A lot of people will receive some pretty decent Christmas presents this week, digital cameras, laptops and Go Go Hamsters will be unwrapped to smiles all around.
Surely nobody in the country could be happier however than Mr Roberto Mancini. After eighteen months in the jobless wilderness the Italian has struck gold, as the newly-appointed manager of Manchester City.
As Christmas presents go, this is a bloody amazing one.
Ten years ago Man City had just been promoted from the third tier of English football to the second, and were just about to win what was the First Division which would see them rejoin the Premier League. They had been resuscitated, brought back from the footballing dead. Ten years on, and they are owned by the Abu Dhabi United investment group, led by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family. Man City are now truly rich.
At today’s 5PM press conference the Italian was officially introduced to the media. He spoke of how he had received ‘four propositions’ from other clubs in the past year but said he had rejected them because he was awaiting an opportunity to manage in the English Premiership. If this is true, then he must feel like a man waiting at a bus stop in the icy cold, who is told by a stranger that today’s bus service has been suspended, but has been replaced by a fleet of chaffeur-driven Rolls Royce Phantoms willing to pick him up, and take him anywhere he wanted, as far as he could imagine. Why this comparison? Because believe this – if the last year’s spending at Eastlands is a sign of things to come, then Mancini will get endless resources with which to make his tenure at Man City an extremely happy one.
Mark Hughes spent £118 million in the last transfer window. Stories emerged before last summer that Hughes had been given the go-ahead to create a wish-list of players who could be brought in, to propel Man City to the upper, upper echelons of the Premiership. In the January transfer window of 2009 Hughes added Nigel de Jong and Craig Bellamy at a cost of more than £20 million and on the 1st September 2008 – the first day of the Abu Dhabi United group’s new reign as owners – Robinho was brought to Eastlands for a new British transfer record fee of £32.5 million.
The owners of Manchester City will financially back Mancini. At Inter, the Italian was criticised for not taking his team past the second round of the Champions League, but he will be given far more money to spend as Blues manager than he was in Milan. We are talking here about crazy money, and money generally talks. If you started a game of Monopoly with your mates and you had twenty times as much money as them from the start, you would feel pretty confident. Likewise if you were part of a Fantasy Football league and your mates could spend £5o million putting a team together, but you could spend £450 million, you would have reason to be a bit cocky. Mancini must feel like a cat with enough cream to bathe in.
So will Roberto Mancini fare any better than Mark Hughes? Yes he will.
Last season Hughes’ team finished tenth in the Premiership. Not a great achievement, it was a season of exceptional home form but unforgivably poor away form. They were a newly put-together squad, a group of much better players than Man City had ever had in the past twenty five to thirty years, including the odd superstar or two, who were in no way consistent enough, but would occasionally bring it all together in a very big way.
The Blues started this season with more optimism. The brilliant summer additions of proven stars Emmanuel Adebayor, Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure and Gareth Barry made City fans not only believe that the ‘Big Four’ had become the ‘Big Five’, but that they could genuinely contend with their city rivals and go full tilt at Man United’s Premiership title.
City’s start to the 2009/10 season was exceptional. In eight games, the Blues won seven, and in the other match pushed Man United all the way in a 4-3 loss. They looked like an team possessed, led by a man in Emmanuel Adebayor who seemed determined to show his previous employers that he had joined City to win, everything.
When Man City came from 0-1 down to draw 1-1 at Villa Park on 5th October, nobody predicted that the Blues would go on to draw their next six league games, least of all Hughes. That run of draws would be a killer blow for the Welshman, it was enough for the board to think he was not guiding Manchester City towards the very top of the table.
Mancini inherits a wonderful squad, a club with a majestic stadium and owners that will surely be willing to bankroll whatever he deems appropriate. Man City are no sleeping giant, their fantastic run at the start of the season only ended eight weeks ago, they have been snoozing of late and have may have disappointed in some matches yes, but they have not gone into hibernation. In the past month the Blues have still beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea.
Mancini has joined at the ideal moment. The Italian has won nine trophies in seven years of management in Serie A with Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Inter and is more than confident. Now think about this – when Man City went on their run of draws they produced stalemates against teams such as Burnley, Birmingham, Hull and Wigan. Mancini knows for a fact that Manchester City can spank any of these teams. He knows this because the team he now manages has already beaten the biggest teams in the Premiership. Mark Hughes must resent this. Fair enough if he had of been sacked for being beaten four times by each of the ‘Big Four’, but his team had beaten three of these four teams! When Hughes originally saw the fixture list for this season he would have identified the period from the 5th October to 28th November as one in which Man City would rack up points; as it has turned out he has been sacked because of his team’s bizarre failure in this same period.
So Mancini thinks he is good at what he does, and he knows his team can perform. Is success guaranteed then? We all know football is not that simple.
It is imperative that Mancini makes a good start. This is dependent to a large extent on the players themselves though. Since the weekend there have been rumours coming out of Eastlands that the Man City players have reacted badly to Hughes’ dismissal. Important players Shay Given and Gareth Barry have apparently made their feelings known that they are not happy and there has even been gossip that they are seeking a way out of the club. It is almost January though and when the transfer window is open, hearsay is rife in the football world, so these rumours may not reflect the whole truth.
If Mancini can focus the Blues players on the future and unite them under his leadership then they will undoubtedly be the force again that they were at the start of the season. The Blues’ next two games are Stoke at home and then Wolves away. Two wins in his first two games is what is called for, he will expect no less than this and neither will their supporters. After these two matches City face Man United twice in two in legs of the Carling Cup semi-final – if City can book a place in the final of the Leage Cup against their arch rivals, Mancini will have already gone a long long way to help rid the memories of old Sparky’s departure!
Roberto Mancini inherits a squad of superstars. He won three league titles in a row at Inter between 2005 and 2008; his record in management thus far is most impressive. The conditions are perfect for him to succeed at City. It will be interesting to see if he sees a need to bring in any new players in January. Arsene Wenger has brought in many French players at Arsenal since he took the reigns at Highbury and Rafa Benitez has looked to Spanish players consistently in his time at Anfield. Could we be about to see Mancini bring in an influx of Italian footballers to Eastlands? It would be fantastic if this was the case. Gennaro Gattuso has been linked to Man City and Giorgio Chielleni has already been linked with a move. Sky Sports News also reported today that Bayern Munich have confirmed Luca Toni is allowed to leave on a free in January.
Roberto Mancini has landed one of the best management jobs in World football. Mark Hughes laid the groundwork and built the house. He was halfway through decorating the place and putting his mark on it, but due to an unforeseen stall in the decorating process and what looked like a halt in progression, the owners have seen fit to bring somebody new in, to oversee the project. Mancini could and probably should achieve some seriously significant results at City. The Italian has all the tools at his disposal to turn Eastlands into a palace fit for a King – or indeed a Sheikh – to revel in.
Mancini – decent goal (thanks YouTube)
Sparky Mark Hughes – easy (YouTube again)
By Ross A. Fox