Sunday 18 February 2018

Mancini lets Robinho know who’s the boss

Pienaar 36, Saha pen 45

Ian Whittell

DISPLAYING the same sort of hearton-sleeve subjectivity that characterised his career in management, Kevin Keegan had little doubt about the significance of events surrounding Manchester City’s Brazilian forward Robinho at Goodison on Saturday.

“It sends a message out and he was brave to do that,” said former City manager Keegan, now a television analyst, talking about Roberto Mancini’s substitution of Robinho 52 minutes after he had put him on as a replacement. “Robinho will get on the bus back to Manchester and think, ‘I have no future here’.”

Keegan was merely articulating what most neutral observers were thinking when Mancini subjected his petulant and underachieving £32m player to the ignominy of being a subbed sub. Robinho’s role in the demise of Mark Hughes was obvious and, as his successor Mancini tasted defeat for the first time in English football, the question remains as to what sort of relationship the new manager will have with a ‘star’ player who has scored just three goals in his last 33 appearances.

Predictably, perhaps, Mancini is not at the stage where he is ready to criticise Robinho publicly, to pick apart his poor away performances, his appalling work rate, his apparent lack of interest in City’s cause. But the manager’s insistence that there was no significance in the substitution rang hollow – it was clearly the new manager sending out a message to the player.

Not so, insisted Mancini. “I wasn’t worried about taking him off because I had to change the situation on the pitch,” he said. “I can’t worry about him. I can only worry about getting the result. Of course I will speak to him, that’s a normal thing to do. Sometimes a player is on form and sometimes he is off. But for me, Robinho played very well. It is not all about Robinho.”

Mancini also dodged the question of whether Robinho has a future at City, simply answering “yes” when asked whether the Brazilian had to work hard during the week to have any hope of remaining at Eastlands.

All circumstantial evidence points to the fact that Robinho does not want to remain at City and that makes this week vital for player and manager, bearing in mind that less than two weeks remain in the transfer window.

Nor is Robinho’s status, and the long-reported interest in him from Barcelona, the only transfer issue at the club. Robinho only came on as an eighth-minute substitute because the forward Roque Santa Cruz had suffered a recurrence of a calf injury.

City’s wide-ranging injury problems are likely to see the club’s billionaire owners hand Mancini some of their vast fortune to invest in strengthening his squad. “Now we have a problem,” conceded Mancini while claiming he does not know whether he will spend. “Santa Cruz is injured, (Martin) Petrov too. And we don’t have the numbers in defence. We have some problems.”

This defeat, per se, will not have alarmed Mancini as much as its manner. After Steven Pienaar curled in a 36th-minute free-kick, there looked likely to be only one winner and, even if Micah Richards should have been punished with a free-kick on the edge of the box instead of a penalty for tugging at Louis Saha’s shirt, the striker’s resulting spot-kick on the stroke of half-time was the least the home side deserved.

For Everton, after an injury-ravaged start to the season, an impressive draw at Arsenal and this emphatic victory suggest their stock is rising.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin (Coleman, 69), Baines; Donovan (Baxter, 90), Pienaar, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov; Cahill; Saha (Vaughan, 84). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Forshaw, Duffy, Mustafi.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Given; Zabaleta, Richards, Kompany, Garrido; Petrov (Benjani, 46), Barry, De Jong, Bellamy; Tevez, Santa Cruz (Robinho, 8; Wright-Phillips, 60). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Onuoha, Sylvinho, Boyata.

Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).

Man of the match: Fellaini.

Attendance: 37,378.

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