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Perhaps the most startling aspect of Roberto Mancini’s sacking as Manchester City manager on Monday evening was the speed of it, coming just over 48 hours after the Qatari owners watch their side produce a sluggish display in defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup final.
Rumours that the Eastlands hierarchy held a lack of faith in Mancini’s reign had been circulating in the build-up to the final, in tandem with City’s relinquishing of the Premier League title back to neighbours Manchester United, and the bubbling prospect of Mancini’s overhauling had almost over-shadowed City’s presence at Saturday’s showpiece event.
A fine Wigan performance subjected Manchester City to a trophy-less campaign and it proved to be the final scene in Mancini’s eventful three and a half year act in English football. The lack of success proved to have had little affect on the thinking of his employers however, hinting that as Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the City chairman, stood alongside his manager to convey the Wembley pitch in the build-up to Saturday’s kick-off, he was well-drilled in the Italian manager’s fate.
Having woke up on Saturday to intensified speculation that Manuel Pellegrini, the Qatari owner’s reported choice to succeed Mancini, was on his way in, City fans were vocal in their support of the manager at Wembley. Many also lined the streets of Manchester on Tuesday to remind the outgoing manager the high regard he was held amongst City fans who watched him deliver their first league championship in 44 years. A managerial sacking after a season which delivered a second-place league finish and a runners-up spot in the FA Cup seemed not to sit will with a fan-base still familiar with the trips to Grimsby and Stockport that illustrated the era of mundane failure at the turn of the millennium.
The statement which accompanied Mancini’s removal did mention that “he had failed to achieve on of its targets for the year”, hinting at the lack of silverware, but the meat of the parting prose came in identifying his successor as somebody who would “ensure a more holistic approach to all aspects of football at the club”.
A summer in which Mancini was restricted in the transfer market, adding just Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia and Matija Nastasic to his championship-winning squad whilst their city neighbours got significantly stronger with the acquisitions of Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie, saw the Italian blame the board for his struggles to defend that title. From then on, there was a suspicion the writing was on the wall.
Frayed relationships have appeared not to have eased as the naturally abrasive and polemic Mancini has also publicly criticised his squad on numerous occasions as well as entertaining the circus of lunacy accompanying Mario Balotelli, before he was left with little choice but to jettison the young Italian back to Milan in January. Communication problems with the board seem to have passed beyond the point of repair as City have produced a laborious struggle on the field.
Whilst Mancini wrestled with his volatile nature and an unsettled squad, Sir Alex Ferguson managed to keep a tight reign on his despite the bitter failure of the preceding campaign and was fully-focused on retrieving the title, becoming his 13th of the Premier League era. The importance of maintaining an almost-autocratic reign on a club to ensure long-term success has been emphasised by Ferguson’s recent retirement and it is something City are looking to replicate, starting with the ousting of their quarrelsome coach.
It seems like Pellegrini, the Chilean coach of La Liga club Malaga, does seem to be Manchester City’s preferred choice to takeover as news of his talks with the clubs has emerged in the aftermath of Mancini’s passing. The 59 year old has built a reputation as a superb tactician during his time in Spain with Villarreal, who he guided to a Champions League semi-final in 2006 as well as a second place league finish in the midst of the Real Madrid, Barcelona duopoly in 2008, and now Malaga, whom he led to the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history last season.
The rise of the Andalusian club has been heavily funded by the riches of Sheikh Al Thani, though the financial turbulence caused by the benefactor’s possible withdrawal in the summer that sparked the sale of Santi Cazorla, Joris Mathijsen and Salomon Rondon as well as Nacho Monreal in January, has failed to significantly hinder Pellegrini who has kept the club in the hunt for another Champions League qualification (though UEFA rulings have barred the club from competing in Europe next year due to financial irregularities) and came within seconds of eliminating finalists Borussia Dortmund from the quarter-final stage of this year’s competition.
The mitigating presence of the rich owner can be excused when it is considered Pellegrini was forced to spend nothing in the summer but has still churned out a year of relative success. Yet critics will point to his trophy-less year at Real Madrid, when he was backed to the tune of £200 million by president Florentino Perez, signing the quadrant of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Xabi Alonso, as a foreboding aspect of Pellegrini’s arrival in Manchester, though one should expect less interference from the Qatari ownership in contrast to Perez, who prohibited Pellegrini from picking Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben and refused to speak to his coach when he did. The relationship with his president was further skewed by the decision to pick Gonzalo Higuain ahead of the £30 million signing Karim Benzema.
Despite the counter-productive political battle with Perez and the board, Pellegrini led Madrid to a 96 point finish, a club record, but finished runner-up to a Barcelona side the Chilean referred to as the “best Barcelona in history”. Bemoaning the reckless Galactico philosophy of Madrid on his way out, Pellegrini was duly sacked after just one year, but it is rather harsh to overlook the context which has caused the coach to be without any silverware outside of his native South America. Mancini has dictated that City should look to somebody who offers far more than just results and Pellegrini ticks that box.
The way in which Pellegrini has kept his side motivated in this season’s La Liga despite the prospect of no European football for next year has shown his ability to keep tight control over his players, whilst the impressive form of Javier Saviola, Julio Baptista and Joaquin, all players previously discarded on the continent, suggests the extent of what he can force out of stretched resources. His record in Europe is also already more attractive than Mancini’s, whose limitations were exposed most drastically on the continent with two-group stage exits during his spell at Eastlands.
With an FA Cup win and a Premier League title to his name from his time in England, there was possibly enough to draw a valid argument for Mancini to be given another year in charge of Manchester City, though the owners have chosen to dispense with the manager who struggled to grasp the aspects of football coaching other than simply getting results.
Pellegrini’s trophy cabinet is bare, but that should be irrespective to his possible succession, a manager’s validity should go deeper than that, something that City’s owners have shown their appreciation of.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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