"By my calculations, we are only about £100m away..."
This week, Roberto Mancini moved into what was surely an unassailable position as front-runner for manager of the season and overwhelming favourite for best manager in England.
Mancini’s plucky Manchester City, second place in the Premier League and a mere 16 spots and 34 points above the trapdoor relegation zone, defeated Champions-elect Manchester United, an achievement matched (as indicated by Mancini before the game) by precisely no team ever before, with the exception of Everton, Spurs and Norwich earlier in the season. An award hasn’t been this sewn up since Lionel Messi stitched the Ballon d’Or to his face in 2009.
In becoming clear favourite, Mancini has overcome competition from the likes of Michael Laudrup and Andre Villas-Boas, likely to be recognised for being brilliant and not Harry Redknapp, respectively. Mancini’s achievement has been made all the more remarkable by the fact that he didn’t achieve this famous victory with a brand new team of expensively assembled world-class footballers, but with LAST SEASON’S expensively assembled team of world-class footballers, one of whom recently signed a new contract reportedly worth £45m over four years. Bravo!
Despite narrowing the gap to a still in-no-way-respectable 12 points, Mancini had the air of a man vindicated by his earlier moan about how he was thwarted in his bid to sign anyone of note over the summer and how if Robin van Persie had signed for them, City would have won the league already as well as being in the later stages of the Champions League and doubtless restoring law and order in North Korea. Which, however you look at it, is a staggeringly idiotic assertion – one that can only be effectively countered by saying that if we all got the moon on a stick, we would all be astronauts. But we are not. And neither is he. Roberto Mancini is not an astronaut.
If, as expected, United walk the league, Mancini will actually have been proved right on another assertion, which hinted at teams’ lack of ambition when visiting Old Trafford. All of which would be fine (and true), were it not cheapened by the fact that the proud owner of a home record showing City losing FEWER times at home than United was saying it. Taking out the occasions on which they have both beaten each other this campaign, City have not lost at home at all this season and United have lost once. City didn’t lose at home AT ALL the season before this one either. All of which gives rise to the suspicion that few teams turn up to the Etihad eschewing the defensive virtues that saw them smashed 4-0 at Old Trafford because they are less scared of a squad costing hundreds of millions of pounds.
Mancini is right in one respect though. If he had been “allowed” to stock his playing inventory with the likes of Van Persie, Eden Hazard, Daniele Di Rossi, Javi Martinez and Radamel Falcao, this relatively (historically speaking at least) limited United side would have been steamrollered, or at least, overtaken. But then the same goes for presumably Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Everton or any number of Premier League sides who might have found it harder to lose than win with half a billion pounds’ worth of talent on the pitch and on the sidelines.
In conclusion, all the Italian seems to have done by drawing attention to the fact that he could have done with a couple more world-class players to add to his collection was hold a mirror to his own failings this season. And make no mistake, 12 points behind United with such a colossal budget is nothing but failure. Far from this being a calling for his sacking (Sheikh Mansour’s proclivity for stability has actually been refreshing), it is more a reminder that Mancini’s lot could be far, far worse. There is an old saying about workmen and tools; Mancini would be wise to remember he has some very expensive tools indeed.