No ‘trophy or bust’ situation at City
Victory against Leeds in the fifth round of the FA Cup a week ago staved off talk (well, from Danny Mills at least) of an impending departure for Roberto Mancini; but with a 12-point gap to Manchester United in the Premier League with just 11 games remaining the Italian has his hands full to make this season’s title race close, let alone to defend the title they won a year ago.
February 26th, 2013
Just nine months has passed since that dramatic final day in which Mancini’s side hauled themselves back from the dead to snatch the trophy from United’s grasp. If a week is a long time in politics then a season in football must be considered an eternity; just ask Mancini’s compatriot Roberto di Matteo. With talk of a trophy or bust in the air, Mancini will be thankful the gods were smiling kindly when the quarter final draw presented them with a home tie against Barnsley, with one or both of United and Chelsea exiting at the last eight stage. But should whether Mancini wins a trophy this season or not, or whether he can preside over an impressive finish in the league (even if City ultimately fall short) actually matter? Would this really make Mancini the right man, or not as the case may be, to be in charge?
More than one eye is being kept positioned on the executives at City this season. Not, thinking back to the days of Garry Cook, for a misspoken sound-bite or headline-grabbing gaffe, but to try and sense what moves the duo of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain may make now they are both in position. It is clear that the ex-Barcelona pair will have a defined brief as to where the owners want to position in the short, medium and long term. You sense there will be no panic measures or snap decisions; which makes all the talk of Mancini effectively being on trial misleading.
Whilst Mancini was appointed by Khaldoon al-Mubarak it is true he is neither Soriano nor Begiristain’s man. Pep Guardiola’s announcement that he will coach at Bayern Munich next season may of course help Mancini, but it is equally true that they could view the Italian as the man to be at the helm of overseeing the implementation of the footballing philosophy and plan they have mapped out at City. To believe that hoisting the FA Cup will alter the outcome smacks as remarkably short-term thinking and a dangerous precedent to set.
Although the past two seasons has seen Mancini deliver both the title and an FA Cup, this season so far has resulted in more questions than answers. For the second season running there has been a disappointing Champions League exit at the group stages, whilst his criticism of players has gone alongside some misguided selection decisions and, whilst to an extent he has some justification, he has laboured the issue of player recruitment on a number of occasions.
Talk of a backward step is misguided though. City may have stalled but the high standards now set have given the appearance of a more disappointing campaign than it has actually been. It is also easy to disregard quite how good United have been this season; their numbers going off the charts in a number of key areas and not many sides in history have managed to rival the points total United have put up after this many games.
The people in charge at City do not appear to be anybody’s fools and the body of work they have in front of them as testament to Mancini’s time in charge at the club is surely a greater determining factor than whether City manage to win the FA Cup this season as a way of determining their manager’s worth – a greater test of luck than skill. City have, probably correctly or incorrectly in equal measure, been compared to Chelsea since the money poured in, but to make a decision for all the wrong reasons would almost certainly paint City in an unflattering light.