Roberto Mancini had brought newfound success to the blue half of Manchester after decades of anonymity and painful ridicule at the hands of their neighbours.
They had always been a team that flattered to deceive, were always at the cusp but never quite made it over, had been relegated and came back.
However, what, perhaps hurt City fans the most must have been being in the shadow of their more illustrious neighbours. Manchester United had been the big dogs of the territory, had better players, most fans, worldwide appeal, an iconic manager and more crucially, won trophies.
The City was red, undeniably so, until a certain Sheikh descended upon the club on a grand takeover, pumped in billions of oil money and voila, the transformation was complete. Manchester City was reborn.
Sheikh Mansour flashed around his cheque-book at almost every player the then manager Mike Hughes remotely set his sights on. The newfound allure of the club was undeniable, it was like that girl who was ugly in primary school but went for a makeover later in life and made everybody’s jaw drop in amazement.
City attracted the best players, signed some for ridiculously high transfer fees (Jo, Robinho come to mind), and poached players from what began to look like their academy, Arsenal. The likes of Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor and arguably the most high profile of them all, Samir Nasri,moved to Eastlands.
Mark Hughes failed to deliver much during his time at the club, despite some well documented scalps against Chelsea and Arsenal themselves.
He was swiftly replaced by Roberto Mancini who boasted a pretty decent record himself as both player and coach with Inter Milan. He was an upgrade to Hughes, had more pedigree, and so it proved. Mancini oversaw the captures David Silva, Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure among others. This assembly of big-name talent coincided with City winning their first trophy in almost four decades with victory over Stoke in the FA Cup final.
They had seen of bitter rivals Manchester United along the way in the previous round and finished second in the league, their highest ever finish. The tide was turning.
The following season Mancini and City took it a notch higher. They brought in Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid, fresh from winning the Europa League. The Argentine proved to be a shrewd capture as he explosively announced himself to the English League in spectacular fashion in his debut against Swansea, scoring a brilliant long-range strike and bagging a brace in the process.
The sky-blue army was being assembled at frightening speed and Roberto Mancini led them to a result that sent shock-waves throughout the football world.
The now infamous 6-1 drubbing of their bitter rivals and cross-town neighbours Manchester United at their own back-yard was as indicative as it was shocking. City had bared their teeth and they dripped United blood.
Sir Alex Ferguson conceded that that was his worst night as a coach, testament to just how brilliantly and defiantly City had taken them apart. The tide had now well and truly turned.
Mancini went on to deliver his City’s first ever title, albeit in the most dramatic of fashions. It instantly became a legendary moment in English football history: Sergio Aguero’s last-minute winner for Manchester City against QPR a year ago secured a dramatic first-ever Premier League title for the Citizens.
Joe Hart had been imperious, Vincent Kompany had been a leader and a rock at the back, Yaya Toure and David Silva run the midfield with guile and grace and the forward line of Aguero, Tevez (the south American connection), Mario Ballotelli and Edin Dzeko all played their part banging in the goals. Manchester City had arrived at the summit. Despite all this domestic success, City still failed miserably in Europe, at the group stage in the Champions League to be precise.Not good enough. But Mancini had never been prolific in Europe even at Inter so to some it was not much of a surprise.
This season they were expected to kick-on from there. That did not happen. It has been a season full of controversy for City, not least in the player department. Samir Nasri was the most high-profile target of public criticism from Roberto Mancini, which, while acknowledged by the player himself to have proved a source of motivation could perhaps have been better dealt with in private.
Then there was Joe Hart, whose relationship with Mancini soured so considerably that journalists were told in April not to ask the goalkeeper about his own public criticism at the hands of the coach. Club captain Kompany, a rock in defence the previous year was not spared either with Mancini questioning his commitment.
In the aftermath of his sacking, ex-player Danny Mills commented that it was perhaps Mancini’s poor relationship with the players that led to his exit from the club.
Mancini is well-known for his distant style of management, but in an era where player power is king, he took it too far. The cold treatment of Carlos Tevez, constant criticism of the players and sometimes even of the board and his ever-present reference to the fact that they had not supported him in his quest to sign preferred targets during the summer seemed more and more like a pre-determined excuse for failure.
Most worryingly, not only did City not experience a progression from last season, they exhibited an obvious regression.
But overall, with the experience of a title chase accumulated, City did not add resilience to their DNA. Manchester United on the other hand took their full advantage. They did what City failed to do, win. The Red Devils won at all costs, they won ugly, exhibited the character of champions, one they are so well known for, winning even when not playing well.
The lack of a club identity could not have helped, either. Roberto Mancini’s approach seemed to be game by game, tailored in response to the opposition rather than any imposed style. There was no signature City move cultivated after their attacking swagger. They lacked distinctiveness about them. There wasn’t a time they played and you could say that they played “the City way”.
Instead, individual brilliance was too often relied upon and more often than not, it failed. For a team who had been playing the season as Premier League Champions, this was simply just not good enough.
The irony that Roberto Mancini failed to meet the board’s targets for the season, working with a squad that met his own requirements, will not be lost on anyone. A poor transfer window set the tone for under-achievement.
None of Daniele de Rossi, Robin van Persie or Javi Martinez were captured. Instead they astonishingly brought in Maicon (a spent force), Javi Garcia (a poor replica of Martinez) Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell who obviously are not yet at that level to be first team regulars.
When all is said and done though, one thing stands out, one common denominator, Roberto Mancini.
The man who brought success and followed it up almost intermittently with failure. The fans will miss him and rightly though, he was the man who gave them a voice again after all but is not the right man to take City into the future.
Manuel Pellegrini has been touted time and again as a potential replacement. The debate on his seemingly imminent appointment has already begun, but his record is impeccable. He transformed un-fancied Villarreal into a La Liga and European force, while his current achievements at Malaga have already begun to turn heads.
All he has to do is be anything other than Mancini and with the right squad will probably move City onto the next level in their pursuit of domestic and continental domination.
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