When the final whistle blows at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday May 13th an inquest will begin, regardless of whether Manchester City will have been crowned champions or not. With seven games remaining and a five point gap between them and league leaders Manchester United it seems an unlikely task. The optimists in the blue half of Manchester will claim that with United still having to play their title rivals City at the Etihad Stadium as well as needing to visit Everton and Sunderland before the season finishes it is not all over. The more pessimistic blues will admit that the title seems likely to head back to Old Trafford.
If Manchester City do fail in their pursuit of the Premier League title then there can be only one man to blame. Roberto Mancini’s side seem to have fallen at the last hurdle and are stumbling towards the finish line. There is time to rectify it but it is now out of their hands and that is where the inquest will begin. Having dominated the league for the majority of the season and seen a healthy goal advantage slip away questions will be asked of Mancini by the City hierarchy. The recent slump has happened at the worst possible time and has left many questioning whether City had the nerve and experience to stay the distance.
It is not just the stuttering league form that has raised eyebrows in the boardroom however; Mancini’s handling of internal difficulties such as the Carlos Tévez situation and his persistence in standing by Mario Balotelli are also causing problems.
When the young Italian eventually matures he may become a world class player but at the moment his talent remains described as ‘potential’. He has shown glimpses of his incredible skill on a number of occasions this season yet his general demeanour both on and off the pitch overshadows that. Whether he is setting his house ablaze with fireworks or driving around Manchester city centre in his Bentley handing out £20 notes, the Blues’ enigmatic striker is certainly favoured by Mancini. It is this favouritism though which could cost Mancini his job. On the one hand it is admirable that the manager has such faith in Balotelli yet, on the other, it could be seen as blind loyalty and one which is not benefiting the club.
Sir Alex Ferguson called it “desperation” but City saw it as moving on and making the best out of a bad situation. Carlos Tévez’ return to Manchester has received a mixed reaction. Some are willing to accept his apology, draw a line in the sand and move on – after all he is a wonderful footballer. Others however, cannot accept his apology and do not want him near the club. It was a fine balancing act for Mancini, a chance to show that nobody, despite their immense talent, is bigger than the club. He got it wrong.
Back in November it was clear that Mancini did not want Tévez to play for him ever again. He had disgraced himself, embarrassed the club and the manager but more importantly shown a complete lack of respect to everybody associated to Manchester City by refusing to come on as a substitute. The response from the team was sensational Premier League form and a prolonged spell at the top of the table. The response from Tévez was a five month holiday in Argentina and a refusal to apologise. It could have been so much easier if he had apologised straight away. Having said that, knowing Tévez, it probably took him those five months to learn how to say the word ‘sorry’ in English.
Despite this City have improved once again under Mancini, and although it is likely they will finish trophy less it is another step in the right direction. He deserves another season to continue building a side which is capable of staying the distance and progressing further in Europe but it remains to be seen if he will get it. With Jose Mourinho’s name being touted as a possible replacement there may be another managerial change at the Etihad Stadium.
Although unlucky with the injury and suspension of club captain Vincent Kompany at key points during the title challenge, Mancini has to take the blame for the demise of City’s season. To have such a healthy league position at the half way stage and to now be trailing United by five points is inexcusable. At times this season Mancini has had a cool exterior, yet at others he seems to be feeling the pressure. His failure to shake Tony Pulis’ hand at the Britannia Stadium a few weeks ago and subsequent refusal to speak to the media was not only undignified and unsporting, but also a sign that he was maybe cracking up. After all, Stoke City played as expected. They were strong, aggressive and difficult to beat.
It has been apparent for weeks that City’s maestro David Silva is either carrying an injury, fatigued or has just hit a bad run of form yet Mancini’s persistence in playing him is highlighting a problem within his team. With Samir Nasri not hitting the heights that many expected him to, Silva has been the main playmaker and it is finally taking its toll on the Spanish wizard. The Blues’ over reliance on Silva being the creative force indicates that Mancini is still not satisfied with the squad he has. He lacks quality wingers to change his team’s style of play and the lack of width has been identified as a major problem in recent weeks. Despite the charging runs of the likes of Gael Clichy and Micah Richards, width is a concern especially following the disappointing performances of Adam Johnson and Nasri over the season. With rumours suggesting City are lining up a move for Eden Hazard, expect Johnson to be sold in the summer with Liverpool a possible destination. They have a habit of overpaying for players who flatter to deceive.
With millions having been ploughed into the club, the Abu Dhabi based owners are looking for a return on their investment. It remains to be seen if they have the patience to acknowledge that despite a potentially disappointing end to the season Mancini has improved the side. There will be departures and arrivals in the summer that much is clear, but whether Roberto Mancini will be one of the departures only the Sheikh knows.
Will Mancini be the manager next season? Do you want him to stay? Leave your comments below.