Wednesday 21 February 2018

Future looking up for men of means

Caution has served Roberto Mancini well but caution doesn't deliver league titles, writes Dion Fanning

Money provides its own philosophy. Roberto Mancini has advanced Manchester City as methodically as the impossible demands of a club that wants it all and wants it all now will permit.

In time, it may be seen that Mancini's approach was central to creating a club in which the whims of the billionaire owner or the latest marquee signing are not the methods used to shape a club.

City have had the greatest advantage a Premier League club can have when attempting to break into the established order: they have money.

Without a man like Mancini, City could have been hijacked by those in football who spend their time on the search for a soft touch. Mancini, idiosyncratically at times, has brought the force of his personality to the fore.

Perhaps it was important for City to play the sterile football Mancini insisted when they faced the big clubs last season. Without it, he might have just been another courtier desperate to impress. Nobody could have been impressed by City's sterility last year.

In doing that, Mancini asserted himself. He was working in a playground where he could have anything he wanted but he felt it was important to work in a way which asserted some of the values of the Italian managers he has been exposed to like Giovanni Trapattoni and Fabio Capello.

Trapattoni told the story earlier this year of working for the Agnelli family at Juventus. They would, he said, refuse to engage in bidding wars as Agnelli would wonder how he could look the workers on the Fiat factory floor in the face if they indulged the footballers' demands. But that was Juventus, a club which could afford to turn down the outlandish requests, certain of their own position in the ascendancy. City have had to establish themselves and that has required a commitment to indulgence and decadence which Mancini has tried to counterbalance.

"Every Manchester United player understands what United is about. The players understand it is a privilege to play for United," Mark Hughes was quoted in an interview yesterday. "They show the club that deference. I'm not sure the group of players at City understand that yet."

Hughes offered little in the way of a mission statement while he was at City. He provided one-eyed assessments of his team but was also weakened by the sense he didn't know what was going on around him. He was an office manager trying to look tough by jabbing his finger into an underling's chest unaware that some toilet roll is hanging out the back of his pants. He found his level at Fulham and he didn't like it.

Hughes shaped the personality of City by buying Wayne Bridge and Robinho. Others he brought like Vincent Kompany have proved their worth. It's not enough for Hughes. He continues to snipe from the sidelines where he has exiled himself after his comical resignation at Fulham.

Mancini, he said, was "autocratic" and Hughes wondered if the players would "love him when he leaves".

Hughes' remarks illustrated once again that there is a failure in what passes for the intelligentsia in English football to understand what management is about.

They have promoted idols and then insist that a manager's job is to offer pastoral care which could be mistaken for indulgence towards these players. Steve McClaren met his doom talking about 'Stevie G' and 'JT' while Hughes offers a portrayal of Carlos Tevez which suggests he is just misunderstood.

They complain about Capello's coldness as they complain about Mancini's and they miss the point. In a world where players can always get what they want, a manager must try to promote a value system. Mancini has done that, even if it is flawed, and it has been the perfect counterbalance to City's wealth.

"I think Roberto had difficult moment in first season, when he had to clarify with the team the Italian system that they train two times, once in the morning then technical in the afternoon. He won the battle. The results justified his method and proved him right," Trapattoni said in August.

Central to the battles has been Tevez. On Friday, one newspaper published the leaked contents of the investigation into the player's refusal to play or to warm up or to drink an energy drink in Munich.

The Mirror's version portrays Mancini as agitated and unsure on the bench but a team's bench probably shouldn't be treated to a forensic examination.

Tevez has made it so. He was signed to assert City's credentials but then he became disillusioned as those credentials grew and diminished his importance.

"What's important is that you apologise to everyone. I always apologise, the day after. You can say sorry to make things better," Mancini said in an interview given, perhaps, to counterbalance the series of reports which appeared to come from the Tevez camp.

Mancini's interview last week took place in an Etihad Airlines business lounge at Manchester Airport, a setting that reveals a chain of command again. Mancini made his case as the airline promoted some new flights and everyone gets what they want.

City's supporters have too. At Eastlands, City play under a banner that reads 'Manchester Thanks You. Sheikh Mansour'. The banner was put up by the dry, ironic supporters of Manchester City who now embrace the philosophy of new money with an act of forelock-tugging draped across a stadium wall. They have their sugar daddy but who ever wanted their daughter to grow up and marry a sugar daddy?

Yet none of what City dream of would have been possible without Sheikh Mansour. He has delivered on his promises for the team and makes equally exciting promises for a development around Eastlands which will transform the area.

Later this month, the cost of the transformation will be made clear. City lost £121m last time and this year it is expected to be worse. They are dependent on Sheikh Mansour but not driven into debt like Manchester United where the fans protest against the Glazers.

City think they have the better of the deal but there is nothing to be gained from football supporters demonstrating slavish devotion to the owners of the club. It may be understandable given all that Sheikh Mansour has made possible. They will take on United at Old Trafford at lunchtime with Alex Ferguson's side in greater need of three points.

From the moment Sergio Aguero stepped onto the field against Swansea, City have looked like a side of limitless possibility. Mancini has suggested he will limit them again today with three attacking players, probably Aguero, Mario Balotelli and David Silva ahead of Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong.

Barry was another Hughes signing who slows down everything City do. Mancini could be more adventurous today against a United side struggling in midfield. The fact that they pine for the return of Tom Cleverley, who impressed in the Community Shield against City, demonstrates how much of a wasteland it has become.

City could take advantage but Mancini may want to demonstrate his values again. They are necessary but he knows that there is no more building to do.

He can claim his side are still behind Manchester United but some of City's early-season form says the opposite. Mancini's instinct may be to contain against a club which has all the tradition and most of the success in recent years. There are probably good reasons for it but he has a side that can beat Manchester United, today and throughout the season.

He has his own ideas but ultimately Sheikh Mansour's money calls the shots and money demands Manchester City's success.

Manchester Utd v Manchester City

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