Grazie Mille, Roberto

Posted by Simon Curtis

It is not exactly anything new for football clubs -- any football club, and especially our own spotlessly shiny Manchester City -- to be accused of shabby manoeuvring and low-hand skullduggery with its managers, so FA Cup final weekend's inglorious tribute to Roberto Mancini and the many thousands of hours he has put in toward the Good Cause should not really have come as much of a shock.

Exactly a year on -- to the very day, let it be said -- from the greatest moment in any City supporter's lifetime, the air is full of the sound of tutting and expletives being offloaded into the night sky left, right and centre. Roberto Mancini has left the building with the wailing and gnashing of teeth loud and clear behind him. The Italian leaves in his wake a stream of distraught supporters, shocked at the brutality of the modern game and its lust for immediate success.

- Marcotti: Mancini's halted progress at Man City
- Brewin: City make no case for Mancini's defence
- Pellegrini favourite for City job
- WhoScored: Stats support Mancini sacking
- Jolly: Man City gamble with Mancini sacking
- Gallery: Mancini at City

In the whirring vortex of such news, it is difficult to see the wood for the trees, but let us for a moment try to take the man, his accomplishments and people's reaction thereto as our starting points.

In the maelstrom of innuendo and bleating, of finger pointing and gesticulating that we now find ourselves dispatched to, it is always the rational that is first to be dispensed with. That this storm of words was permitted to hit the nation's presses before the FA Cup final is borderline criminal, especially for a club whose appearances in these festive occasions can still be counted using the old upturned tree sloth and his three dirty little flea-infested fingers. Whether the news was squeezed out or escaped all by itself, the timing was legendary in its inappropriateness.

Roberto Mancini is a dignified man, who has often appeared ill at ease with the spit and flotsam that comes as part of the English football existence. He is, of course, Italian, so let us not pretend that he has not seen a few cut-throat shenanigans down through the years. He is no wet-behind-the-ears novice, after all. From Machiavelli to the Medicis, the Italian powerhouses have always been able to handle themselves, and Mancini is hewn from tough stock.

His departure now, with the papers falling over themselves to take a peek at Manuel Pellegrini and his credentials, smacks more than a little of the same ugly dustcloud kicked up around Mark Hughes when Mancini himself was supposedly waiting in the wings to take over.

One also recalls Sven Goran Eriksson taking his City side to Middlesbrough for a lusty 8-1 hiding under Thaksin Shinawatra's brief reign, too, a week or so after he had seemingly already been sacked by the newspapers. It is tempting to ask how many lame ducks make a flock -- in City's case, so many managers have left the scene limping.

In Mancini’s case, "lame duck" seems a little harsh for such a stubborn and forceful character, but that is how he finished, damp and bedraggled, after a limp City lost an FA Cup final to Wigan that really should have been theirs for the taking. But here again, those Mancini traits of stubbornness, a powerful unwillingness to step back and be prepared to change, came to the surface.

The arguments will rumble for months between those who saw what he has managed as below par, given the limitless resources at his disposal, and those who see what he did achieve in his time in Manchester: a true and beguiling breakthrough for a team on one of the longest trophy sabbaticals in the English top flight. That alone, and the way it was achieved with a dramatic cup semifinal win over Manchester United and a Premier League finale against QPR that only those in the upper Amazon have not yet heard about, marked him down as someone who will live on in Manchester folklore for a long time to come.

But even in these moments of triumph, came doubt. How was it possible that the title could only be won with the miracle of two goals in injury time? Surely it should have been simpler than that? How was it possible to look so underwhelming in continental combat? How could last summer render such a strange batch of hopscotch footballers, when the only way to really improve on a title-winning side is to buy the very best quality the market has to offer? There were almost as many questions as there were people crying tears of joy.

It is clear from the club website’s slightly odd-sounding press release that the board does not see Mancini as the man to take the team higher than this. This might well have a ring of truth about it. The lethal cocktail of pride, stubbornness and a certain whiff of arrogance meant certain lessons have not been learned. Surely underestimating Everton, for example, is only something you can do once, not every time you play them. Tactical tinkering this season when the team seemed perfectly well-balanced already seemed a tad unnecessary, and appeared to have a destabilising effect.

What most surely cannot be denied is the fact this one man and his staff have brought City supporters the very best years most of us can remember. Only the wise grey-haired brethren can remember anything remotely similar to this glory. The club finally did this for genial Joe Mercer then, too, so this is not exactly a new disease rearing its head. Big Mal, Sven, Peter Reid, Tony Book, Brian Horton and the classically dispatched Mel Machin ("no repartee with the fans"), have all felt the cold steel on the back of the neck at the infamous Moment Most Inopportune.

At a club like City, where the scaffolding of empire building continues to go up at some haste, the potent whiff of ambition is never far from the end of the nose. With United and Chelsea starting next season with new managers, some will say City could have jumped the queue and opened up an advantage with a steady hand at the tiller. Instead, they have chosen to go down the same route of change.

That Manuel Pellegrini might be a successful successor to Mancini is a moot point. What Monday's theatre piece has proved is that Manchester City’s wonky DNA is still fully functional and firmly in place. For that, at least, we should be grateful, but it is proving just a little hard right now.

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