Tag Archives: Manchester City F.C.

Principles or pragmatism? The Lady Macbeth guide to sacking Mancini

16 May

I’m beginning to think this blog is cursed.  In a week when Wigan exposed Manchester City’s fleshy behind at Wembley, one would have assumed that this was embarrassment enough for the chaps from East Manchester.  Not so.  The footballing gods demanded further sacrifice. 

Despite guiding Manchester City to their first league title since before Sheikh Mansour was born, Roberto Mancini was invited in for a “meeting without coffee” with the City top brass and politely asked to pack his things.  Three trophies in three years.  Two cup finals.  Champions League football secured every single season.  It wasn’t good enough.  The mind boggles as much as the heart despairs.

People forget, but bookmakers had Manchester City at a mere 5 to 1 (17%) to win the 2011/12 premier league.  The year before that we scraped 3rd place thanks to a final day Chelsea capitulation, in a season spent mostly battling it out with Spurs for 4thThe scarf-toting Italian won the league ahead of schedule and is now being punished for it.

My official Too Good-branded cotton pyjamas have been wringing with nervous sweat following three sleepless post-Mancini nights.  The Premiership top-table feels like it is at a critical juncture.   With United and Chelsea both chopping and changing their managers, this was a rare opportunity for City to capitalise on comparative stability.  Instead, we have sportingly levelled the playing field by giving Bob the boot, too.  Our owners displaying a hitherto unseen sense of fair play.  We’ve joined the uncertainty and it doesn’t feel very nice.

There are two ways of looking at the Mancini sacking.  There is the “principled approach” and then there’s the “pragmatic approach”.  The “principled approach” says we should have stuck with him.  There is simply no way he deserved to be sacked.  Without any hint of exaggeration, he gave Manchester City fans what, for many of them, will be the greatest singular moment of their lives.  No team wins the Premiership every year, and City had every reason to expect to be right up there again next May.  Especially so, given the recent departure down the road.

Then there is the “pragmatic approach”.  Principle’s uglier sister.  Brace yourself readers; the pragmatic approach is a far more sinister affair.  However, there is a time for the blunt edge of pragmatism.  For in nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, only consequences.

The “pragmatic approach” says that if Mourinho agrees to come, then it’s worth getting rid of Mancini.  Not a nice thing to do, granted, but sometimes you’ve got to make a pact with the devil.  Nobody wanted to get rid of Lee Sharpe.  But if you’ve got a Ryan Giggs waiting in (/on) the wing, then it doesn’t matter.  Pontius Pilate knew better than most that, while there was a time to keep your hands clean in the first place, there was also a time to give them a good post-backstabbing scrub.

Here’s the thing, though.  The pragmatic approach has to be worth it.  Pragmatism is an ugly bedfellow and one ought not to take it home from the night-club all too often.  As the saying goes, you can shear a sheep many times; you can skin it only once.  If City were going to skin Mancini, there had to be a damn good reason.

Mourinho provides reason enough for the moral compromise.  He is the outstanding manager of his generation.  I was flabbergasted when it became clear he was not Manchester United’s first choice to replace Ferguson.  Mourinho to United was the Doomsday scenario for me.  Another 26 trophy-laden years of misery.  Thankfully, the power men at Old Trafford came to the conclusion that the defining factor in Ferguson’s success was his Scottishness rather than his managerial brilliance. 

Those who tar Mourinho with the trouble-maker brush miss the bigger picture.  Jose might be fond of a little “creative tension” but his record is exceptional.  Two European Cups in his first decade of management.  League titles wherever he has gone.  Remember the nine year unbeaten home league record?  The time for compromising your principles is when you think a Mourinho-sized fish might fancy a nibble.

Except, of course, that it doesn’t look like the new City manager will be Mourinho.  It looks like it’s going to be Manuel Pellegrini.  Pellegrini is a fine manager and may, if hired, prove to be a success at City.  But then so was Mancini.  Why take the risk?  Why go through the upheaval?  Simply put, Pellegrini is not worth wielding the pragmatic sword for. 

The other great fear now is a backlash against the new manager.  The analogy is clear between City and Chelsea.  Chelsea fans cannot bring themselves to complain about Roman Abramovic, even though the mad oligarch goes through managers like I do portions of potato dauphinoise.  So Chelsea fans direct their ire towards the new coach instead.  Let’s hope Mancini’s successor is not subject to any similar misplaced anger.  

One thing you can be quite sure of – you won’t see any mass demonstrations outside the Etihad calling for the billionaire oil men to take their money elsewhere, whoever they choose.  We know which side our bread’s buttered on.  And there’s an awful lot of butter on that bread.  Like a good trophy wife, we’ll keep our mouths shut.  After all, rich husbands are in short supply.


“A pleasure to have you on board, Mr Mourinho.”

Spurs 3 v Man City 1 (21 April, 2013)

21 Apr

George Graham was always keen to tell us that the league season is a marathon not a sprint.  Surely though, as the sprightly of limb geared up for a 26 mile race across the nation’s capital, what the Hotspurs of North London now needed was a sprint finish.  Last weekend saw a man from Tyneside pick a fight with a horse.  Had Spurs similarly bitten off more than they could chew in thinking they could secure a Champions League berth?  A loss today would confirm Tottenham’s place as perennially adorned in a bridesmaid’s dress at the wedding ceremony of the Top 4.

For Manchester City, their grasp on the Premiership crown is now weaker than Charlie Sheen’s grip on reality.  Today was a day for some big reputations to prove they still wanted to lace up their sneakers for next year’s foot-race to the title.

In a week where the BBC’s Panorama programme achieved the impossible and actually found a use for students, Roberto Mancini also pulled off an unlikely success.  Rather than using undergraduates as a human shield to enter North Korea, Mancini did something equally impressive and got a performance out of Samir Nasri.  Nasri was my vote for the 2010/11 Premiership season’s best player (along with Luis Nani, as incredible as this all now sounds).  To say that he has some way to go to rediscover that kind of form would rival Alan Shearer’s ability for stating the bleeding obvious.

Nasri was out of the starting blocks on the “B” of “Bang” today, though.  Five minutes in, some sharp team-work down the right flank by Tevez and Milner allowed Slammin’ Sammi to direct his volley into an unguarded corner of the net.

The enthral of the opening goal was all in the build up.  Such was the cuteness of the angle with which Carlos Tevez’s pass circumnavigated Scott Parker, one couldn’t help but be filled with both admiration for Tevez and pity for Parker.  The English terrier was made to look like he had five seconds to find his car keys before an explosive device would detonate, but was only allowed to turn clockwise in order to find them.  The former McDonalds brand evangelist could only look on in a daze as City went a goal to the good.

There’s something bordering on the sexual in having Gareth Barry in your team.  Sure, on the one hand, he’d lose a footrace against continental drift.  But his metronomic ability to keep the ball moving back and forth to the creative hub of the City side makes him indispensable.  I remain convinced that allowing Nigel De Jong to leave in the summer was a big error, but it shows the faith placed in Barry that this was allowed to happen.

A messy incident occurred a few years back when the Queen wrung the neck of a pheasant while out on a hunt.  Such behaviour brought hoots of derision from conscientious animal-lovers, while Buckingham Palace defended the actions by stating that it was “clearly the most effective and humane way of despatching the injured bird”.  Watching Manchester City today, part of me longed for Her Majesty’s cold-blooded decisiveness when confronted with a wounded animal.  City had injured Spurs, but not fatally.  By not twisting the knife, a backlash was always a possibility.  And what a backlash it proved to be.

The pick-pocketing couldn’t have been more apparent if AVB had wondered over to the City technical area and pinched a trail of handkerchiefs from Roberto Mancini’s jacket pocket.  City lurched from a slender one-goal lead to an insurmountable 3-1 down in seven hurricane minutes.  First, Clint Dempsey profited from a quick-thinking prod across the box by the Welsh Ronaldo.  Second, Jermaine Defoe (on for Emmanuel Adebayor, who had shown about as little endeavour as I had during my Grade 1 violin lessons) rifled in a bullet from a wide angle to put the Lilywhites into the lead.

Tottenham’s third was finished by Bale himself.  A cool chip from just inside the penalty area left Joe Hart and his charmingly outdated haircut completely stranded.  The come-back was complete.  A revival which, on 70 minutes, wouldn’t have been more startling if Maggie herself had emerged from her recently constructed coffin door.

An occasional criticism of Mancini is that he lacks a certain lightness of spirit and a sense of humour.  Our wily coach disproved both of these accusations in an instance by introducing Scott Sinclair with ten minutes to go.  During this process, Sergio Aguerro remained tracksuited and at ease.  It’s at times like this that the mind boggles as much as the heart despairs.

AVB’s post-match interview voice continues to sound like a lump of pavement being dragged over a cattle grid.  It was difficult to ascertain much from his grumblings other than that the man was badly in need of a lozenge.  Surely though, the Argos Mourinho was deep in contemplation of the need to avoid another run of Thursday night UEFA cup games.  One suspects the pull of ITV4 won’t prove enough of an appeal to Gareth Bale’s sense of loyalty for him to stick around for another year.  And it’s hard to imagine a Bale-less Spurs getting into the Champions League in the seasons to come.  It is therefore hard to overestimate the importance of their next 5 games.  Twelve points at the very minimum are a must.  Failing that, the auction for Tottenham’s golden goose commences on May 19th.



The City team lacked a dispassionate killer in their ranks to protect against a Tottenham charge.

Manchester City v Chelsea, F.A. Cup Semi-Final (14 April, 2013)

21 Apr

The first warm day of the year was also one of the windiest.  A gale-force Manchester City whistled through Chelsea’s bones from the first blow of Chris Foy’s whistle.  Fired up for their only potential trophy of the year, City came out the blocks with the eagerness of an Anti-Thatcher mob poised to dance on the former premier’s grave.  With the Baroness due to be laid to rest later in the week, the other Chelsea pensioners, Lampard, Terry and Cole, were also rested in what history will remember as the Second Biggest Occasion of the Week.

Watching today’s game reminded me how much Andy Townsend sounds like the bald fella from Masterchef.  He’s all heavy vowels and misplaced self-confidence.  And although very little of human endeavour impresses the former Maidstone-borne Irish international, the directness of Ya Ya Toure’s burst towards the Chelsea goal had the colour commentator purring.  Aided by a fortunate deflection, Nasri was able to convert past Cech with all the casual ease of a Justin Bieber entry in the Anne Frank guestbook.

City could have been 2 or 3 goals up by the half were it not for Jamie Milner’s lack of tactility in the final third.  With the goal gaping for City strikers in the box, Milner managed to over hit two consecutive crosses.  His heavy-handed implementation reminiscent of the Poll Tax.  There was also an open goal that the hapless Milner cannoned into King Sergio’s thigh.  A poor day for the Yorkshire water carrier.

The half-time segments of orange provided little respite for the men from West London.  No sooner were they back on the pitch than Aguerro doubled City’s lead.  The lady might not have been for turning, but the Branislav certainly was as Sergio peeled off his man and dispatched the ball into the far corner.  Aguerro’s looping header all but sunk Chelsea’s hopes like a homing torpedo on a fleeing vessel.  A week of double celebration for him and Zabaleta, one suspects.

The hackneyed pre-game narrative was of City’s supposed Achilles’ heel being reserve goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon (who, before today, had conceded precisely zero goals as the Cup keeper).  Even at half-time, ITV persisted with the script that Costel was the weak link that could assist in Chelsea finding a way back in.  Yet despite the best effort of the Chelsea attacks, the beanpole Romanian stood strong.  The bearded chess piece that is Juan Mata continued to pull the strings and create chances, but Pantilimon was the white wizard and nought would pass.

Despite a long period of dominance, the Conservative leaderships of Thatcher and Major eventually yielded to a fresh-faced Tony Blair in ’97.  Benitez, similarly sensing the winds of change, sent on another striker and went for an attack-minded 4-4-2.  The masked Fernando Torres (so attired because of a loose Steaua Bucharest boot breaking his nose in the UEFA Cup) entered the fray on the hour mark.  Of course, the reality for poor Nando is he’s been conceptually wearing a mask ever since his arrival at Stamford Bridge.  However, the effect of his introduction today was immediate.  His diverting run on arrival to the pitch allowed for the Premiership’s best volleyer of a ball, Demba Ba, to crash home a smart finish which hinted at a royal blue revival.  Torres was a menace until the final whistle and, if Chelsea had been the victors, the credit for the revival would have been his.

Football, like politics, has its tense moments, and the climactic 20 minutes made for uncomfortable viewing for City fans.  On form, Chelsea have the best attacking pivot in English football.  So, by sitting back, City proffered a very dangerous invitation to Messrs Oscar, Hazard and Mr Tumnus.  In an effort to shore up victory, Mancini brought on City’s very own anti-Moneyball, the beautiful-yet-useless Javi Garcia.  The man to make way was Carlos Tevez.  Granted, Tevez was not having a vintage game, but breaking up the dream strike pairing of him and Aguerro seemed an odd way to see out a game which had potentially another 50 minutes to play (plus penalties, in which Carlitos would certainly have had a part to play).  City lost their calm retention of the football.  Thankfully, however, one man didn’t yield to the mayhem surrounding him.  Pablo Zabaleta proving once again that, deep down, he’s more British than the rest of us with perfectly timed interception after perfectly timed interception.  At one point even implementing a slide tackle with his head.

Chelsea eventually relented.  With United tramping the dirt down on any challengers to the Premiership title, a cup final against Wigan on May the 11th provides City’s last opportunity for any season-salvaging silverware.



Juan Mata was a continual thorn in City’s side.