Roberto Mancini Counts The Cost City’s Thwarted Ambition
There has been, in recent years, a fundamental shift in the way that new stories are reported. There was a time when an announcement would be made, comment would be passed upon it, and that would be that. Nowadays, of course, things are different. Stories often break through gossip on social media or though stories placed in newspapers, often by parties with access to inside information but also vested interest, and there then follows a period of flux, during which nobody exactly knows exactly what the truth is and what the truth isn’t. Finally, after a period of silence that frequently seems to last forever (although more often than not it isn’t), some sort of official statement appears in which either confirms or denies the original rumour. If the success of any organisation may be judged in terms of how it manages such matters, this hasn’t been a very successful twenty-four hours for Manchester City Football Club.
In some respects, it seems that defeat at the hands of Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup Final yesterday evening may have been something of a red herring in terms of the apparently imminent departure of Roberto Mancini from the club. If the rumours currently circulating are true – and the question of how this particular powder-keg of a story found its way into the public domain and what the motives of those behind it might have been is another matter altogether – Mancini is due to be sacked from the City of Manchester Stadium and replaced by Manuel Pellegrini, previously of Real Madrid and more recently of Malaga. In the void of information to have come from the club on the subject over the few hours or so, many explanations have been offered as to why Mancini should be forced out of the club at this point, and the world of footballing tittle-tattle really abhors a vacuum of information. Many people think they know what the rationale behind this decision might be, and some of them are most likely right, whether through accident or design. As would be the norm in most autocratic organisations, though, the precise thought processes behind this decision from the perspective of those running the club are likely to remain a tightly-guarded secret.
Manchester City supporters might well be expected to have mixed emotions this evening, then. On the one hand, Mancini is the man who brought the club the championship of England for the first time since 1968 and the FA Cup for the first time since 1969. He delivered them that six-one win at Old Trafford in October 2011. The club might well have been unable to make much impact in the Champions League in two attempts, and it was unable to hang onto the Premier League title having won it last year, but they did get to that position in the first place and that is enough for a debt of gratitude from supporters which seems, from glances at forums over the course of the day, to have been forthcoming. The football supporter’s loyalty, however, is to the club more than one individual, and while Mancini – or at least the memory of the days when the sun shone on their club under his tutelage – will be missed, tears over his dismissal will prove to be of the crocodile variety should his replacement reinstate the poise that a team of this Manchester City team’s quality should be capable.
What, then, of Pellegrini? Well, he is certainly highly regarded, and this is not without reason. Twice a champion in Argentina with San Lorenzo and River Plate, he moved to Spain to join Villareal in 2004 and took them into the Champions League, becoming the last coach to break into the Barcelona/Real Madrid top two hegemony in La Liga before moving to the Bernebeu with Real in 2009. His one season there was unique, to say the least. Real Madrid’s ninety-six points would, in any other season, have been a record for the league, but the 2009/10 season was very much the imperial phase of Pep Guardiola’s time at Barcelona, and the Catalans won the league championship by three points. Pellegrini’s reward for a record-breaking points total for Real Madrid was the sack, but his next position at Malaga saw him take that club into the Champions League and then into the latter stages of that competition. Malaga’s much-reported financial problems and their subsequent expulsion from European competition for a year are understood to be the reasons behind his desire to want away from that club.
Pellegrini, however, is fifty-nine years old. He has been managing for twenty-five years of experience across two continents, even if he has no experience of the Premier League in this country. What he doesn’t have, however, is anything like youth on his side. Should this story end up following the narrative that we are being pushed towards, the question of what the club’s long-term planning might be. The Abu Dhabi United group that runs Manchester City have often made great play of their determination for planning of this sort, and furthermore of their desire to run the club in the “right” way. Rumours concerning the future of Roberto Mancini at the club have been ongoing for long enough for it to seem unlikely that any decision to replace him was not a knee jerk reaction, and it is already generally understood that the story that made the news today came from Spain rather than the club and that the decision made had been reached prior to yesterday’s embarrassment. That this situation has found its way into the public domain will, however, still likely be source of embarrassment for owners who have prided themselves on their control of the club and the way that it is perceived in the media.
Perhaps in any other season the decision of sack a manager that had brought a club a championship last year and took it to second place this time around would be considered mad. But perhaps the truth of the matter is that professional football in this country is just mad. The top three teams in the Premier League will all start next season with new managers, and overall fifty-seven of the ninety-two clubs of the Premier League and Football League now have a manager in place that has been there for less than a year, with several clubs having changed their manager more than once over the last twelve months. And if all of this flux makes life more interesting in the Premier League next season, perhaps there will be less complaining about what still feels like important decisions being made on the basis of impulse and, it sometimes feels, on the basis of the pressure of the whims of the loudest-shouting supporters and some sections of the media. For now, though, at least Manchester City supporters have the memories of the last couple of seasons and the hope that things can be that good again. And that’s more than the supporters of many clubs have in the bag, these days.
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