As Manchester City summed up their season by losing to Norwich on the final day of the 2012-13 Premier League, fans around the Etihad continued to display banners and sing songs to their recently departed manager Roberto Mancini. It was hardly surprising that they did so. With City having previously gone 35 years without silverware, Mancini walked into the manager’s office at the City of Manchester Stadium and procured not only the 2011 F.A. Cup but also the 2011-12 Premier League trophy the following season. They were (and are) successes that, for fans of a club so overshadowed by their local rivals, meant the world.
Those successes were not enough to prevent Mancini’s departure at the end of a poor 2012-13 season, which saw Manchester City knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage without a win, defeated by Wigan Athletic in the F.A. Cup Final and 11-point runners-up to Manchester United in the final Premier League table. As was proved by Abramovich’s sacking of Carlo Ancelotti in 2011, triumphs at the top level are quickly forgotten. In the age of the mega club, only continued success is enough to provide job security for a manager.
It is into this environment that new Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is entering. The former Villarreal boss is now coaching a club that seeks to join the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United as one of the world’s best – an admirable ambition for a club that played second-division football as recently as 2002. And it is here that he must leave Mancini’s mistakes behind if that ambition is to be achieved.
First and foremost on Pellegrini’s agenda must be to keep in mind at all times that the relationship between players and manager will have an effect on performance and form. Mancini’s frequent public criticism of his own players may have been either attempted psychology or simply frustration, but either way his tactics of calling out players such as Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Samir Nasri (regardless of how much the latter of these may have deserved it) in public had a definitively negative impact on the City squad. Post-match media interviews are not the place for such discussions – they belong, as Sir Alex Ferguson exemplified, in the dressing room, well out of reach of cameras and microphones. At the same time, however, he must also find balance and assert himself as the boss. If anyone looks and acts the part, it is Pellegrini. It is a delicate yet crucial equilibrium to discover if City are to return to the top of the pile.
The next battle Pellegrini must win will be ongoing – signing the right players. It cannot be said that Mancini failed entirely at this task. David Silva, Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli, James Milner, Edin Dzeko, Gael Clichy and Sergio Aguero all arrived during the Italian’s tenure at the Etihad, and all played significant parts in winning the Premier League trophy. In his final year, however, a flurry of last-minute signings yielded only one consistent performer; Matija Nastasic. Javi Garcia was an inadequate replacement for the departed Nigel De Jong, Scott Sinclair spent most of the season on the bench due to Mancini’s reluctance to play wingers and Maicon was well past his use-by date. Jack Rodwell initially looked a failure but injury covered up his potential to be a top player, and he showed flashes of brilliance when he did play, so a final verdict on the former Evertonian is yet to be handed down.