Thursday 27 July 2017

Mancini now has all the tools he needs to cast off defensive shackles

James Lawton

James Lawton

Once again we have it, one of those earth-moving collisions between the pride of Manchester and North London. United against Arsenal should also be quite intriguing.

A little premature, you think? Maybe so, but it is also true that when Manchester City appear at White Hart Lane tomorrow afternoon there could be something in the air largely absent since a young Malcolm Allison engaged in a public discussion with Matt Busby.

It came when the elder statesman of Old Trafford injected into his after-dinner speech a formal greeting to the new gun in town.

"Welcome, Mr Allison," said Busby to polite applause, "and here's hoping you give us a run for our money."

Allison's response was predictably bold. "Don't worry, Baby, you'll have to run harder than you ever did before," he shouted across the room.

If the naturally more circumspect Roberto Mancini has yet to challenge Alex Ferguson in quite such terms, maybe it will happen now. Or perhaps his players, if sufficiently unrestrained, will say it for him. Heaven knows, if he didn't have them before, he has them now.

The criticism of Mancini has always been that he has caution in his bones. Yes, he ticked off his objectives but when would he take his men off the leash? Maybe when they made it to the Champions League -- or picked up their first piece of silver in a mid-sized life-time.

The doubts lingered, inevitably when United over-ran them in the Community Shield and a £200,000-a-week player like Yaya Toure and the virtuoso David Silva were required to stand in the wings and acknowledge that for a little while longer at least the status quo had been preserved.

Yet, if Mancini's resources have strengthened remarkably these last few weeks, it is also true his default position has become virtually untenable. Allison attacked because the instinct came from the deepest reaches of his nature.

Mancini is now required to do the same, at least within reason, because anything else would be perverse. Allison noted that players of the quality of Mike Doyle, Glyn Pardoe and Alan Oakes had first to be persuaded of their own ability. In the case of Oakes, the giveaway was that he tended to sweat profusely before going out on to the field.

Mancini has no such obligation, not when he considers the nature of men like Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri, Silva and Toure, and weighs the impact they have already produced when given half an invitation.

Where we can be sure Mancini will have a stride on Allison is in the battlefields of Europe.

However confident he becomes in the strength of his new attacking forces, he will be mindful enough of the possibilities of ambush when he faces names such as Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal in Champions League action.

His great predecessor showed minimal caution when City swept brilliantly to the First Division title and drew Fenerbahce in the first round of the European Cup.

Allison said that it was a case of 'next stop: Mars'. Europe, he said, was filled with cowards. City would sweep beyond them. Of course, they drew at Maine Road and lost in Istanbul.

No, there need be no lurking fears for tomorrow's City when they launch themselves on a new phase of their challenge -- only the fear of fear itself. That was never a possibility for a team which contained Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee and nor should it be for the one which has made, Wembley aside, such an impressive start to the new campaign.

We certainly know what the best of Nasri means. It is attacking football of the richest texture, it is pace, bite and remarkable skill and if he sometimes displayed a disappointing reluctance to take charge of a game in the absence of Cesc Fabregas, there is no question about the value of his individual impact.

It is Aguero, though, who represents City's best chance of announcing new dimensions at White Hart Lane -- and a new appetite for playing the kind of football that should remove the last evidence of the psychological damage picked up by their fans over the years.

The absurdly irritating Poznan procedure is not so much celebration as evidence of old scarring. Certainly, the demeanour and the play of Diego Maradona's son-in-law would suggest an overwhelming desire for everyone to turn their faces towards what is left of the sun.

Nothing, surely, has been more uplifting in this young season than Aguero's arrival at Eastlands.

thrilling

It seemed he brought more than a thrilling facility to play superior football, to run into dangerous positions and inflict all of his skill, not just on behalf of himself but all of his team-mates.

There was also his ability to convey his own pleasure, its accessibility to all who saw it expressed so joyously, so utterly without a hint of ambiguity.

Some worried the other night that Mancini was more concerned with the two goals conceded than the three fashioned brilliantly at Bolton, but then, maybe we should not forget that whatever else Mancini is, and might become, he is also an Italian football man.

It is too much to ask that such a man easily surrenders his grief over a sloppily-surrendered goal. This is not, after all, quite the same as spilling a cappuccino over the new Armani.

As it happens, it was not something Malcolm Allison suffered lightly. That is why he slaved to make big Joe Corrigan such a fine goalkeeper and brought in the old stone mason Tony Book from the West Country and rhapsodised over the progress of a baby-faced young Scotsman named Willie Donnachie.

There was a time when such memories were a rebuke to the team that laboured in the shadow of Manchester United.

But not now they have become just a few more points of inspiration. (© Independent News Service)

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