Yesterday, Roberto Mancini signed a five year extension to his contract as Manchester City manager. Immediately prior to the deal being completed, there was intense speculation linking Mancini to a lucrative deal to manage the Russian national team. To the relief of many, Mancini put to bed any speculation regarding his future by becoming Manchester City’s smartest signing of the summer.
Though some may not appreciate the magnitude of this deal, the importance of it is not lost on me. Regardless of any big name players that City may sign before the closure of the transfer window, securing Mancini’s services for the next five year is huge by comparison.
Despite Mancini’s success at City, his abilities and achievements are seldom recognised or appreciated by the masses. Delivering City’s first silverware in 35 years with the FA Cup in 2011 and City’s first league title since 1968 in the space of two and a half years is an extraordinary achievement. Yet, it seems that if City do well it is to be expected due to the wealth of the club’s owners but when they underperform criticism is relentless.
The excellent job Mancini has done, and continues to do, can be seen by looking back at the various styles of play City have adopted prior to and during Mancini’s reign as City boss. Even the way City approach certain opposition has changed over time to ultimately get the better of them.
The squad that Mancini inherited from Mark Hughes in December 2009 was in a poor state, despite being expensively assembled. The set up essentially boiled down to a gung-ho mentality lacking the basic principles of a good football team: organisation and a good defence. This type of approach was, at times, entertaining but it was severely flawed. Against weaker opposition it worked but when facing the best teams who were organised and defensively sound, problems were inevitable.
The positive side to this approach was perhaps best demonstrated in the 4-2 victory versus Arsenal in September 2009. The negative side to this approach was demonstrated in the 3-0 defeat to Tottenham in December of the same year: a game in which City were torn to shreds by a team who could attack and defend astutely, and essentially had a game plan. Hughes’ last game in charge, the almost farcical 4-3 victory over Sunderland, epitomised this wayward approach.
Though Mancini took on a job with unlimited funds it was by no means an easy task. City were in disarray and it is huge credit to Mancini that the football City produce today is a far cry from the hit it and hope kind of football City fans were having to endure week-in week-out prior the Italian’s arrival. Mancini essentially went back to basics and worked from the back. The key to all great teams is being able to defend and Mancini knows this. From the moment he took charge the number of goals that City scored and conceded decreased.
During the 2010-11 season City were regularly cited as dull and boring due to their defensive nature and perceived lack of goals. The lazy cliché of an Italian style of play was banded round with nauseating regularity. In spite of this, City finished the season with a goal difference of +27. In the same season, Tottenham Hotspur, a team regularly cited as the best attacking team in the league, achieved a goal difference of +9. Quite how City gained a reputation for being negative didn’t quite add up.
With a solid defence in place, Mancini unleashed the shackles in the 2011-12 season. With the additions of key attacking players like Sergio Aguero and David Silva during Mancini’s tenure, City played with freedom, pace and intricate movement. As a consequence City’s attractive style of play was beginning to receive recognition in the media. After 10 games, City had already surpassed the goal difference they achieved the season before (+29) and were on average scoring 3.6 goals per game and conceding 0.8 goals per game. By the end of the season, City won the Premier League by scoring the most goals (93) and conceding the fewest (29). The transformation from reckless entertainers to free scoring Champions was complete, all due to the hard work and tactical knowledge of Mancini.
The excellent work of Mancini can also be demonstrated by the way in which City have changed the way they play against certain opposition. For example, Tottenham have long been a bogey team for City. Yet, Mancini has gone from attempting to nullify the threat of Spurs’ attack to being able to dictate play in his short tenure as City manager. Though the majority of games against Tottenham in the last three seasons have all been well contested games, the results (below) demonstrate the way Mancini has developed his City team from cautious and defensive to sparking attackers.
Spurs 3-0 City (*Mark Hughes as manager)
City 0-1 Spurs
Spurs 0-0 City
City 1-0 Spurs
Spurs 1-5 City
City 3-2 Spurs
It is refreshing that City have finally got the right man for the job and are looking to the future with Roberto Mancini. There have been many false dawns at Manchester City: managers have come and gone with such regularity that the job was perceived as somewhat of a poisoned chalice. Not anymore, City yesterday completed biggest signing of their summer, Roberto Mancini.
Words by Rob Toole