Cult of per­son­al­ity re­placed by a team

Manchester Evening News - - SPORT - By STU­ART BREN­NAN stu­art.bren­ @StuBren­nanMEN

THE trans­for­ma­tion from Roberto Mancini’s gritty, per­son­al­ity-driven troupe to Pep Guardi­ola’s pure foot­ball ma­chine is al­most com­plete.

And to com­plete the process, Guardi­ola now has to win the Premier League ti­tle, just as the Ital­ian did.

If he does that, the Cata­lan will have pulled off one of the great evo­lu­tion­ary tricks of English foot­ball his­tory.

Mancini’s team was ex­cel­lent. It had style and sub­stance in equal mea­sure, with flair play­ers like Ser­gio Aguero and David Silva backed up by the so­lid­ity of Gareth Barry and Vin­cent Kom­pany – as well as a rare player who com­bined both, in Yaya Toure.

And when the chips were down, the dress­ing room per­son­al­i­ties took charge and dragged the team over the fin­ish­ing line, while United’s legs buck­led.

But there was al­ways a sus­pi­cion that Mancini had forged a col­lec­tion of in­di­vid­u­als into a work­ing ma­chine, rather than an all-for-one and one-for-all squad.

Play­ers like Car­los Tevez and Mario Balotelli cared lit­tle for the club, or for some of their team-mates, and there was rarely a sense that ev­ery­one was in it to­gether.

It needed the strength of char­ac­ter, and the stern voices of men like Kom­pany, Joe Hart and Joleon Lescott to keep it all hang­ing to­gether when times got rough.

And when Mancini lost the sup­port of some of his most in­flu­en­tial play­ers, he lost the en­tire dress­ing room.

The fact that he was also a head­strong, opin­ion­ated, feisty char­ac­ter was al­ways go­ing to work one of two ways – the sparky en­ergy it gen­er­ated pow­ered that ti­tle win, but it also caused it to fall apart the fol­low­ing sea­son. With Guardi­ola turn­ing down the chance to be Mancini’s suc­ces­sor, but of­fer­ing en­cour­age­ment that he would be keen at a fu­ture date, the Blues opted for a tran­si­tional pe­riod, some­one to move the Blues to­wards the Barcelona model of a foot­ball club.

Pel­le­grini did that, but even when his team was at its swash­buck­ling best, you al­ways sus­pected they lacked co­he­sion.

It of­ten came across as a lack of bot­tle – they had a poor record against the top clubs.

But it was more about the fact that, while con­tro­ver­sial char­ac­ters like Tevez and Mario Balotelli had been moved on, there was still no great sense of uni­fied pur­pose.

Maybe the fact that Pel­le­grini was vir­tu­ally the long­est-serv­ing care­taker man­ager in his­tory added to that lack of com­mon­al­ity.

But Guardi­ola has driven such no­tions out of the dress­ing room.

Big voices have not been driven out, but they are more in tune with the team ethic – Hart was not ban­ished be­cause of his strength of per­son­al­ity, but sim­ply be­cause he was not as good with his feet as he needed to be.

And the cult of in­di­vid­u­al­ism that sur­rounded Ser­gio Aguero – cre­ated by cir­cum­stance rather than any ego on his part – has been quashed.

Aguero has gone from solo gun­slinger to well-drilled team sol­dier and is a bet­ter and more ef­fec­tive player for it.

The fact that Guardi­ola har­nessed the tal­ents of per­haps the greatest in­di­vid­ual foot­ball tal­ent the world has seen, in Lionel Messi, and made him a team player was all the ev­i­dence any­one needed that it works.

Mancini had bril­liant in­di­vid­u­als. Guardi­ola has fan­tas­tic in­di­vid­u­als who func­tion bril­liantly as a team – and that could yet be his greatest legacy.

City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola

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