Bellamy, one of his most exciting, direct players, was cast aside. Emmanuel Adebayor’s commitment is questionable especially considering the ambivalence he shows towards Mancini. Naivety consumes the explosive Mario Balotelli and Mancini has been publically critical of City’s other bright hope, Adam Johnson. So when City need reliability; when they need inspiration, the onus falls directly on Carlos Tévez.
Mancini is all too aware of his importance:
“Since the start of the season it has been the case that if Carlos Tévez doesn’t score, no-one does”.
And when City have been good, Tévez has been magnificent. Nobody questions you when you’re winning and Tévez’s goals have often masked Mancini’s defensive tactics. But in recent weeks Tévez has become disillusioned and without him, City’s tactics have been brutally exposed.
Is his team any more resolute and negative than the Inter Milan side that stifled and suffocated Barcelona over two legs last year? Mourinho was hailed as a tactical mastermind whereas Mancini has been crucified for promoting boring football. The crucial difference is that Inter’s players brought into Mourinho’s ethos.
Certainly it would be easier for his players to rally behind Mancini if he was promoting the type of renegade, cavalier football which has made Tottenham so utterly captivating thus far.
But at City, they moan about the double training sessions, they party after defeats and generally undermine Mancini at every turn. Even James Milner, a player who has been lauded for his professionalism, treated his substitution today with disdain.
I don’t expect Mancini to adjust his managerial style and abandon his cautious approach, particularly in the bigger games. So he must then focus on repairing strained relationships off the field. He has a talented, exciting prospect in Johnson and Mancini must find a way to keep him focused on football. Criticising him in public and keeping him on the bench clearly isn’t working. Then there is Tévez. Mancini has to bend over backwards to ensure his best player is happy because without him, his team looks very ordinary.
There are no points for style and you don’t get bonuses for goal gluts. But Mancini’s philosophy is endearing him to neither the fans nor the players. Lose the faith of your team and the end won’t be long.