Mancini pays price for Manchester City stagnation

The timing of the announcement was unfortunate rather than malicious but a lack of identity and ideas make the decision to remove the Italian from his post the right one
By George Ankers

It may not have been well judged to announce the decision on the one-year anniversary of his finest hour at Manchester City but Roberto Mancini's sacking is unlikely to prove an error.

That the manager was ejected precisely 365 days since Sergio Aguero dramatically delivered City's first title in 44 years will rub salt in fans' wounds. But, for Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Sheikh Mansour, Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, the two-day anniversary of a wretched FA Cup final performance was more pressing.

Though in a tough group, City offered too little - particularly against underdogs Ajax, who took four points from them to cripple their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages.
They took minimal revenge at Old Trafford but the damage was already done; Mancini's side were undone late on by Robin van Persie, who spurned them for Manchester United in the summer, as the visitors started to extend their Premier League lead.
An often-trying relationship bubbled over into a shoving match as Mancini took exception to his striker's overeager tackle in a training session.
Any lingering hopes of clawing back United's lead effectively evaporated as City meekly surrendered a long-held lead at White Hart Lane to a second-half Tottenham barrage in April.
Hot favourites against relegation-threatened Wigan, Mancini's side took to the Wembley pitch with a near-total lack of inspiration and deservedly missed out on the FA Cup glory that might have made up for a disappointing season.
Of course, there is a good chance that even lifting the trophy at Wembley might not have been enough to keep Mancini in a job. In the grand scheme of things, a win over Wigan should not be the difference between success and failure at City these days.

The Italian departs, primarily, because his team have stalled, stagnated and turned against him.

The signs have been there for a long time. Mancini's City sides have never had an identity. He has never displayed any gameplan beyond deploying the big names and assuming that it should work.

Pep Guardiola's Barcelona would go out to pass you to death. Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United tested you with pace and width. For Mancini's City, there has never been much more than the expectation that Yaya Toure will be in the mood to bulldoze or that David Silva will conjure the right through-ball.

When the individuals are not on top form, there has not been an answer. Seemingly his only tactical trick is, if his side need a goal, to bring on a defensive midfielder who frees up Yaya to move further forward.

Experiments with defensive formations this season have borne no fruit; at times, particularly during a frantic, desperate defeat to Ajax in another poor Champions League campaign, City switched between three and four at the back almost at random. Micah Richards noted after that match that not enough time had been spent on acclimatising the players to the possibility of such a change.

Richards is not the only one frustrated by Mancini as, increasingly, players have taken against his style of man-management.

Near the end of his highest-profile and most difficult relationship at the club, the 48-year-old scuffled with Mario Balotelli at the training ground. The controversial striker has flourished since being shipped off to AC Milan in January; was he really the problem in the first place?

Mancini was not furnished with his preferred transfer targets last summer, it is true. He missed out on Robin van Persie and Daniele De Rossi. Yet, while Scott Sinclair is not on the same level as the Dutchman, it was perplexing to see him so completely ignored by the Italian even while the goals dried up (31 fewer than last season in only two fewer games). There were no attempts to shake things up even as Manchester United began to romp threateningly out of sight.

Similarly, even with mercilessly difficult group draws twice in a row, there has been barely any hint that Mancini was building a side who could make the Champions League elite sit up and take note. After a similarly poor European record at previous club Inter, it is hard to be surprised.

One could argue that, with United and Chelsea set for their own managerial upheaval this summer, that now is the best time to promote stability – but there is no sense in keeping on a manager in whom you do not have faith. Mancini has offered far too little this season.

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That said, even if expected successor Manuel Pellegrini proves to be an upgrade – and everything suggests that he would indeed be so – the City hierarchy have handled their drawn-out trade-up poorly.

More than once over recent months, Mancini has publicly called out his superiors for failing to support him in the face of reports about his future. He may not have been part of their long-term plans but the man deserved to be fighting on a united front.

Save for the occasional and understandable moment of exasperation, the Italian has always conducted himself with grace under pressure. His players may not have loved him but the supporters did and a stay of execution enough for them to say goodbye at the Etihad Stadium one last time would have done no harm at all.

For Mancini, though, there is another big-money job to consider at Monaco, who apparently consider his approach more "holistic", at least, than Claudio Ranieri. For City, an opportunity to introduce some much-needed agency into a potentially very effective squad. For both, it will work out just fine.

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