I first started supporting Manchester City in 1973 when I was 7 years old. Why? Honestly? I liked the colour of the kit, my dad supported Liverpool, my brother, Leeds, and I already had the awareness and common sense not to support Manchester United. During the 1970s everything about the club oozed quality – the support, the manager, the stadium and the players. I became an official ‘Junior Blue’ and my framed certificate still follows me to this day. My favourite player? As a kid in the park or playground I was Peter Barnes, although in reality I was more of a Glenn Hoddle. Town team captain, me.
For about twenty years from the early 80s being a City fan was a painful experience, except for a brief hiatus in the early ‘90s when scouser Peter Reid restored some Mancunian pride. At times we were shit, a total embarrassment dropping two divisions meaning I could watch my heroes against the might of my ‘local’ team, Bournemouth, but as a true fan I stuck with them. I may not be a Manc but for some stupid reason I have this ridiculous attachment to the club which has, even at our lowest points (Macclesfield, Wycombe, Northampton Town…), never waned. Now, football is big business and the more money you have the more chance you have of success.
In 2007 City struck gold. We found money in the shape of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand. In truth it was horribly dirty money, but with it came Sven-Goran Eriksson, the ex-England Manager. We bought Brazilians and a flurry of ‘world class’ players, but things were far from right at the club. Eriksson was sacked and Shinawatra was about to lose all of his money, if not his life. Then, a miracle happened. City struck more than gold; we struck oil. In 2008 the Abu Dhabi United Group bought the club and new manager Mark Hughes had impossible riches. We bought Robinho, Tevez, Adebayor and just about anyone who fancied a pay rise. At the end of 2009 Hughes was replaced by Roberto Mancini, a cool Italian who had tasted huge success as both a player and manager. All of a sudden City were the wealthiest club in the world. Success and trophies were, at last surely, just around the corner.
I’ve written all the above as a little background for anyone who may think I’ve been a City fan since we struck oil, and because I want to write a few words about Roberto Mancini, now that his City business is done. In three years with City Mancini won the FA Cup in 2011, the Premier League in 2012 and the Community Shield (means nothing, but Mancini always spoke of it as a big deal). This season we’ve finished second in the Premier League, were runners-up in the FA Cup and once again failed miserably in the Champions League (yes, yes, we were again in the ‘group of death’). Mancini then gets sacked. Harsh? Fair? Deserved or undeserved? Well, it seems amongst players, fans and pundits opinion is split. Here’s my take…
Some say had City bought Van Persie pre-season instead of United, City would have won the Premiership. The FA Cup too as we still couldn’t score (or even look like we wanted to) against relegation-doomed Wigan. I’d probably agree. So, it could also be said if Mancini had been better supported by the club pre-season with his transfer targets he might still be manager. I don’t think so. It has become apparent the more the season has progressed that there were a number of damaging personal issues within the club, and Mancini was at the heart of them. Watch Mancini’s demeanour, listen to his interviews, and it would appear that nothing was ever (apart for the odd team selection or two) his fault. His negative touchline gesticulations became more ever-present, as if to say, “huh, you are not world-class, I was world-class”. Mancini was a difficult player to manage, and he was a difficult manager for his players.
But, he won our first major trophy for 35 years, he won the Premier League, and we have played (even this season) the best football for the last three years. His sacking could easily be seen as harsh, and many players and managers have said so. But, we do not know what has been happening within the club. Who now carries the power? Is it the manager, or is it Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, drafted in from Barcelona to replicate their set-up and success. Many have called City a quick-fix club, as if this sacking alone could justify such a tag. Since their arrival our owners (despite their ridiculous wealth) have acted with decency, integrity and, unlike Abramovich at Chelsea, a level-headed and sensible approach. It is far too early to tarnish them with that brush, although it makes easy headlines to do so. If Mancini wasn’t managing the players or the club in a way the owners approved of (and like I said, who knows what was happening inside), then it was a brave decision to make.
It is easy to view Mancini’s reign with over-exaggerated positivity, seeing as the wait for success was so bloody long. For every City fan he will always be lovingly remembered for those two trophies and the 6-1 victory at the swamp. That Aguero goal will be remembered for ever, and despite my lack of sympathy towards Mancini his three years in charge cannot fail to be seen as anything other than a success. But this season something was clearly wrong. The likes of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and James Milner (hardly prima donnas) have all shown signs of discontent with the way the team was being managed. Since his sacking rumours and quotes regarding his ego and inability to bring the squad together have surfaced; not just from jealous ex-players, but from current staff and respected journos. Anyway, it was plain to see. City weren’t playing as a team and Mancini looked and sounded more and more critical, passing the blame elsewhere with increasing regularity.
What Sheikh Mansour now needs to do is appoint Manuel Pellegrini, and give him at least three years. He needs at least that long to change the culture of the club, but more than that to mould the team into his own. From what I hear he is a brilliant man-manager and tactician. Chelsea have won trophies despite their inability to keep a manager for more than two seasons, but until clubs follow the example set by (yes, I’m going to say it) Ferguson at United, their dominance for the last two decades will never be replicated. Next season will be the most eagerly anticipated for years; the top three teams with new managers, and the usual deluge of world-class players arriving from Spain and Italy. Whenever I get down about a City result or lack of a trophy for a whole season I don’t have to think back too long to understand we have never, ever had it so good. Grazie Mancini, bienvenida Pellegrini.
Top to bottom – Getty, Ian Hodgson, Martin Rickett/PA Wire, Daily Record