It is difficult to work out whether Roberto Mancini deserves our sympathy or not. Manchester City, with all their wealth, have towering expectations, so high in fact that no matter how many trophies Mancini wins the ex-Internazionale manager will not get any of the credit.
However, his handling of Mario Balotelli, not just over their recent training ground bust up but throughout Balotelli’s City career, has shown Mancini is more than capable of looking after numero uno, and it is hurting City.
Ever since Jose Mourinho turned Mancini’s Inter team from domestic bullies but continental laughing stock to treble winners and Champions League champions, the Italian has had something to prove.
His Portuguese counterpart is never afraid of sending a barbed comment or two the Italian’s way. The only area the Special One has failed has been controlling the volatile Balotelli (although the politics of Real Madrid may claim Mourinho as another victim). Mancini has taken on his fellow countryman as his personal crusade, a mission to prove he is better than Mourinho. So far, it has failed.
Unfortunately, Mancini has invested so much personally in the troublesome 22-year-old that selling the 16-capped Italy international will be as much a blot on the manager’s career CV as the player’s. Balotelli has "a 100 more chances", Mancini said in a press conference before the FA Cup tie with Watford.
The training ground incident may happen at every training ground across the country, but after the fireworks, dart throwing, red cards, strops and general indiscipline, it is fair to ask: when will it end? When, if ever, will Balotelli repay the faith his manager has shown?
Mancini has won three Serie A titles, four Copa Italias, the Premier League and the FA Cup, but his lack of success in Europe results in questions being asked of his managerial ability. Is he a great manager, or a manager of great sides? His tactical tinkering this season, switching between formations several times in matches, makes people think Mancini is trying too hard to prove his managerial nous.
Rather than slowly evolving the double winning side from last season, Mancini’s desperate need to prove himself has seen City trail bitter rivals Manchester United by seven points in the league and crash out of the Champions League, without even the consolation of falling into the Europa League to soften the blow.
During the summer Mancini criticised City’s transfer policy, piling all responsibility on then Sporting Director Brian Marwood. Rather than work as a team, absolving those around him of blame in public and keeping any fallout private, Mancini thought attack was the best form of self-defence.
Until Mancini fully embraces the idea of team spirit, treating everyone equally and showing some consistency in his words and actions, City will continue to lurch from the sublime to the ridiculous. The problem is, until Mancini feels he has proved himself and secured his place as one of the top managers around, his self-doubts will get the better of him.
Volatile as a player, picking fights with amongst other Trevor Francis, Liam Brady, and Juan Sebastien Veron, that innate insecurity that causes men to quickly resort to physical confrontation continues to run through the 48-year-old manager today, and it is a key reason why City are not reaching their full potential.
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