Forget loose Premier League title talk, Mancini will get another shot
21:30 GMT, 6 April 2012
Roberto Mancini hasn’t quite thrown in the towel yet, but he’s wiping the perspiration from his brow and preparing to hurl it into the ring.
The Manchester City manager appears resigned to losing the title this season, an outcome he will acknowledge as a certainty if Manchester United beat Queens Park Rangers and his faltering side lose at Arsenal on Sunday.
Mancini made half-hearted noises about staying ‘positive’ and how the title race was ‘not over yet’, but he answered the crucial question by admitting: ‘If we lose at Arsenal and Manchester United beat QPR — then yes (the title is lost).’
Making a point: Roberto Mancini is coming under increased pressure at Manchester City
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The indignity of folding at Arsenal, a club he has continually raided like a pick ’n’ mix counter, will be lost on nobody.
The question is whether City’s owners will allow him to keep sticking his hand in their expensive sweetie jar, or dispatch him on a permanent holiday clutching that towel of surrender.
Even a few weeks ago, querying Mancini’s future seemed a moot point. City were in form, battling for the title, scoring freely, and a strong second-place finish was no disgrace, since it would have established a solid foundation for a renewed assault next season.
But now the squad looks fractured. A gradual fade-out in form and a thoroughly miserable month of results, following a defeat at Swansea and draws against Stoke and Sunderland, have left Mancini heading to The Emirates Stadium looking suddenly vulnerable.
With comic timing, troublesome striker Mario Balotelli was in the process of explaining how he had crashed his Bentley in the city centre as Mancini contemplated eventual failure, in what may well be a perfect metaphor for the team’s demise.
How much of the blame rests with the manager and how much with irresponsible individuals like Balotelli
Mancini himself is easy to like. The media generally enjoy his emotional outpourings and indiscreet candour. The jokes about punching Balotelli every day, sworn pledges never to use Carlos Tevez again, public dressing downs for players he believes are under-performing, such as Adam Johnson, are all nuggets of journalistic gold.
But I doubt they do anything for dressing-room morale. There have been times when he has been simply too emotional, dancing and gesticulating on the touchline in exasperated rage, or slumping deep into his chair in obvious contempt.
The loose chat, the jittery histrionics, would be understandable in a managerial novice, but it is a peculiar performance from a man with immense experience of the pressures at the business end of the season with Inter Milan.
While Balotelli is criticised and indulged in equal measure, he appears to have sapped the confidence or simply alienated others such as James Milner.
Amid all this, the side’s creative hub, David Silva, has all but disappeared, leaving City with just five goals and two wins in nine away games.
So how do his dispassionate owners view these dramas It is a blessing and a curse that Mancini works for some of the richest people in the world.
The positive is he has been able to spend at will, splashing out 240million to strengthen an already expensive squad. But that spending power exacts its own price.
Like Roman Abramovich, City’s owner Sheik Mansour, a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, is seriously wealthy. We’re not talking rich as in ‘buys-a-helicopter-and-yacht’ rich. We’re talking rich as in ‘buys-governments- and-even-countries’ rich.
Both are used to getting their way. These people did not enter football for the ‘sport’, but to succeed. They love the kudos and the profile yet hate the inability to guarantee success. And when it goes wrong they tend to intervene.
If it pans out as expected, City’s failed title bid will rank as the most spectacularly expensive miss by a club since the inception of the Premier League.
Quick results: Jose Mourinho made Chelsea champions within two years of Roman Abramovich taking over
Any outfit that has previously spent on a
comparable magnitude has gone on to claim the main prize within three
years; Jack Walker’s Blackburn Rovers took three seasons to collect the
1995 crown and Abramovich’s Chelsea just the two before Jose Mourinho’s
first victory in 2005 and then 2006.
Had Mancini been Chelsea boss, he’d have been sacked by now. But Mansour seems calmer and more measured. What’s more, he appears to respect the counsel of football people around the club such as Brian Marwood and Patrick Vieira.
That is why Mancini will be granted one more year to deliver; one more year to make it work, one more year before someone throws the towel in for him.
Jose lights fires
Jose Mourinho still knows how to stoke up the fires. With his La Liga rivals Barcelona facing his old club Chelsea in the last four of the Champions League, the Special One had some choice words for the boys at Stamford Bridge.
He told them they didn’t have a chance.
‘Let me be honest,’ said Mourinho. ‘I don’t think the final will be Real Madrid against Chelsea. It can be Bayern. It can be Barcelona.
Something stinks: Jose Mourinho hinted that Barcelona will be 'helped' in their semi-final against Chelsea
‘Barcelona are not the favourites — they are super-favourites. I just don’t think it can be Real Madrid and Chelsea, but Barcelona — and we know why.’
Pragmatic, perhaps. But honest I doubt it. Mourinho doesn’t usually do honest in the pre-match verbal exchanges. He prefers to stir it up. Here Mourinho was hinting Barcelona always get the refereeing decisions and telling his Chelsea old boys, ‘Raise your game — or else’.
Why Mourinho would love nothing more than to avoid Barca and meet an inferior Chelsea in the final instead.
Battle over, war won
The relentless debate about whether the English or Spanish league can be considered superior is settled for this season.
The Premier League has one club in the semi-finals of the Champions League — Chelsea. Spain’s La Liga has two — Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Add that three Spanish sides line up in the Europa League semi-finals, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and Valencia, while England have no representatives and the score is 5-1 to La Liga.
Reign in Spain: La Liga has proved itself 'better' than the Premier League
The defence used to be that there was a lack of quality below Spain’s two powerhouses of Real Madrid and Barca, but La Liga’s domination of the Europa League indicates otherwise.
There is also a very realistic possibility that both European club finals will be all-Spanish affairs — which would seal the argument.
Not just Augusta in rough over men-only rule
It was encouraging to see the chairman of Augusta National, home of the US Masters, receive a media handbagging for the golf club’s refusal to allow women members through their doors.
American commentators have been scathing in their criticism.
One said: ‘They’ve been able to exist as a closed, private and discriminatory club for 51 weeks a year and still reap the financial benefits of opening their gates during Masters week.’
President Barack Obama urged Augusta to relent and scrap their female exclusion order. But in the American Midwest this had all the impact of an attack by Kerry Katona on the Ritz’s dress code.
Troubled waters: Augusta National is coming increased pressure to allow women
British journalists understandably joined in the chorus of disapproval at the no-women policy, tut-tutting at Augusta’s status as a bastion of misogyny. However, we’re not so hot at this equality lark in this country either.
For starters, St Andrews refuses to allow women to become members. The old joke is the Royal and Ancient originally named the sport ‘golf’ because it stood for ‘Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden’.
Two other Open venues also exclude women — Royal St George’s in Sandwich and Muirfield.
As in Masters week, these clubs reap the benefits of existing as ‘closed, private and discriminatory’ clubs as The Open beats a path to their doors.
So maybe we should sort out our own closed shops before we start preaching to the Americans
Trouble: Cardiff Blues' Gavin Henson
Gavin Henson’s career reached a new low this week. He was dumped as the face of Munch Bunch children’s desserts. It comes to something when you don’t have enough culture to advertise yoghurt.
According to a spokesman for Nestle Chilled Dairy, they originally recruited the Welsh rugby player for a story-writing contest ‘because he was a committed father of two’. They only decided to terminate the contract ‘in light of reports about his unacceptable behaviour’.
Nestle obviously weren’t paying attention. Had anyone bothered to check, they might have guessed his story at Cardiff would have a predictably drunken ending.
A simple internet search list shows: ‘Henson given one-week Toulon ban’, ‘Henson on indefinite unpaid leave’, ‘Henson cautioned after a night out’, ‘Henson accepts ban from Ospreys’, ‘Henson sorry for train antics’, ‘Suicidal Henson blames himself’ and many more.
Once a British Lion and a two-time Grand Slam winner, Henson is now no more than a bit-part reality TV turn and living testimony to how talent can be spectacularly wasted. His reputation is so damaged it’s hard to see what he can do next. Except advertise creosote, perhaps.
There is nothing good to come of it for a manager when a football club owner decides to confront his players directly. Ask Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea. Ask Mick McCarthy at Wolves.
Both were sacked soon after a speech from upstairs. But Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner addressed his struggling squad this week at the training ground. The American shared his concerns about possible relegation while his manager Alex McLeish looked on. I hope it is not an omen.
Quote of the week
After throwing himself to the floor following minimal contact with Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina, Newcastle’s James Perch moaned.
'I'm no diver — people who have seen me play know what kind of player I am.'
Yes they do, James. They know you’re a diver.