The Premier League football world has found a new favourite statistic over the last week – that despite spending £100million over the summer, Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City are only one point ahead of where Roberto Mancini’s team were this time last season.
Typical City guest contributor Gaz argued yesterday that, despite this, Mancini’s record is unfairly regarded as being much worse due to off the field factors. Only results should matter, and in that respect Mancini’s final season with City should be cast in a friendlier light.
I have previously argued that what happens off the pitch is vitally important in a larger sense, that the human rights abuses and myriad evils of the state presided over by the club’s owners is a moral issue which every city fan has to wrestle with. But what happens off the pitch also matters on a more local level. The relationships between players and coaches; between the manager and the board. What happens on the pitch is not a closed system experiment. The results are the end game, but they are intrinsically affected by what happens off the pitch and it is perfectly fair that the end of Mancini’s reign is cast negatively when compared to the beginning of the Pellegrini era.
The 2011/12 season was full of goals and famous victories as Mancini led City to their first Premier League title in decades to follow the FA Cup triumph of the previous season. No City fan will ever forget what they felt over that season. We were lucky to be there and the Italian will rightly go down in club history as the man who delivered us that success. His signings, his system, his trophies. His letter in the newspaper to the City fans after leaving, and the City fans reply in Gazetta shortly after, will forever stand as a monument to the mutual admiration.
However the 2012/13 season was entirely different. An uninspiring set of summer transfers (aside from Nastasic) set the tone for a season which did not live up to the high standards set previously. No one reading this will have forgotten how last season ended. It was a dystopian reboot of the title winning campaign which saw City fail on all fronts; losing the title by 11 points, losing to Wigan in the FA Cup Final, and once again leaving the Champion’s League before Christmas, this time bottom of the group.
Much criticism of David Moyes this season has centred on the idea that in this failing United team there is only one significant change – the manager – which therefore must be where the bulk of the blame must lie. A similar principle can be applied to last season’s Manchester City team. The players were, by and large, the same. The only significant difference which can explain why City did not kick on after 2011/12 is the relationship between Mancini and… well, everybody else, which ended up broken beyond repair.
And that Mancini lost the support of almost everyone within the club is not up for debate. With hindsight, his regular public denouncement of individuals’ performances was obviously destructive. A man who uses press conferences to rail against players (Joe Hart, Samir Nasri) and backroom staff (Brian Marwood, Vicky Kloss) was always going to set himself on a collision course with owners who prize discretion.
It cannot be argued at this point that by the end of his reign Mancini had fallen out with everyone from the board members to Moonchester. In doing so, the Italian somehow accelerated entropy, causing City’s stars to grow further apart day by day. There are reports that he was considering taking the captaincy away from Vincent Kompany and that the Belgian was, in turn, considering going to Barcelona. Samir Nasri looked to be having an existential crisis. Even James Milner was complaining about life at City. The platonic ideal of Yorkshireness was whingeing. Let that sink in for a second. It is telling that Sergio Aguero signed a contract extension less than two weeks after Pellegrini was confirmed as manager – or alternatively, very soon after it was confirmed that Roberto Mancini would no longer be the manager.
Manuel Pellegrini takes the opposite approach to life at City. He has, so far, kept confrontations private and solved problems behind the scenes rather than in front of the microphones of the press. The mood among the players is so obviously improved and this has led to the finest performances on the pitch I have seen in my lifetime. Where Mancini’s City at their height were often a hammer that overwhelmed opponents, Pellegrini has created a scalpel – deft, perfectly in control and precisely deadly. Both styles of play are beautiful in their own right, and exhilarating, but only one fits with the holistic vision which has become the watchword around the Etihad stadium.
Pellegrini has not won anything yet, but the way his players are playing suggests that he inevitably will. Taking the statistic that he is only one point ahead of Mancini’s final season without any context is a mistake; many of the points won under the Italian last year were dour one nil victories which did nothing to fire the imagination of either the fans or players. The behind the scenes malaise seeped onto the pitch to disastrous effect and Mancini must take the blame for that. Previous victories should not blind us to the causes of later defeats.
Roberto Mancini will always be remembered at the Etihad and his pride of place in the club museum is secure. For many of us, he was directly responsible for some of the best moments of our lives, winning us trophies that we never thought to see. Hopefully his section of the museum will skip over the parts where he went some way towards undoing all the good that he had previously accomplished, but to write off the bad parts is a limited view. The beauty of Mancini is that he was and is a flawed individual. His fire on the touchline, screaming at the sky, and complete inability to compromise were the qualities which allowed him to step up to Alex Ferguson, fight him on his own ground, and win.
That these very qualities would also bring him down was a historical imperative. We loved him for them, but those days are over now and it is time to move on.
Written by Alex Timperley who is on Twitter