blue pride

Al­though Man City are fly­ing high in the league, not all is well at East­lands and Roberto Mancini finds him­self un­der the spot­light – again.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - by RicHaRd liM

Man City starts to care.

‘Now and then, a good shake-up is healthy,’ says Roberto Mancini about his team of su­per­stars.

IN the pan­theon of the Premier League man­agers, few are more enig­matic than Roberto Mancini. Trained in Serie A and ex­ported to Bri­tain, the Ital­ian man­ager seems is quickly pass­ing as a drama mag­net and the al­leged un­hap­pi­ness amongst Manch­ester City’s play­ers is heap­ing pres­sure on him once again.

The lat­est script pits the em­bat­tled Ital­ian man­ager against two of City’s key per­form­ers, namely, Car­los Tevez and the promis­ing Adam John­son. And if re­ports from Bri­tain are to be be­lieved, Mancini could just be los­ing con­trol of his dress­ing room.

Add this to the in­glo­ri­ous na­ture of his City en­try, his sap­ping dou­ble train­ing ses­sions, the fail­ure to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons League, as well as his fall­out with play­ers like Craig Bel­lamy and it seems that Mancini is bur­dened by an un­en­vi­able Sisyphean act of man­ag­ing both up­wards and down­wards.

But if any­one can deal with the heat, it’s Mancini. Af­ter all, he’s done so for the last three decades, ever since he made his Cal­cio de­but with Bologna.

It was a time when the Serie A ruled Europe and Mancini’s cava­lier style – full of tricks and flicks – won him the hearts of fans but the ire of coaches. Like other great tre­quartis­tras, Mancini rarely tracked back and this po­larised opin­ion in Serie A – a use­ful prep course for a Premier League man­ager.

How­ever, this did not stop Mancini from per­form­ing and his tally of 202 goals at club level – largely thanks to 15 fruit­ful sea­sons at Sam­p­do­ria – speaks vol­umes in a league where de­fence is pri­ori­tised.

In fact, a Mancini-in­spired Sam­p­do­ria broke the AC Mi­lan – Ju­ven­tus car­tel when the club took home the Serie A crown in the 90/ 91 sea­son. Of course, what’s more is al­ways more and the Ital­ian’s tro­phy cabi­net is fur­ther dec­o­rated by four Coppa Ital­ias, a Su­per­coppa Ital­iana and a UEFA Cup Win­ners’ Cup medal.

De­spite be­ing a gi­ant on the pitch, Mancini’s in­ter­na­tional ca­reer was hin­dered by the pres­ence of other greats in his po­si­tion. The ge­nius of Roberto Bag­gio and the sub­se­quent rise of Bag­gio’s heir ap­par­ent, Alessandro del Piero, kept Mancini on the side­lines.

It was, per­haps, the case of be­ing born in a wrong era. Mancini’s 36 caps hardly re­flect his cal­iber and it rather ironic that his ex­pe­ri­ence as a player has had a spillover ef­fect.

As a man­ager, Mancini worked “for free” at bank­rupt Fiorentina, achieved won­ders on a shoe­string bud­get with Lazio and sub­se­quently joined In­ter Mi­lan, where he won the scud­etto three times on the trot.

How­ever, the lack of Euro­pean glory would prove to be his down­fall. The fashion of In­ter’s un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous Cham­pi­ons League ex­its – a mass brawl at Va­len­cia in 2007 and a hu­mil­i­at­ing 3-0 de­feat to Liver­pool in 2008 – proved too much for club pres­i­dent Mas­simo Mo­ratti who opted to re­place Mancini with the Spe­cial One.

With this in mind, City fans cer­tainly have the right to ques­tion whether Mancini is the man to take them to the Promised Land. The drama that shrouds City only fu­els the fire and Ray­mond Ver­hei­jen, the club’s for­mer fit­ness coach, is the lat­est critic of Mancini’s train­ing meth­ods.

A tough taskmas­ter, Mancini’s dou­ble train­ing ses­sions got club skip­per Tevez com­plain­ing last sea­son and the pair were in­volved in a half-time dress­ing-room bustup last week. Rumour has it that Mancini was not im­pressed with Tevez start­ing an im­promptu talk be­fore his ar­rival and things got heated when the Ital­ian told Tevez to “sit down.”

Mancini later down­played the in­ci­dent, cit­ing cul­tural dif­fer­ences. The sight of the two shak­ing hands when Tevez was brought off at the end re­in­forces Mancini’s claims that the mis­un­der­stand­ing was swiftly sorted out but any fur­ther fric­tion be­tween the two will serve as tabloid fod­der.

It is a dif­fer­ent case with John­son who is seen by many as a rev­e­la­tion this sea­son. Al­though he has scored the vi­tal goals for both club and coun­try, the tal­ented mid­fielder finds him­self on the bench more of­ten than not and the young­ster’s pa­tience is wear­ing thin.

John­son proved his worth again last week by com­ing off the bench to score the win­ner against New­cas­tle but it is un­clear whether he will start against Black­pool this week­end. And even more per­plex­ing is the fact that Mancini keeps reaf­firm­ing his tal­ent.

“Adam is young, but has got what it takes,” said Mancini to the Bri­tish press. “He only needs to un­der­stand that it is not enough to drib­ble past an op­po­nent six times to feel en­ti­tled to be at the top.”

Well, drib­bling past op­po­nents was pre­cisely what led to City’s win­ning goal last week. But un­for­tu­nately for John­son, drib­bling of­ten means tak­ing the odd risk and this could re­sult in giv­ing the ball away - a car­di­nal sin as far as Serie A is concerned. But as far as man­ag­ing tal­ent goes, Mancini does have a good track record. Af­ter all, he suc­cess­fully dealt with the egos at In­ter. And they don’t get any big­ger than Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic. Quickly iden­ti­fy­ing that Ibra had dif­fer­ent needs from his peers, Mancini broke away from con­ven­tion and stroked Ibra’s ego. That got the best out of the big Swede and Ibra won games al­most sin­gle-hand­edly at times. And young tal­ents like John­son can take heart from Mancini’s suc­cess­ful man­age­ment of Mario Balotelli and David San­tone who were both given op­por­tu­ni­ties to rise to the fore. In fact, a healthy work­ing and per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with Mancini was the mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor be­hind Balotelli’s trans­fer to the East­lands. Per­haps Mancini’s hard but fair ap­proach is pre­cisely what City needs. The lais­sez faire meth­ods of Sven Go­ran Eriks­son – Mancini’s men­tor at Lazio – did not meet ex­pec­ta­tions and the Mancini way veers to­wards the other end of the spec­trum. Crit­i­cism will al­ways be there but no mat­ter what the de­trac­tors may say, it is un­de­ni­able that Mancini has a golden op­por­tu­nity to power his own City. The only ques­tion now is how he will do it.

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