First the silence, then the axe fell
There had been 72 hours of reports and suggestion, either side of an FA Cup Final in which City suffered a shock defeat - and with the prospect of Roberto Mancini facing the final week of the season as a lame duck manager, the power brokers at the club decided to put an end to the speculation and end the Italian's three-and-a-half year tenure.
May 15th, 2013
With a sense of irony the news came precisely one year to the day that will forever link Mancini with the club; the moment when Sergio Aguero struck deep into stoppage time to deliver the Premier League title. 365 days later and Mancini was relieved of his duties after the ‘failure to achieve stated targets’ and with the club having a need for ‘a holistic approach to develop all aspects of the football club’. Welcome to modern football.
It was interesting to note Roberto Martinez’ quotes in the wake of Saturday’s FA Cup Final where he credited Mancini with having ‘changed the mentality’ of the club. This is true of course, and in addition to him being forever linked into the fabric of the club, City is undeniably in a far healthier position than when Mancini arrived. Yes, Mancini has been backed to a tremendous degree but his replacement (whoever it may be) will start from a position of great strength.
Yet an interesting debate has formed in the wake of his sacking between a school of thought that looks at what Mancini did achieve, compared to what he didn’t. A Premier League title, a runner-up spot and two FA Cup final appearances is not to be sniffed at, particularly so given the history of the club that preceded ADUG’s takeover in 2008. However, there is a palpable sense of underachievement this past season. Such are the standards City now aspires to that frustration exists at what this City side could, and indeed should, have achieved this season.
As news filters out these past couple of days, there is a growing awareness of what may have caused this underachievement. City’s form, for the first two thirds of the season generally kept pace with United, but then a one point return over two games at game 24 saw City fall from eight points to thirteen points behind (along with the sale of Mario Balotelli). At this point did the players give up the ghost on both the season, and crucially Mancini himself?
A stubborn character at the best of times, Mancini has been painted as truculent, self-centred and even arrogant at times, and his clashes and public admonishing of his players rankled within the squad. When backs are to the wall as they were in the title race, perhaps the spirit and drive needed to overcome adversity was lacking as a result.
After clashing with Brian Marwood over transfer policy, Mancini had praised the ex-Barcelona duo of Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano – but their arrival would have also diluted his influence and control at the club, something he clearly craved. It is this aspect by which his fate was almost certainly sealed, in so far as the disappointments of the results this season are one thing but this is a decision that would have been reached regardless of Saturday’s result.
The last eighteen months has seen a power shift away from Mancini & co towards Begiristain and Soriano, and their view (stretching back to their time at Barcelona) places great emphasis on the infrastructure of a club from top to bottom, and very much with a long-term vision in place; this structure does not position the manager at the top but as a component (albeit a key one) who ‘buys in’ to this vision.
The evidence shows that they feel that Mancini was not a man who either could or would toe the party line, and as the dust settles once again at The Etihad the only real surprise may turn out to be the fact that it all took so long to come to an end.