Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The end of an era

And so it seems, Bobby Manc is no more.

No more the insouciant flick of the sliver-ash-blond locks with the manicured hands.

No more the great question of the fruit pastilles: were Brian and David allowed the black ones, Roberto, or not?

Mass before big matches and elegies to departed popes at press conferences …

The scarf: traditional but worn with Italian flair to go with those immaculate suits.

Oh dear.

As if Saturday’s Cup Final wasn’t bad enough, now Manchester City have gone and sacked coach Roberto Mancini in what could best be described as a ‘tactless’ manner.

Just so we get this clear – I’m gutted. I love Bobby Manc.

I love him, quite simply, because he has been the one who has been the coach when my beloved Blues (supported for nearly 40 years – eek!) have finally remembered how to win.

I will love him for ever for last year’s title win alone: the sheer drama of it, agony to ecstasy in three minutes flat, will never leave me.

For goodness sake – there’s a Mancini bobblehead on a shelf in the study (where all my kitschest things live).

Look, I admit it: City is the one major area in my life where I can get a bit irrational. By the very nature of our fandom, we are emotional and generally predisposed to irrationality.

But what I want to do here is to try to change that and to be more rational.

It’s not easy: we don’t know the full facts – and probably never will – and there’s an element of piecing together a jigsaw from a box that is only partly full and has no picture of what the finished puzzle should look like.

But let’s give it a whirl.

The media talk has, for some months, concentrated on the poor showing in this season’s Champions’ League.

In the later stages of the season, that has been compounded by the inability to defend the Premier League title, and then by Saturday’s defeat.

Some of this has been over the top.

There have been problems this season that we were fortunate enough not to have last term: injuries, for one.

The defence has remained sound and we’ve continued to dominate games – the key issue has been an inability to convert chances into goals this time around.

It wasn’t helped when, 10 minutes into the season, Sergio Aguero was injured and subsequently played no part for a month, then struggled to find form.

Mario Balotelli was out at the same time with eye problems. He never found form on his return and, as everyone knows, left in January. Edin Džeko is another who has found consistency hard to come by.

Under those circumstances, a second-place finish is hardly a disaster – although we fans probably have slightly different expectations and agendas than the owners.

But the club’s own statement on the sacking of Mancini included a very interesting word: “holistic”.

It seems that his relationships with the players have been poor – we know that there have been rows. Last season there was, of course, the entire debacle over Carlos Tevez.

This season, with Joe Hart, with Samir Nasri, with Balotelli (of course) and even – and perhaps this was the most shocking – with Vincent Kompany.

And those are the ones we know about.

Now the ‘hairdryer’ approach, as it might be called, can pay dividends – it has for a certain Scot – but if you never balance that with something rather less aggressive, it’s easy to see that there could be problems.

Indeed, I’d also suggest that, while we as fans might find some of this incredibly entertaining, it’s probably not particularly fun if you’re a player or a member of staff who is on the receiving end of such things.

There is an argument, indeed, that it amounts to workplace bullying, for which there should be no place – and it doesn’t suddenly become acceptable or easy to live with or something you should simply ‘put up with’ if you’re earning over X amount or simply because you’re a footballer and not a hospital cleaner.

For clarity, I don’t think City have an issue with ‘player power’ in the sense that it’s generally understood, although I continue to maintain that background issues may have been, in part, what was behind Saturday’s poor performance.

But let’s explore further.

Given Mancini’s rants about Brian Marwood and last summer’s transfer business, and then the weekend’s lambasting of the club for not dealing with the rumours of his own departure, it’s possible to conclude that that combustible approach to man management might also have been carried over into his relationships with club executives, if not the owners themselves.

Next up, is the issue of the club’s academy. If our long-term future is not totally dependent on developing our own players, it will certainly be very important – not least because of rules on spending.

The suggestion is that Mancini has not been interested in this part of the club’s development.

Again, this is something we have to take partly on trust, although the dearth of young players coming into the first team over the last three years (beyond his initial enthusiasm for Dedryck Boyata) may indicate a truth to this point – particularly as we have many potentially good young players at the club.

But finally, I want to dispel the idea that the way in which this sacking has taken place is somehow worse than any other in the game or in our own history.

It’s not. It may not have been good, but it’s not incredibly worse than any other.

And as but one brief illustration, I offer the case of Peter Reid, who was dumped, at the start of a season, for having the temerity to hold out on his own new contract in order to secure a pledge of funds for new players.

He’d done remarkably well in the seasons previously and wanted to take the club forward.

For the then owner, Peter Swales, that wasn’t on. He was sacked and Brian Horton appointed.

City fans themselves were so outraged that they launched the campaign that eventually saw Swales leave, to be replaced as chairman by Francis Lee.

So please let’s not be too rosy-tinted about the past. Or imagine that any problems are simply because the owners are not local.

A sacking is never easy – and Mancini might do well to remember that he himself was appointed on the back of one – and when they take place in the full glare of publicity, they’re even less likely to be handled in some sort of perfect way.

For City, the last few years have seen us rise from general laughing stock to a club that the media is hungry for daily stories about, even if it has to make them up.

As a club, we need to learn to deal rather better with rumours, but generally I think that we’re on the right track.

I know some fans are worried that things might now implode. But personally, I doubt that will happen. To start with, if it’s true that relations between coach and players were strained, then it’s unlikely anyone will be wanting away.

Any incoming coach will inherit the core of a very good team – albeit one that does need changes in order to develop and grow – together with everything that the planned Etihad Campus and emphasis on youth development will bring.

To conclude: Roberto – thank you for the last three years. And all the very best for the future. There is absolutely no chance that we will ever forget you.

Addio signore.

For my fellow fans – a new era awaits us. And CTWD.*

* City Til We Die.

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