Following the dramatic end to last season, life was looking rosy in Roberto Mancini’s garden.
Manchester City had won their first league title in 44-years and pipped their Manchester neighbours to the post. In doing so, they announced their arrival onto the world stage as a genuine force to be reckoned with, four years on from the takeover by oil rich Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited, in a takeover that had transformed the club from top to bottom.
Fast forward nine months and things are far from idyllic. Only halfway through February and the league that had taken so long to regain looks to have already slipped through the fingers of Mancini and co. as they find themselves 12 points behind leaders Manchester United with 12 games remaining.
So what’s gone wrong and who is responsible?
Performances have not been as strong as last season and the players must be accountable for their end of the bargain; despite boasting the league’s best defensive record, goals have not flowed like last season and nor have City in general.
Individual errors have crept in and they appear short on the desire to win games that got them over the line last year, reflected in the eight drawn matches that have cost them dear.
Behind the scenes the club made a vital error over the summer in failing to significantly strengthen the squad. Javi Garcia was a straight replacement for the outgoing Nigel De Jong and Scott Sinclair likewise for Adam Johnson, but neither have made much of a positive impact or matched their predecessor’s contributions, never mind bettered.
Jack Rodwell boosted the midfield numbers but has made high-profile errors and struggled with injury, restricting his game time thus far while Maicon has made sporadic appearances and looked out of his depth defensively, reinforcing the view of most that he is unable to deliver at the top level any more.
The one success has been Matija Nastasic, the young Serbian has made himself first-choice alongside Vincent Kompany and shows great promise but doesn’t improve the team drastically in the short-term.
Mancini openly criticised Brian Marwood for the lack of activity over the summer and has berated the lack of depth at his disposal, but he surely knew how important it was to strengthen for the defence of their title, and clearly didn’t manage to convince the powers that be that this was the case.
Mancini has to take the crux of the blame. His attitude echoes round the club and on to the players. At the end of last season he deflected all pressure off his team on to United and ultimately it worked as his team played with a freedom that allowed them to claim the title, but he then went even further by claiming Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were still favourites for the upcoming season. Hardly the message you want to send as a club looking to dominate English football as City are, and not a massive confidence boost to his squad.
It’s difficult to believe that a strong dressing room filled with characters like Kompany, Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure would buy into such an attitude but it seems to be for Mancini’s benefit as he struggles under the pressure of expectation, always looking to transfer the attention to the other side of Manchester wherever and whenever possible.
You sense his players would thrive under the pressure of being champions and challenging themselves to do even better but being told that they are still secondary in the grand scheme of things looks to have had a detrimental effect. Complacency has slipped in and desire diminished.
The Italian has developed a blame culture inside the club, always ready with an excuse for why his team have not performed, be it his own preparation for the match, officials, opposition players or scathing attacks on his own players in public. Much of this is of course no different from many other manager, but Mancini always seems impulsive and never in control when speaking out, often left to later regret his outburst going back on statements, making himself look weak.
Mario Balotelli is the prime example as Mancini stood by the maverick Italian publicly declaring his love for him, then berating him, then enthusing about him once more as his thoughts changed with the wind.
Ultimately, be it performances on the pitch or activity off it, he is the only person involved in every link of the chain and whilst he has done well for the club, at times he ultimately doesn’t show the strength of character that it takes to be a world beater that will lead Manchester City to domination both at home and in Europe.
It's time for Man City to move Mancini on and look for a new manager capable of taking them to the next level.
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