By Wayne Veysey at Etihad Stadium
On the night that America headed to the polls, the pressure intensified on another leader as his job came under greater scrutiny than ever before.
Roberto Mancini may not have the weight of the world’s richest nation on his shoulders, but the globe’s wealthiest club provides its own skyscraper challenges.
The sky blue electorate do not have the opportunity to choose the man in the dug-out, with the only vote that counts resting in the hands of the Abu Dhabi owners.
But there is a sense that Mancini’s standing in the state of Manchester is not quite as elevated as it once was.
|CRUMBLING ON THE CONTINENT
MANCINI'S RECORD IN EUROPE
|2002-03: UEFA CUP
2003-04: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
|2004-05: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
2005-06: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
2006-07: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
2007-08: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
|2010-11: EUROPA LEAGUE
2011-12: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
2011-12: EUROPA LEAGUE
In one way, this is ludicrous, as a freshly inscribed Premier League medal nestles on the Italian’s mantelpiece, supplemented by an unbeaten start to the new domestic campaign that leaves the champions positioned two places and only two points behind leaders Manchester United.
Yet Mancini, and City, are not judged by the normal rules of the football jungle. Over a billion pounds of petro-dollar expenditure demands exceptional yields.
City have ambitions to rub shoulders on Europe’s grandest stage with the high rollers of Madrid, Munich and Milan, not to feebly limp out of the competition before America has even voted in its new president.
You only have to note the scope of the Etihad Campus scheme or the Barcelona-isation of the boardroom to grasp the direction in which the club plan to head.
Mathematically, City still have a chance of being involved in the Champions League in February but it would require such an unlikely series of results in the remaining four Group D matches on November 21 and December 4 as to render progress to the last-16 all but impossible.
“We are finished in the Champions League now,” observed Mancini solemnly afterwards. “We will try and get into the Europa League if that is possible.”
Scrutiny will fall on a squad of players who have been, barring a few notable exceptions like Joe Hart and Yaya Toure, way below par now for nearly three months.
The likes of David Silva, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Gareth Barry can hardly look in the shaving mirror and feel they are delivering anywhere near the performances of last season.
Yet, the microscope will land on a manager whose behaviour, tactics, in-game management and people skills are increasingly open to question.
When Abu Dhabi funded one of the most lavish overhauls of a team in football history, they did not have in mind successive campaigns where the club would be in the December draw for the Europa League rather than its more glamorous and infinitely more valuable cousin.
During the majority of a reign that is approaching its third anniversary, Mancini has maintained the full support of his local constituency. While the neutral sharks circle, the natives sing the manager’s name.
|AS IT STANDS...
|2) Real Madrid||4||7||3|
|4) Man City||4||2||-3|
Not at a strangely quiet Etihad Stadium on a damp and chilly autumn evening, they did not. There were no audible strains of ‘Man-cini, Man-cini’ emanating from the stands. Instead, there was mostly deathly silence in the first half. Even in the second, as City mounted a strong fightback and came within a whisker of the winner, it did not feel like a live-or-die occasion.
Even at the best of times, Mancini cuts an agitated figure on the touchline, wearing his heart on his well-tailored sleeve as he exhorts greater performances from his charges.
There is no doubting the passion or the desire to win. Within milli-seconds of the final whistle blowing, the Italian marched over to the match officials to give them both barrels for failing to either award City a late penalty or allow an Aguero ‘goal’, denied for offside, to stand. “We scored three goals,” claimed Mancini defiantly.
To this eye, the manager appears to be struggling to cope with the strain of matching the expectations of such ambitious owners.
His conduct was petulant and unbecoming of such a football grandee. It often is. By banging his fists when questioned by journalists and moaning at all and sundry when he doesn’t get he what he wants, be it a £30 million midfielder or a decision in his team’s favour, Mancini comes across as a spoiled brat.
The question is whether he can continue to coax the best out of a squad that most coaches in the world would dearly love to try and fashion into one of Europe’s elite forces.
The Italian and his staff have failed to arrest the defensive lapses that have littered a campaign which has continued to splutter without roaring into life.
Mancini’s desperate Champions League record, with a solitary quarter-final appearance set to be the best he has to show for six campaigns with City, Lazio and Inter, now looks less like an anomaly and more suggestive of a trend.
Judgement will probably be suspended in the Middle East while City are fighting for the title and Pep Guardiola continues to recharge his batteries in New York, but the whispers about his competence at the top level are becoming more audible.
A recently signed five-year contract and the prospect of a whacking great pay-off should ensure Mancini sleeps well at night.
Yet, he will be hoping that the eyes of his employers were on the United States, rather than Manchester, on Tuesday evening.