They say you can buy a team of champions, but not a championship team. The consensus is that Manchester City, currently two points clear of their rivals Manchester United, is that if they do claim the Premier League, they would have “bought” it.
That’s far from a fair comment. There’s no questioning that spending power helps in modern football; merely look at the success of Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea over the last few years. Spending millions on players doesn’t guarantee success though. So it doesn’t matter if City decides to spend another $50 million on Kaka, Pastore or Ibrahimovic and so forth, it won’t mean that they’ll stroll and take the League championship.
To do that, you’ll need that special individual to make it all work: the manager. How important is Roberto Mancini to City? History tells us that without a top-class manager, regardless of the millions, teams won’t go anywhere.
It all started with Real Madrid’s Galaticos. During Florentino Perez’s first reign, he brought in superstars Luis Figo, Zidane and Ronaldo. The first couple of years, they dominated the game, winning two La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies. Their success though was attributed to manager Vincente Del Bosque. However, that faithful day came: Del Bosque left and Madrid went through five managers in three seasons, resulting in no trophies, before Perez left.
Now in his second spell at the club, Perez brought in the successful Mourinho who has crafted a superb team in two seasons. Would Madrid be this good without him? Manuel Pellegrini couldn’t do it in his first season but Mourinho has made the team gel together, tactically and mentality. They are sure to reclaim La Liga this year.
Mourinho was part of another revolution at Chelsea. In his first two seasons with the club, Abramovich happily spent £70million on players. Would they have won without Mourinho at the helm? Seems unlikely. Chelsea has had five managers since and none of them have been able to control a team littered with stars.
Roberto Mancini deserves all the credit if Manchester City takes the title. Since his arrival, he’s built a squad in his own image: hard working, defensively strong and a desire to win at all costs. He arrived with a squad dismally created under Mark Hughes. Hughes seemed to want to create a team based around playing an English brand of football. Mancini though knew what was needed: a team build around a disciplined, steel-like defence. Critics were on him like vultures saying he was too “pragmatic.” And at times he was, but he was doing it for the long term, knowing it would be the backbone to success.
Now during this second full season, his team know what it is expected of them. The players know that their defensive efforts come first. One can notice the change in James Milner. In and out of the team in his first season, he’s now considered a regular. Milner isn’t a super player and doesn’t offer much in terms of creativity or spark, but he does offer a determination and hard running. Mancini has moulded his players in this fashion. Milner pointed out that new summer signing Gael Clichy was shocked when he first arrived at City because he was surprised that the players were tackling a lot in training because Arsenal didn’t do that too much. After the 6-1 thrashing of United at Old Trafford, keeper Joe Hart said “I was annoyed. You can get carried away with the result, but we let in a goal. It kills me to let one in, it kills all of us.”
People argue that Mancini still has used large sums of money to get the quality players and build a fabulous team. No one is arguing that. Yet with so many high profile players, Mancini has managed to keep them all happy and more importantly playing for the team. When trouble has arisen through the season, Mancini has sorted it the same way he has sorted out his team: Through discipline. Everyone already knows the case of Carlos Tevez: His banishment and now his return. Everyone knows about Mario Balotelli’s antics and how this season, he’s been less (to an extent) of a troublemaker.
A lesser manager would have crumbled underneath all this pressure of player revolts, big name stars and media criticism. Mancini though is just like the player he was has taken it in his stride: A determined, disciplined individual with a winning passion. The Italian has created a team worthy of winning the Premier League, and if they do overcome their great rivals and take the crown, it’s not the money that everyone should be praising, it’s Mancini.