The sad irony is that exactly a year after that infamous Aguero moment, Roberto Mancini is no longer Manchester City manager.
A lot can happen within the space of 12 months. The 13th of May, 2012, will forever be remembered in Manchester City’s history as the day the 34 year long League drought was finally broken. 93:20 of the game against QPR will resonate. Aguero had made City champions of England, and Mancini was the man at the helm.
13th May 2013 tells a different story. At 10:22pm GMT, the statement was realesed. Mancini was sacked.
It speaks volumes of the unforgiving nature of football management. Mancini had not done all that wrong. In fact, his record is exemplary for a club that had not tasted victory in years. Champions League qualification in his first full season, coupled with an FA Cup then a League title in the following season. That however did not matter once he produced a trophy-less season.
It points to just how much is demanded by the Abu Dhabi Group that owns Manchester City. For splashing the millions, they expect the club to be swimming with the elite sharks of European football. That Mancini got nowhere near in the barometer that usually defines that — the Champions League — counted a lot against him.
His tenure will be adjudged indifferently. For one, he managed to have a good record against his more illustrious Manchester neighbours. The route to the FA Cup triumph in 2011 was defined by Yaya Toure’s bursting run past Nemanja Vidic in the semi-final. The title win of 2012 swung on the 6-1 demolition at Old Trafford, and the 1-0 reverse at the Etihad. Even in the season that he eventually got the sack, he had the last laugh in the head to head – beating United 2-1 at Old Trafford.
That however never translated in Europe. On both occasions, a group stage exit followed in surprising circumstances. Their galaxy of stars upstaged by the likes of Real Madrid, Borrusia Dortmund, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villareal. It was these teams that he should have done well against – it was these teams that demonstrated his ultimate weakness.
Against Bayern Munich in 2011 came the infamous Carlos Tevez saga. That defined how he managed his players on an individual level – very badly. His man-management skills were nowhere near the level required to cope with the egos that he had on his team. He fell out with some, and could not convince most.
It is why a year after winning the title, his side looked so lacklustre. Mancini failed to bring the confidence; to continue the hunger and winning desire that had been fulfilled by the winning of the first. The motivation was gone, and Mancini should have revived it. He did not.
It is also why his complex tactical tinkering never worked. His plan to play a three-man defence never worked as the players did not buy into it. It was after all a noble plan – how it destroyed Chelsea in the Community Shield and how the switch to three at the back took the initiative against Tottenham Hotspurs at the Etihad – is evidence of that. But whenever the switch led to circumstances that created doubt — such as how immediately Ajax scored after the switch in Amsterdam or how it exposed them against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu — showed that the players were forever doubting their manager.
It was also surprising how the one man whom he seemed to always get through to, always let him down. That he always gave Mario Balotelli a second chance seemed baffling – why struggle with him while neglecting the rest?
But once Balotelli was sold, it pointed to Mancini’s losing grip on the club. Ultimately, it also pointed to the changing direction the club had taken. With the appointment of former Barcelona directors Txiki Bergiristain and Ferran Soriano, it seemed the club was on the trail to emulate the great Catalans. Selling Balotelli was clearly a sign of their growing influence within the team.
So too did the statement given by Manchester City. The statement said that not only was Mancini being let go, but so too would many of the coaches within the youth setup.
The statement is clear. Soriano and Bergiristain want to establish a football pyramid at Manchester City that runs from the top and trickles all the way down. With the use of the term that a ‘holistic change was required’, the signs are that a Barca like model is ready to be put in place. That a mode of playing football the same way all through the club is to be adapted.
For that, the tactical tinkerings of an Italian manager do not apply. It suits the Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, who thoroughly understands the sort of beautiful Spanish model, as he has practised at Villareal, Real Madrid and currently Malaga.
It is also the fact that Pellegrini has managed to take debutants Villareal to the Champions League semis in 2006, and Malaga to the quarters this season that counts against Mancini. Even his dismal performance was a round of 16 knock-out for a period in Real Madrid’s history where the club simply could not get past that round.
This will be welcome to the City owners. With Financial Fair Play about to kick in, money from Champions League revenue is required to offset those outstanding operating costs.
Indeed, it was also the right time to make the change as the rest around them also go into transition. United and Chelsea will definitely start with new managers next season, and the presumed advantage over Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool means that this is the right moment to also go into transition.
For the two men who took over a sinking Barcelona in 2003 and revived it with the appointment of Frank Rijkaard. The men who stuck by Rijkaard when he did not seem to deliver, yet had the guts to sack him when he no longer could. For the men who interviewed Jose Mourinho but instead decided to pick unknown Pep Guardiola to manage Barcelona in 2008, this is an ambitious project.
However, ambition is what the City owners want and lack of satisfying the same means that it is ciao Mancini, and probably bienvenudo Pellegrini.