The sacking of Roberto Mancini: Reactive or Proactive?

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I dissected Roberto Mancini’s tenure at Manchester City and ask if his sacking was a sign of short-term reactionism, or long-term planning…

“The Club has failed to achieve any of its stated targets this year, with the exception of qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League. This, combined with an identified need to develop a holistic approach to all aspects of football at the Club, has meant that the decision has been taken to find a new manager for the 2013/14 season and beyond.”

After three-and-a-half years, during which he ended Manchester City’s barren 35 years without a trophy and ended their 44-year league title drought, Roberto Mancini has been relieved of his duties for a season of complete underachievement.

Since weekend reports leaked that his position was under threat, there has been little sympathy for the Italian lothario. Many commentators have cited a spiky personality that has estranged playing and backroom staff.

In their statement, the club admit as much. The use of the term ‘holistic’ has provoked a bemused reaction, but is entirely revealing of the long-term strategy that will define City as they approach the five-year anniversary of the Sheikh Mansour takeover.

In the early years, Robinho aside, transfer policy prioritised weakening Premier League rivals – most notably Everton, Arsenal and Aston Villa – as the pursuit of Champions League football took centre-stage.

Mancini was identified in December 2009 as the man who could fulfill those ambitions, and he did. Perhaps he over-delivered in securing the Premier League title last season? City became the first Premier League club to deliver a league title without previously being runners-up.

Via a Premier League title, Mancini has guided the club through a transitory stage from Champions League hopefuls to Champions League regulars.

At the time of the Italian’s appointment, Alan Hansen argued, “Will he do better than Mark Hughes? Probably not.”

The manner in which the Welshman’s managerial career has disintegrated since his time at Eastlands – a fall in fortunes so incongruous to his former employers – substantially discredits Hansen.

The club are now regular competitors for domestic silverware, and yet Mancini’s tenure has unravelled for not progressing City far enough. The league title was achieved more in spite of his management than because of it, and largely due to a monumental cock-up from Manchester United.

City were an incisive, expansive and thrilling side to watch at the start of the 2011-12 season – they scored 48 goals in the opening 14 games of the season, winning 12 of them. They should have processed to last season’s title at a canter similar to that of United this. That run of form has not been replicated since.

It is an old adage in football that the first title is the most difficult to win. By scraping to that milestone with such last gasp heroics Mancini and his charges looked to have proved that point, yet their lamentable defence of such an historic victory has been derisory.

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The tipping point surely came on January 3rd this year, and his public training ground grapple with Mario Balotelli. It smacked of a man losing control of the situation around him. His plain emotion was central to his hamartia, and has become the unfortunate image that defines his man-management.

Mancini demanded a stellar cast of imports last summer, he instead received a backlog of B-listers headed by Javi Garcia, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell. City did not improve, yet that did not mean they would deteriorate so severely to produce the limpest Premier League title defence in memory.

The Italian can be proud of a 62% win percentage across 82 Premier League games – a record that puts him behind only Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Ancelotti – but a 25% win ratio in the Champions League is chronic.

In Europe he has consistently floundered, a record that harks back to his days at Inter Milan. He has never progressed further than the quarter finals of the Champions League; a blot on his CV that is potentially fatal. Without European pedigree, football managers can scarcely claim to be amongst the elite of their profession.

The dismissal of Mancini has been compared to Chelsea’s brutal sacking of Carlo Ancelotti two years ago. On the surface this is a valid comparison – an Italian manager sacked for finishing second 12 months after finishing as champions – but that is where it ends.

Although sacking Mancini before the close of the season is somewhat unsavoury, the Italian had shot himself in the foot with his indignant tone in the wake of last weekend’s FA Cup final defeat; his position became ultimately untenable.

Based on managerial ability, Ancelotti, with two Champions League triumphs for a seminal AC Milan side, is vastly superior and in a different class to Mancini. Chelsea have since undermined the sacking of the illustrious PSG manager by ejecting the man assigned with delivering long-term stability, Andre Villas-Boas, in under nine months, and churning through another two managers since.

A ‘holistic’ strategy is worthwhile and admirable, but it must be adhered to and not abandoned as swiftly as Chelsea’s was.

The club’s statement on Monday night reflects a growing, if belated, trend towards long-termism amongst Premier League clubs. With their city neighbours stressing the importance of continuity as they change managership, City’s own ‘holistic’ approach is unsurprising.

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Former striker Rodney Marsh has accused City of obsessive short-termism and regressing to the point where they are now in the same position as when Mancini arrived in the 2009-10 season. As knee-jerk, senseless and banal reactions go that is one of the most impressive.

City are undergoing significant change behind-the-scenes, with former Barcelona director of football Txiki Begiristain central to this off-field revolution which seeks to dictate the fabric and formula of the club. It is the very antithesis of short-termism, and is the type of long-term strategy that all top clubs in Europe engage in.

Mancini, however, did not fit the specifications; he was a barrier to the long-term ideology. His youth policy was non-existent, his mere presence divisive. Though he vehemently and publicly protested at the club’s direction in the transfer market last summer, he would have been granted similarly little sway this.

With City making every effort to build their own dynasty to rival that across the city, the removal of Mancini is overwhelmingly rational.

@jimbodutts@The_False_Nine

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