Sir Alex Ferguson can now rest. He can relax as he lets this morning’s hangover work itself out of his system, knowing his title is coming home safe.
Robin van Persie's sublime second strike against Aston Villa will be the moment he re-imagines over and over during what could be a long, important summer for Manchester United, as they look to get back amongst Europe’s elite in 2013/14.
Last summer it was Manchester City’s all-important league clincher, courtesy of Sergio Aguero, burned onto the United manager’s retina, as he counted down the hours until this wrongdoing could be rectified. The fallout of that goal has been similar to rattling a tiger’s cage so hard that the lock keeping it inside breaks off. Manchester City were deserving champions, but the manner of their win only served to infuriate their neighbours.
The title race last year was the culmination of a local rivalry that splits what is now English football's primary city in two. It is now of national, even international concern.
Maybe Sir Alex needed this to happen, so City could become just another title-contender, rather than a club who must be stopped from winning the title at all costs. The 2012/2013 season has bared the trademarks of the morning after a big party for Manchester City. For Manchester United, it has had the trademarks of a summer spent in the gym, on a low-carb diet.
Maybe anxiety crept in at some level for City.
Did this title mean that they were now automatically considered as big Champions League contenders? Were they the automatic favourites for the title now? What were the neighbours going to say? The party was officially over in January, the life and soul, Mario Balotelli was sold as a points gap emerged between the two clubs that would not be mended. Balotelli was having a poor season without doubt.
But was Mancini showing the levels of faith that such a precarious talent warranted?
For good or bad, Mario was loved at City. He was part of the title-winning squad and he was a fan favourite. He had a real big game mentality and youth on his side.
For me, it seemed like Balotelli was being used by Mancini as an example of his authority and a reminder to his players not to get too big-headed, rather than the natural footballer and dangerous striker he was.
And how City have needed a big-game striker this season.
Manchester United’s identity was safe and secure come August, if slightly fractured. Nothing much had changed within the club itself, just the world outside.
A world class footballer was signed in Robin van Persie. That was that.
RVP was Mancini’s ideal signing to build his next team around but, sometimes a manager doesn't get what he wants.
Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t want to sell Cristiano Ronaldo. He had to and he moved on.
Mancini seems to have spent this season living in regret at not getting his man.
The signings of Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair and Javi Garcia were so token they are almost a protest from the Italian to his owners.
Winning the title should have been the start of something for Mancini, but his failure to sign RVP seems to have blocked his wider vision.
He seemed to forget that in Dzeko, Aguero, Tevez and Balotelli, he had four outstanding strikers, more than enough fire power to compete at home and abroad. City needed to come out and be proud that the team was pretty much the same as the one who had just done the impossible, with a few new faces. They didn't need to be looking next door, envious of the neighbours new acquisition.
Other examples of Mancini flexing his muscles to negative effect came in outbursts at City rocks Joe Hart and Vincent Kompany. At the time, Mancini told reporters: “Joe Hart should stay in goal and make saves. If anyone should criticise the team it should be me, not Joe Hart. I am the judge, not Joe Hart." The language here says it all.
Mancini’s criticism of Hart and Kompany is a stark contrast to Sir Alex’s continued support of David de Gea and Rio Ferdinand. Compare Mancini’s lack of time for and insane pressure put on Balotelli to Ferguson’s gentle nurturing of Danny Welbeck. And that is the difference between the two. I am not saying Mancini is a bad manger. In fact I am saying the opposite.
He led Manchester City to back-to-back trophies and may just do it again this year, if City can beat Wigan in the FA Cup final. There is a new market out there this summer and he simply has to be given the chance to rebuild the team how he sees fit.
If not, City will find themselves falling behind. The squad must understand their own identity and their aims before a ball is kicked next year, and Mancini must have 100% faith in each and every one of them.
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