So. Manchester City have sacked many managers over the years, and during my time writing The Obscurer I have, in one way or another, chronicled the comings and goings of those fortunate enough to have held that most fabled of managerial posts. But, such is the strange and dysfunctional nature of this existence-hanging-by-a-thread old blog that I never quite got around to commenting on Roberto Mancini; and despite making copious notes on the subject – and having the best of intentions – I never found the time to write a post on his time at the club.
I was a fan of Mancini’s, and I was going to pen a hardy defence of his tenure. Namely that
- I felt he was a seriously underrated manager who, due to the money he inevitably had to spend, did not get the credit he deserved for taking a side that had finished in 10th the season before he arrived and managed to turn them into Premiership champions within 2½ years. From listening to some you would think that this achievement was the least that could have been expected; but just take a look at the side which finished 10th last year – West Ham – and imagine saying that even given unlimited cash that they should consider anything less than being champions in 2016 as failure, and you can see how ridiculous such an opinion really is.
- I was also going to defend City’s performance last year, one largely derided as a timid title defence in the face of the challenge from a mediocre Manchester United team; but United’s accumulation of points last season was anything but mediocre – indeed it was record breaking – up until the Premiership title was secured. And while City were far from stellar last year, they garnered enough points to have seen them as realistic challengers in most seasons; indeed, had we won our final home game (which, sans Mancini, we lost to Norwich) we would have gained more points than United did when winning the title two years previously.
- And while I’d aknowledge that our performances in Europe were less than impressive, it was interesting that analysis of last season normally started by accepting the caveat that we were placed in a very tough group, and then chose to completely ignore that fact when using our Champions’ League campaign as a stick with which to beat Mancini. For me, when I saw the group we were in I knew for a fact that we weren’t as good as Real Madrid; turned out Real weren’t as good as Borussia Dortmund, and so I can’t see failing to qualify from that group as the disgrace some do.
- And finally, one of my bugbears was the way he was treated by a media who, for whatever reason, took against him from the moment he had the temerity to take Mark Hughes’ job, an accusation I can’t remember being levelled at any other manager ever (was Hughes criticised for pinching Sven’s job, or Pellegrini for nicking Mancini’s? Not that I can recall). Being Italian certainly played into the hands of any lazy journalist who wanted to label us as being negative whenever we weren’t scoring goals for fun. And while all managers can come out with stupid statements – and I won’t pretend that Mancini was an exception to the rule – the media certainly seemed to take a special delight in taking his words and twisting them (something they continue to do even now). While he is not the only victim of such behaviour he was certainly at a disadvantage with his grasp of English which, while perfectly serviceable, lent itself vulnerable when dealing with journalists bent on mischief-making and wilful misrepresentation.
That’s not the full story, of course, although it’s probably enough to be going along with for now. But, whilst I made my notes on the matter, time passed like a thief in the night, and I never wrote that post (although I remain of the opinion). Yes, I was pissed off when Mancini was sacked, as were many City fans; but we football fans are all fickle, useful idiots to the cause, and having lived through many a managerial departure I was ready to welcome the blameless Pellegrini and a brave new era. And as expected, over time, the anger faded. But less expectedly, when the anger had faded it left behind it…well…nothing. Or next to nothing. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, when the blue mist cleared I discovered I barely cared what happened next in the City story. And while I can’t predict how I will feel come the denouement of this season, I really thought that by this stage I would have shaken off my torpor. And yet here I am; still here.
Why? I don’t know, and this post is in part me trying to figure it all out. After all, Pellegrini seems a lovely chap and we’re playing some cracking football, scoring goals left, right and centre, the squad shorn of the rancour and disharmony attributed to the Mancini era. So why can’t I just relax and enjoy it? Have all those many barren years as a City fan turned me into some sort of masochist, unable now to appreciate the good times, allergic to them? The fact that I can now occasionally be seen watching Stockport County toil in the Skrill North (the what, you say?) perhaps supports that position.
But I wonder if I’ve been on this path for a while, ever since I decided one day that I would relinquish my season ticket. For sure there were a number of reasons for the decision, but dissatisfaction with the money-dominated nature of the Premiership was certainly one of them. Of course, that was in the days when City didn’t have money, but my opinion didn’t change once we’d won the lottery. I never thought it wrong to spend pots within the rules – City’s petrodollars didn’t break football, it was broken when we found it – but I certainly thought the rules should be such that we should try to prevent any domination by a club with cash.
Having ridden myself of the season ticket further events loosened the ties that bind; I spoke here of my despair at the antics of Thaksin Shinawatra, of Garry Cook. But it was not so easy to rid myself of City; and knowing that money is no guarantee of success I was born to follow as we moved up the league and assembled a stunning team; expensively, of course, but also a team which, in its haste, had its fair share of misfits and cast-offs. Loyalty demanded I follow them when they were shit, and now I couldn’t shake them as we moved onwards, grabbing the Premiership title in the most dramatic way possible.
But even then my spirit was flagging. I started last season with Google News as my home page on Chrome, boasting its customised “City News” section, and with a raft of football forums in my bookmarks. Even before Mancini was sacked the whole lot had gone, so tired was I of reading the never-ending bullshit and drivel. Maybe that was another sign that I’d still been tiring of football – or at least Premiership football – for a while.
But perhaps the key to my disenchantment can be found in two statements innocently issued, with the best of intentions, from within the club. First up, in his post-season interview last year, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak proudly announced that no longer would City be prepared to accept second best, or words to that effect. He meant well, no doubt about that, and I can fully understand where he is coming from; but for me, still reeling from Mancini’s sacking, and brought up on believing that you follow your side through thick and thin, regardless of the result, it was anathema. Let’s just say that if most City fans had that attitude we’d have done one many, many years ago, and Khaldoon current position wouldn’t even exist. What was meant as a rallying call left me shaking my head.
The second statement was made just the other week by club captain Vincent Kompany who, when asked about the chances of City completing the legendary quadruple responded
We can’t promise it will happen now, but eventually it will have to happen…We are the players at the moment who have been chosen to do it. If it’s not us then it will be other players. This club definitely has a target to win every competition possible.
Now, I imagine, when United fans think back to “that night in Barcelona” when they won the treble, their legs go all wobbly and they get a little bit emotional. They think of the drama of those late, late goals at the Camp Nou, and of the remarkable combination of skill, hard work and luck that was required for that historic achievement. Such events are what following football is all about (I myself get quite teary thinking of our play-off final against Gillingham, just a week later). Yet now, here we have a nominally even greater achievement, the quadruple, not being talked of in hushed tones and poetic hues of possibility, but in the blank prose of inevitability. And can you cheer the inevitable? Well you can, I guess; but why bother?
Am I at grave risk here of making too much of an off-the-cuff, perhaps out of context quote? Quite possibly. But I feel this encapsulates my malaise. If I’m right then I think that the sacking of Mancini was more than just the sacking of a manager I liked; it was the severing of the last link with a Manchester City of potential, where failure was a possibility, where we were a work in progress, and where if any club could mess up a gigantic cash injection it was surely my blues. When City were shit, they needed me. As we climbed I enjoyed the ride. At the summit I appreciated the view. But one false move and everything snapped back. Now Manchester City can sack a winner, the person who achieved what I thought impossible, and can just go and get a new top manager, give him £100m for new players and watch him win the quadruple. Or if he doesn’t, the manager after him will. Or the one after him. It’s a project now, rather than a football club, and it doesn’t matter who the manager or players are, because eventually, by brute force and money, it will have to happen, apparently. And this is where you’re meant to applaud.
None of which is to criticise those City fans who have taken Pellegrini to their hearts; I know many of them, and as far as I can tell theirs is the normal way to behave, and it’s me who is being weird. Again, this is I guess just the latest instalment in my growing dissolutionment with football. And perhaps it’s also because I’m getting on and there are only so many hours in the day; is it a coincidence that in the past year, as my interest in City has tailed off, I have started subscribing to The New Yorker and, against the clock, been devouring its long-form journalism on a weekly basis?
Because despite all I have said I am still a City fan, I think; it’s just that perhaps I’m a blue in the same way I’m English. Perhaps it’s all of a part with those other swirling quirks of history and birth, tied up in my being; a element of myself which I cannot avoid, and don’t want to avoid, but which I am no longer bothered about. Yes, perhaps that’s it. I’m English, and a City fan, but don’t look for me at Wembley or The Etihad. Try Edgeley Park. Or even better, my house, with my family, a glass of red, and an article on the perils of a Nantucket fisherman.