Cult of personality replaced by a team
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