Pellegrini’s Manchester City are now on course for amassing 82 points for this current season – three more than Mancini was on target for when he and his coaching team left Brian Kidd sat alone among empty chairs, looking like a man in a doctor’s waiting room unsure if his name got called when he nipped to the toilet half an hour previously.
Comparisons between the two campaigns are plentiful, and despite a similar amount of productivity in terms of results, the Italian’s last season in charge is presented as much worse. It appears that Mancini’s achievements are being whitewashed due to his personality, and events before his last fractious season have been ripe for re-appraisal.
This narrative disapproves of – and often explicitly bemoans – the times when Adam Johnson would get chewed out after scoring a goal and taking the rest of the game off. If you believe that Adam Johnson was owed encouragement by his manager in order to fulfil his potential, then you believe that he was owed the support of World Cup, European Championship and Champions League winning midfielders playing in the same team to keep things ticking over while he was bent double, exhausted on the right touchline.
Mancini’s reported beastliness towards Johnson and the likes of Nasri and Hart eventually became a concern in its own right: divorced from whatever effect it was having on those players on the pitch. The media feigned concern for the feelings of these highly rewarded individuals feeling upset at being made accountable for themselves in public by their manager. This is a small part of the wider recent phenomena of fans being encouraged to care about how their club behaves within a set of ‘football morals,’ a code seemingly created by journalists and upheld by fans of rival clubs – and City’s when it suits us (we’ve SAVED East Manchester don’t you know, by putting football pitches in it.) People seem increasingly concerned with winning the game off the pitch rather than on it, something which concerned Mancini little.
Picking a player to play after previously saying you would not do so again is footballingly immoral, and so Mancini’s reputation as a manager received further damage on that basis. For many, the pragmatism of bringing Tevez back into the team: a decision which directly led to City winning their first league title since the moon landings came at too large a price. Clearly the situation was messy but Mancini should get some credit for bringing Tevez back into the fold and getting a significant contribution out of him.
The counter-argument is that while Tevez was regaining fitness lost due to the spat they allowed United to create an eight-point lead in the league. This ignores the fine form which followed the incident in Munich which precipitated Tevez’s absence where Mancini led the team to 14 wins out of the remaining 18 fixtures that year. That sequence of results included the 1-6 at Old Trafford, and similar totals being racked up elsewhere.
Parallels can be made between that period and the one which Pellegrini’s City have recently enjoyed, and Mancini can consider himself hard done by that this has faded from the memory of many much sooner than his climbdown following words said in anger. Indeed, given the footballing culture he comes from where managers belting their players around the head are not an unknown occurrence, he must be slightly bemused at the fixation the British media had on him softening his position for the sake of the thing he was being paid to do: win football matches.
Mancini also comes from a footballing culture where fans are held in a higher esteem by clubs than they are in England. He understood better than any other City manager in my lifetime that the fans are the club, and he connected with our support. He recognised a beating heart which persisted beyond any project, and while this has little to do with the re-appraisal of his managerial ability which is the thrust of this piece, the narcissism he is often accused of seems revisionist.
Other clubs found him abrasive because he put their noses out of joint and led City to challenge for – and win – trophies for the first time in a generation. Our managers used to be liked by neutrals because they were often a joke and took advice from soft toys in the technical area. We finally had a manager who would tell officials when ‘was goal’, not toady up to them for an FA job for life.
It is true that Mancini’s trajectory was dipping when he left the club. The FA Cup final performance against Wigan was terrible, as were the displays in a number of games running up to that fixture, when too often an insipid display was lifted by a special goal crafted from nowhere. That seemed to be the way the team planned to win at Wembley until about 75 minutes in, when it became apparent that that was not going to be the case, leaving Ben Watson to take his cue. The players must share the blame though. They seemed happy enough when they were winning under Mancini the previous season. Allowing him to take the blame when they lost the title so meekly betrayed some cowardice within the squad.
In comparison, Pellegrini’s side has the appearance of an upwards trajectory despite the similar points haul. It is true that the advancement in Europe cannot be ignored, however, Mancini rarely faced competition in the Champions League as poor as CSKA Moscow or Viktoria Plzen. Nor did he receive reinforcements of the quality of Negredo, Navas, Fernandinho and Jovetic the previous season. One would imagine that there would have been an improvement this year with those players under Mancini.
This is not a knee-jerk response to Pellegrini putting together a couple of bad results, nor is it a judgement that City were wrong to make the managerial change they did, it is just that recent games have been a timely reminder that despite some fans within and outside of City handing out hypothetical trophies in January and actively discrediting Mancini in the process, nothing has been won yet. Pellegrini has still got much work to do before he can achieve the success required to be considered a great Manchester City manager – something which will certainly be considered of Mancini once this dust settles.
Written by Gaz who is on Twitter