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