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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.

Forza Mancini

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.

2009/10 Season
Spurs 3-0 City (*Mark Hughes as manager)
City 0-1 Spurs

2010/11 Season
Spurs 0-0 City
City 1-0 Spurs

2011/12 Season
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

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Last night Lille playmaker, Eden Hazard, put an end to the growing speculation surrounding his future by declaring on Twitter that he will be joining Chelsea. After weeks of public speculation in which Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea were the forerunners for the 21 year old Belgian’s signature, Hazard declared: “I’m signing for the Champion’s League winner.”

Though some of the City faithful may be disappointed, it may be a blessing in disguise. After a fine season playing for Lille in the French Ligue 1 it was inevitable that Europe’s biggest clubs would be interested in the services of potentially lethal Hazard. However, the manner in which Hazard has publicly fanned the flames of the speculation has not endeared himself to many. Prior to Chelsea’s Champions League victory he strongly indicated that it would be the blue of City that he would be wearing next season. I may be mistaken but  it seem that all the praise of his ability and the stature of the clubs interested in him has gone to his head.

Few players are afforded the opportunity to be linked with, let alone play for, clubs like City, United and Chelsea. The youngster who is relatively unproven, domestically and internationally, seems to be somewhat of a prima donna. With undoubted potential Hazard has performed well in the French league but it is not the pinnacle of European football. Moreover, on the international stage, Hazard has had a high profile run-in with the former Belgium coach, Georges Leekens, which did little to enhance his reputation.

Eden Hazard is Chelsea bound

His arrogance is something that City and Roberto Mancini could do without. After all, City have plenty of their own problems in the shape of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. Whilst they are both undoubtedly fantastic players their attitude is not exactly first class. Then there are the hangers on: players like Emmanuel Adebayor and Wayne Bridge who claim they want to play football but are unwilling to take a wage cut to do so. City should only recruit those who want to play for the club for the right reasons. It seems that if City had captured Hazard it could amount to be more of a problem than a benefit. Only time will tell but it seems Hazard was more interested in where the money was and who he thought owned the most prestigious trophy. I can’t imagine Mancini will lose any sleep over this.

Ultimately, Hazard opted to join Chelsea, the FA Cup and Champions League winners. On the other hand, he has joined a team that finished extremely poorly in the Premier League. They finished 6th, 25 points behind the Champions, Manchester City, and behind 5th place Newcastle. Going into the final day of the season, Chelsea could finish no higher than 6th, regardless of what other teams did. Chelsea is an unsettled club owned by a Russian mercenary on a personal crusade who changes his manager more often than most. Chelsea is a club run on player power with the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard ruling the roost, seemingly able to influence the owner to dispose of managers who they dislike. Maybe, just maybe, the culture of player power at Chelsea is the perfect match for the seemingly arrogant Eden Hazard.

Words by Rob Toole

GUEST BLOG

written by Robert Pollard – 14th May 2012

With both Manchester City and Manchester United going into the last match of the season with a chance of lifting the 2011-2012 Barclays Premier League trophy, it promised to be a great final day of the season. However, what ensued will go down in football history; a day of the highest possible drama that brought a fitting end to one the most entertaining seasons in recent history.

It was Manchester City who won the coveted prize; their first league title in 44 years, a period in which their fans have suffered ridicule on a grand scale. Relegation to the third tier of English football saw them branded as a laughing-stock, with even their own staff recognising their problems. Former player, and one time chairman of the club, Francis Lee famously claimed City would ‘win cups for cock-ups’, and Joe Royle, the manager who rescued them from their deepest slump, coined the phrase ‘cityitis’, a word which described City’s unerring ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.

But all that was forgotten as they clinched the biggest prize in English football in the most dramatic of circumstances, scoring two late goals to seal the trophy their fans, players, management and owners had long craved. Manchester United did what they had to do on the final day – beat Sunderland away. Their 1-0 victory had, at one stage, seemed enough to snatch the title from their rivals, but City’s late, late salvo changed it all within minutes, scoring with their 43rd and 44th shots of the match. It seems poetic that the team so often praised for their ability to produce late drama have been usurped in exactly that fashion.

Roberto Mancini, City’s Italian manager, must now begin to take some long overdue credit. He took the job when many others were shirking it, coming to a new country to take the reins at a club where expectations had soared due to their new-found wealth. Since then, despite success, he has received little praise. When City do well it is to be expected; when they don’t it is a failure on his part. An FA Cup success, qualification for the Champions League, and now a Premiership title, all delivered in the space of two-and-a-half years, mean his excellence deserves to be recognised. He found himself trailing United by 8 points but managed to win the last 6 matches of the season – including a win against United – to take the title. This is a remarkable achievement. You feel if Harry Redknapp, or another similarly well-liked manager, had turned round such a deficit and won the league he’d be carried on the shoulders of journalists through the streets of London. However, Mancini is not afforded such favourable press.

The hard work starts here for Mancini and creating a team capable of dominating for a long time his the task he is charged with and he has an outstanding set of players to achieve this. Vincent Kompany grows in stature every day, with his performances, leadership, professionalism and interview style now a vital part of Manchester City. Every club needs a leader and City have one of the best. The spine of Hart, Kompany, Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero is the best in the league, and provides a frightening prospect for opposing sides. This City team is young and hungry for more success.

A special mention must also go to Pablo Zabaleta, one of the best full backs and undoubtedly the most valuable utility player in the Premiership; his grit and determination is something City fans will long remember in what has been a tiring campaign. Gareth Barry, who may not feature quite so heavily in a title-winning side again as he enters the twilight of his career, has also been excellent. City must now use the momentum this title has created to push on and become even better.

Manchester United also deserve great credit for their season. They have had crippling injuries to deal with, most notably the absence of Nemanja Vidic who, along with Kompany, is the best central defender in English football. Sound logic would suggest if he had been available all season, United may well have been lifting the trophy. Sir Alex Ferguson will spend this summer and United will be a force again next season. Only a side managed by Fergie could have kept pace with such an excellent City side, and they came so close to an unlikely 20th league title.

If city were ever going to become champions of England, one suspected it would be dramatic, heart-in-the-mouth type stuff, but even by their standards this was remarkable. Never will there be a final day quite like yesterday.

Robert Pollard is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter and Passions Just Like Mine

Though there has not been any football to report on this week has seen Roberto Mancini come out with some classic comments to keep us entertained. Inoculated City can’t help but wonder whether he is having a laugh and playing with the press which love to exert pressure on him.

Following Mancini’s comments after the Sunderland game last week where he put football in its place by suggesting that real pressure is only experienced by those who go to war, not those who play football (see last week’s blog), he has taken a different tact this week and is seemingly having fun with the media.

The big news this week is Manchester United player, Wayne Rooney’s two match ban as a result of swearing to a camera after scoring a hat-trick against West Ham. Whether the punishment is right or wrong is open to debate but it seems a little far fetched for Mancini to suggest that he is “disappointed” that Rooney will miss the FA Cup Semi-Final clash between City and United. Although, Mancini explained he felt this way because in the big games you want the biggest players’ playing which, on reflection, is true. It may be a disappointment for the neutral that Rooney will be absent. Yet, surely for Mancini he must be delighted that such a potentially threatening footballer is going to be absent. Isn’t Mancini just having a laugh with press and trying to wind up a few people in the process?

Are You Having a Laugh?

What was astounding was the way in which the media pounced on Mancini’s comments as if they were deadly serious. The BBC boldly splashing headlines on their website to give the effect that war had just broken out. Having said that, that is one of the beauties of foreign football managers in English press conferences: the manager often doesn’t fully understand the press and vice versa. The miscommunications can often be comical as proven on this occasion.

Mancini also spared some time to put Joey Barton in his place this week. In response to Joey Barton’s rant about the state of the England team and, in particular, the branding of Gareth Barry as a “teacher’s pet”, Mancini simply stated “Joey Barton is a good player but Gareth Barry is a fantastic player.” Though opinion is divided on Barry amongst the City faithful he is definitely a fantastic player compared to Barton.

Prize buffoon Robbie Savage also got in on the act on Match of the Day 2 as he carefully scrutinised Barton’s every move against Aston Villa on Sunday. Savage was clearly unhappy with Barton’s comments and simply demonstrated that Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshire, the players Barton singled out, are in fact better than Barton. Whether you agree or not is really not the point but you have to admit it was funny.

So in a week with no football, Roberto Mancini has ensured that he has kept the City fans entertained with some strange but wonderful commentary. For a refreshing insight into the irritatingly monotonous Wayne Rooney ban saga I strongly recommend watching Charlie Brooker’s take on it all from last week’s 10 O’Clock Live.

Next week: it gets serious again. City take on Liverpool on Monday night in the league and then it is the big one: the eagerly anticipated FA Cup Semi-Final against United. At least you can rest assured there will not be any swearing as foul mouthed tyrant, Wayne Rooney, will be watching from the stands.

Words by Rob Toole