Saturday 21 April 2018

Mancini recognises danger of guiding a team with character

The impossibility of Manchester City being loved, except by their own partisans, was demonstrated again last week when they became more unpopular by losing Craig Bellamy and Stephen Ireland.

Bellamy and Ireland were transformed into victimised workers as City banned Bellamy from the training ground and revealed how much Ireland was looking for as a pay-off.

Bellamy's case was most heart-wrenching as he scrambled around the country looking for a club that City would allow him to join as well as one at which he hadn't verbally or physically intimidated some of the current squad. With those conditions severely limiting his options, he ended up in the Championship.

Bellamy has become a folk hero, mainly among folk who have never shared a football field with him, so by dropping down a division and allowing more people first-hand experience of his unique personality, he may alienate some of his fanbase.

City care even less about winning the pr battle than they do abut getting value for money, especially as, when you have Sheikh Mansour's billions, everything is value for money.

So they won't have been concerned by the outrage their decision to pay Craig Bellamy's wages at Cardiff caused, not least among the people of Motherwell who are currently owed money by Cardiff, if not Manchester City.

Bellamy returned to his hometown club, a fairytale, they said, if one filtered through the modern lenses of wage demands and merchandising. Indeed, Bellamy's arrival allowed Cardiff City to pay off some of their debt to Motherwell.

A vicious rumour had swept round football on Tuesday that Bellers had given up his image rights. "I have a foundation in Africa and my image rights pay for that," he said, nailing the lie in what was described as a passionate denial. It certainly was the most passionate denial of an allegation that a player had relinquished his image rights.

Bellers, it was said, had a lot to give the world and there were many who assumed he had a lot to give Manchester City, judging on his performances during the portion of last season when City were enjoyable to watch.

Getting rid of his best player and £26m on the same day might seem like unusual business for Roberto Mancini, but it certainly isn't for Manchester City.

In some matters, it seems they are wedded to their history and that is a good thing. The Manchester City that will be seen this season may have nothing to do with the melancholy and doomed club many of us loved. But the impulsiveness of the new regime is certainly familiar.

City may be the most exciting development in football for some time, but that does not necessarily mean it is going to work. The arrival of Mario Balotelli may be emblematic of this approach. Balotelli has been written off by many because of his turbulent time in Italy. He suffered horrific racist abuse while he was there but, some say, that is irrelevant because many of his troubles had nothing to do with those incidents.

If you are a young black Italian in a country that flirts with fascism and racism, it is probably safe to say that everything you are involved in is informed by the racism you've endured while growing up. If you are sitting at home, turn on the television and hear fans at a game between two other teams racially abusing you, then you might develop a sensitivity most of the time.

Freed from these problems, he may become something else, something that Manchester City and Mancini can cherish.

City's reputation may rest with him unless Nigel de Jong can rediscover his form from the World Cup final. Mancini looks determined to break up last year's squad which were mad, bad and dangerous to know. City won nothing with that crew so now they have to think again.

Mancini may be removing the last of what made Manchester City identifiably Manchester City. With his niceness, his commitment to blanket defence and his idea of purging the bad lads from the squad, Mancini is sanitising the club. Balotelli can't do it on his own.

Balotelli arrived and immediately announced he missed Italy, which suggests a long road ahead, but Mancini is also pining for home. "I miss our lack of rigid attitudes and our ability to solve problems on the spur of the moment," he said, conjuring up an image of an Italy few had experienced. "Here in England, they are more regimented."

So even with all the money in the world, sometimes happiness is elusive, but perhaps not as elusive as success or popularity,

But the news that Blackburn's new owners are planning to give Sam Allardyce £100 million to spend could change things. Soon City will be looked on as fondly as Arthur Rowe's push-and-run side of the 1950s.

City could boost their popularity, perhaps, by re-signing the great and unappreciated Nicolas Anelka, now banned by France for 18 matches, 18 matches which he wasn't planning to play anyway.

"They have punished a void, as Nicolas Anelka never existed in this pitiful and colourful affair," he remarked in the post-inquiry interview. This existential ambivalence is at the heart of Anelka, his problems and his majesty.

Bellamy and Anelka are truth-seekers, searching for the answers to questions nobody wants asked, especially if they are asked by them.

Anelka sees the futility in almost anything and certainly anything that involves Raymond Domenech. In this existential ennui, he represents the true spirit of France. He is Albert Camus brought back to life on 95 grand a week.

It is to men like Bellamy and Anelka that we must look when people utter the familiar banality that there are no characters left in football. That is like saying there are no characters left on buses. They are still there. We just spend too much time trying to avoid them.

Sunday Independent

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