Italian composes resignation note as he flops again on biggest stage
Published 26/10/2012 | 05:00
Juergen Klopp had every reason to crow after bringing down Real Madrid, but he sounded more like a man making a job application. It might have been aimed quite specifically at Manchester City, so acutely did it address the problems of the poor little rich boys of English football.
Despite City's resources, however, the 45-year-old German -- who has emerged as arguably the most arresting presence among a new generation of coaches -- was surely seeking to define his brand rather than exporting it to a club which is providing the latest compelling evidence that money, for all that it can bring, will never guarantee the highest success in football.
Klopp's defeat of Real was the second part of a thunderous one-two combination which should have started with a stunning victory over City.
Borussia Dortmund were denied that result quite outrageously at the Etihad Stadium, but this week they confirmed their quality before an ecstatic German crowd.
It was Mancini's progressive nightmare, as his team were once again being utterly outplayed, this time by another young team who had been beautifully prepared for action at the top of the European game.
Under Frank de Boer, Ajax played with a wonderful freedom. City, by comparison, looked as though they were falling apart.
Mancini took the blame on this occasion but then where else could he have heaped it?
His anguished post-game reaction was such that squeamish observers might have been inclined to turn away. Certainly Klopp's policy statement seemed like some ultimate reproach to the City manager.
He said: "It is important to know that with the quality of players we have we can take on the big teams and we showed it today. We had to be bold, keep possession and then also secure our attacking moves."
In a week when the representatives of the Premier League, which so regularly tells us that it is the strongest, richest, most spectacular league in the world, seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown, Klopp offered a timely reminder of the game's best values.
They surely reside in the ability of a coach to draw the best from his players, to carry them to the biggest challenges in a fighting frame of mind.
For Ajax's De Boer, the greatest satisfaction was surely the performance of his young play-maker Christian Eriksen. The 20-year-old Dane has frequently displayed superior talent but no one could ever recall him wielding such easy influence.
He tortured the hopes of Mancini on the field and then later delivered a blow almost as wounding as the charge of City's disaffected defender Micah Richards that he and his team-mates had been inadequately prepared for one of the most important matches of the manager's career.
Eriksen's assessment was mildly delivered but for the beleaguered Mancini it was hardly less toxic for that. He said: "Manchester City played a different game to Real Madrid (comfortable winners in Amsterdam), less zonally and this was better for our playing philosophy. We were able to find more space between their lines and made good use of that."
More brutally, he could have said City were there to be dismantled.
He could have said that something appears to be deeply embedded in the psyche of Mancini's team. Several years ago we were told that City was quite clear about the 'project' and the need to achieve goals, one by one, with a degree of caution. Yet for a second successive season, City are carrying the heaviest baggage into the Champions League.
Before the Amsterdam game, Mancini talked about the importance of improving the team's seeding for next year's competition. Groups of death, he said, had to be avoided. But then how do you achieve that ambition? You make the kind of startling results that have brought Klopp two straight German titles and the fastest rising reputation in Europe.
Klopp talked about the need for freedom and courage both before and after the game.
Mancini's postscript might have almost have been a resignation speech when you considered his deeply embedded failure to make any kind of impact on the Champions League.
Twice now with City he has floundered in group play. Three times with Internazionale he failed to build on a run of Serie A titles, never passing the quarter-final stage.
In Amsterdam he looked like a man ready to concede the most profound of defeats, saying: "If you have spirit and quality you can play in the Champions League, if you don't have it you can't. When you play this game you must have spirit and it is my fault because I didn't prepare well for this game."
An often engaging, deeply knowledgeable football man who never lacked for motivation as a distinguished Italian international, Mancini's profile as manager of City has always seemed in need of another dimension -- and never more so than when locked in combat with his ferocious neighbour Alex Ferguson.
Ferguson denies the concept of defeat and some believe that his greatest achievement was to reach the Champions League final last year with arguably his weakest ever United squad.
By way of the harshest contrast, Mancini came into this season speaking of a desperate need for stronger reinforcements from the transfer market -- just a few months after winning the Premier League.
For a little while City discovered some resolution in the Amsterdam Arena this week. They scored a goal of impressive fluency and the immediate effect was uplifting. But it was an illusion. Ajax produced a goal of their own, one of haunting brilliance for all those who remember them as a team who set the standard in Europe, and City crumbled.
Klopp spoke of the need for boldness, said that without such an asset a team, however expensively assembled, was nothing.
Mancini said essentially the same thing -- and then held himself responsible for its answer.
He might as well have been composing a resignation note. (© Independent News Service)