It’s a common occurrence these days for fans to think they can do a better job than managers. It’s inevitable that on a Saturday afternoon stood in the terraces at a football stadium the words ‘I could do better’ or ‘I’d put player X here’ or ‘I’d bring player Y on’ will be uttered by a fan. It’s something you can never take out of football, it’s also something you wouldn’t want to take out of the game. Opinions are what make our sport so great to talk about. Signings, tactics, team selection are all great topics for discussion over a pint or two after the match.
But can these opinions lead to fans undermining their team’s manager? Since Roberto Mancini became Manchester City manager he’s had to deal with criticism over his style of football from the press as well as sections of his own club’s fans. ‘Negative’, ‘boring’, ‘Italian’, ‘cautious’ and ‘defensive’ are just a few adjectives used to describe the way Mancini sets his side up. Countless times he’s had to justify his team selection to the media and to certain members of the City faithful. But why? Mancini is the man trusted by the owner and chairman to bring success to the club. His target of finishing in the Premier League’s top four as well as a good cup run has (almost) come to fruition. City face local rivals Manchester United at Wembley stadium today and are still comfortably sat in fourth place. Does it really matter how the team plays as long as they win? After all, this is a game based on results. Mancini has said he’d rather win 1-0 than 4-3 so many times in his first full season in charge of the Blues that he’s beginning to sound like a broken record. Sometimes fans need to learn to accept that however many trophies they’ve won on Football Manager or Fifa ’11, Mancini has won real trophies throughout a successful career as both a player and manager, and therefore he is slightly more qualified to manage the team than the fans.
It’s not just team selection or tactics that bring out the “inner manager” in fans it’s also transfer policy. When Mark Hughes signed Craig Bellamy from West Ham United for £10 million a lot of fans were fuming. All the money Hughes had at his disposal and he signed a 30 year old Welshman with a history of injury problems. A man that could start an argument in an empty room. We all know how that signing turned out. The fans that questioned Mark Hughes soon began to eat their words. The same can be said for Nigel de Jong. Signed for £16 million when he’d have reportedly been available for half that amount in the summer. ‘Nige’ took a bit of time to settle in and, again, questions were raised about Hughes’ decision to sign him. We all know how that signing has turned out. If it had been left for the summer, de Jong might not have been City’s animal in the heart of the midfield. He might not have been the man who possibly leads the Blues out at Wembley today for the first time since 1999.
Just when those who, to use the cliché, judged a book by its cover in the form of de Jong and Bellamy they did it again when Mancini signed Patrick Vieira. Why would City, with all this money to spend, sign a washed up midfielder whose legs apparently went when Wenger let him leave Arsenal? The answer is experience. In some ways Vieira has been Mancini’s best signing, yet say that out loud in some areas of Eastlands and you’ll be shot down quicker than if you declared your love for those across the road. Vieira is seen by some as the epitome of the ‘boring’ football that Mancini plays. It’s true that he lacks pace, but at 34 years old that’s expected, yet what he lacks in the speed department he certainly makes up for with his vision, knowledge and experience. He’s also clearly a popular member of the team – shown by the way his goal was celebrated by the players in the 5-0 win over Sunderland. Vieira has the ‘winning mentality’ that the club has lacked for so many years and the experience he offers the team – in particularly the younger players such as Dedryck Boyata – is invaluable. He deserves a new contract and hopefully, providing he wants to stay, he’ll get one.
If City manage to win the FA Cup and finish in the top four it’s guaranteed that Vieira will have played a key part in that success.
Mancini will have masterminded it though, and at a time when he’s under pressure from the media it’s not ideal for some fans to heighten that pressure by questioning his every move. Would it really hurt to back the manager? Would it really hurt to give a manager more than one and a half seasons? Time and stability breeds success, money just irons out the creases. Mancini’s here to stay. And that’s the way it should be.