independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Ghost of Mourinho haunts Mancini's ailing Euro dream

Roberto Mancini remonstrates with a camera man after a frustrating finish to Tuesday night's Champions League tie

IT was a night for concession speeches, but although both Mitt Romney and Yaya Toure invoked God, only the former governor of Massachusetts actually admitted he was beaten.

Needing to overcome Real Madrid and then Borussia Dortmund merely to have a chance of making the knockout stages of the Champions League, Toure remarked: "We have to believe in God and I swear that maybe we can still go through."

Toure, unlike many of his colleagues, had at least played to his potential in the frenetic 2-2 draw with Ajax. However, he, like his manager Roberto Mancini, put the blame for Manchester City's failure to register their first win squarely on the shoulders of the referee, Peter Rasmussen, rather than some absurdly sloppy defending.

"The referee decided this game because there were two clear penalties, one in the first half and the other at the end with Mario Balotelli," said Toure. "When you draw or lose, it is always difficult and, when you see the statistics, you can think we were unlucky. You have to have God with you."

Escape

Given that Mancini will escape any censure for marching across the pitch and launching a tirade of criticism at Rasmussen, Manchester City might very well think the Almighty is still on their side. In his post-match press conference, Mancini seemed to accept both that City were already out of the Champions League -- "it is finished," he said -- and that, at the very least, he would be watching the Madrid game from the stands.

However, UEFA said disciplinary action could only be taken against the City manager if either the referee or the match delegate Ivan Lekov mentioned the incident in their official reports. Since neither did, an incident that showed neither the class nor the style that has come to be associated with Mancini, will be allowed to pass.

However, a record in European football that looks ropier with every succeeding match demands to be examined. It will not help Mancini's mood that his fate will be decided by a side managed by Jose Mourinho, who at Internazionale did what Mancini failed to do and steered the club to its first European Cup since 1965.

It took Mourinho two years, less time than Mancini has been in Manchester, to win the European Cup. Mancini has acknowledged that it is difficult to bring in footballers with planetary-sized egos and mould them into an effective unit.

However, it's hard to imagine men less modest about their own abilities than Samuel Eto'o and Wesley Sneijder. Goran Pandev, Diego Milito, Thiago Motta, Sulley Muntari and Brazil captain Lucio were also brought in by Mourinho and turned into European champions with astonishing speed.

This was something Mancini never remotely came close to at Inter and shows no sign of doing in Manchester. Sometimes at San Siro, he was undermined by individual indiscipline. His main striker Adriano was overweight, on the bottle and, just before they played Valencia in the 2007 quarter-finals, absent without leave.

The indiscipline extended on to the pitch. When, the following season, Inter faced Liverpool, they had a man sent off in each leg of the tie and Mancini's decision to employ Patrick Vieira as a defensive midfielder was ruthlessly exploited by Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt.

What undermined Manchester City has been an astonishing defensive frailty, emphasised by the fact that before kick-off on Tuesday, no goalkeeper in this season's Champions League had more shots aimed at him than Joe Hart, who was to be beaten twice by Ajax captain Siem de Jong less than 17 minutes in.

When Javi Garcia, who had been signed from Benfica to help protect City's back four, was taken off, there were sighs of relief around Eastlands. Matija Nastasic is, at 19, very young for a centre-back. Mancini's reservations surrounding Joleon Lescott are well known.

The anger Mancini displayed at the end was not limited to Rasmussen and an unfortunate ITV cameraman who got too close. "Everybody was angry," said Pablo Zabaleta, one of his most loyal supporters. "He is the manager and he has to shout at the players. That is normal. Every manager would have done the same. All the shouting is just passion and he is a very passionate man."

Mancini has long argued that Manchester City's priority is retaining the league title. They don't want to be a Blackburn or a Newcastle, who offered a brief, intense challenge to Manchester United before fading back into the pack.

However, at Chelsea, the Premier League was not enough for Roman Abramovich, while three successive Serie A titles did not ultimately satisfy Inter's president, Massimo Moratti, who offered Mancini's squad a £260,000 a man bonus to win the European Cup.

That kind of money would buy Yaya Toure for less than a fortnight at City, who must wait to see whether two Premier Leagues are enough for Khaldoon al-Mubarak. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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