Events at Manchester City this last day or so were flagged up well in advance – the media screamed “Mancini Out!” from every outlet – and despite scornful denials by the man himself, and messages of support from the fans, you felt it would turn out to be a case of “no smoke without fire.”
Even so, the news when it arrived, poignantly on the very anniversary of that last-gasp Title triumph, was a shock of sorts. The club moved swiftly to justify their action – Mancini had “failed to meet football targets”, it was said. Criticism was made too of his inability or reluctance to communicate, of an aloof and arrogant attitude, of his lack of interest in club matters below first-team level; specifically an apathy where bringing youngsters through was concerned. Clearly all was not sweetness and light on the good ship City, and the mystery of their rudderless run-in for the league campaign, and how they sank without trace in the second half of the FA Cup Final may not be such a mystery after all.
In the odd spare moment I’ve had this season to glance upwards towards the Premier League summit, and away from Leeds United’s mid-table Championship toilings, City have puzzled and frustrated me. At the outset, they seemed well-equipped to mount a reasonable defence of their title. There were clearly two sides to this equation. On the one hand, the squad at The Etihad was, in my view, the best in the Premier League – rivalled only by that at Stamford Bridge. On the other – Man U are notoriously capable at employing a siege complex in order to use resentment to fuel their fightback. They are also, undeniably, helped in large measure by the number of weird decisions that seem to go in their favour. The away game at Chelsea was a good example of this, when Torres was sent off for being fouled by a Man U defender already on a yellow, and then the Salford side scored a late and clearly offside winner. This sort of thing tends to pepper Man U’s most successful seasons, and it’s not an attractive facet of the Premier League.
I’ve never subscribed to this “van Persie made the difference” nonsense. I’m sure he made A difference – but not that much. It’s been a stroll for Man U in a league in which they should – by all considerations of relative quality – have struggled to finish third. Chelsea have had their own problems. The phrase “Interim Coach” needs nothing added to it for an explanation of their failure. But Man City was a conundrum, and it is only now, in the wake of Mancini’s sacking, that we are perhaps gaining a more complete picture of what things were like behind the scenes.
Now a tell-tale tweet from former kit man Stephen Aziz may have shed some light on just how negative the atmosphere has been at Man City. The phrase “arrogant, vain and self-centred” appeared briefly before the tweet was removed. And there was more: “no manners ignorant just some of the daily traits really made going into work a daily grind!! #karma”. That’s all pretty damning stuff, and quite frankly at top professional level, it doesn’t take one tenth of that apparent level of unhappiness and discontent to derail a club’s bid for honours completely. This, more than the failure to pick up a trophy, may well be what lies behind Mancini’s abrupt departure on the first anniversary of his finest hour.
Man City fans feel an understandable affection and loyalty to the man who has given them their finest moments in over thirty years. I too recall the expression on his face as City hammered Man U 6-1 at The Theatre of Hollow Myths, and I remember thinking that here was a man who would end up as loved as Malcolm Allison in his late-sixties incarnation, or Colin Bell, or any one of City’s heroes you may care to name. He had the opportunity to instill himself into the DNA of the club, but – inexplicably – it looks more and more as though he’s been too arrogant to see the need to treat people as they need to be treated, and has therefore lost his fledgling Legend status. The City fans will always remember him, of course. He delivered, albeit at the last gasp, and put an end to an aching void where they’d won nothing as their despised neighbours cleaned up. Of course he will always have a place in the collective City heart.
The next appointment is vital, however. If City get it right, the quality of this squad can carry all before them next season. Man U have a rookie at the highest level, and must expect a bedding-in period. This year has been bizarrely tilted away from the finest talent in the league. Next year may well be very different.