Mancini would’ve won it by now

Published: Monday, 17 August 2020

The first thing to say is ‘we’ll never know’. The following is purely speculative - but I’m going to make the case that if City hadn’t sacked Mancini they almost certainly would’ve won the CL by now - and for a whole lot less than Guardiola has spent. A whole lot less.

Let’s deal first with what Guardiola has done at City. He’s produced the English games’s first domestic treble. But - this In a decade when it’s been done in Spain twice. It’s been done in Germany for the first time - and in Italy. It’s been done in France three times in four years. Oh, and we’ve seen a club win the CL three times in a row for the first time in 43 years. So - there’s a trend - the few spending money are generally bossing the many - with the exception of Leicester’s title win. I’m not decrying Guardiola’s treble - I’m simply arguing that it wasn’t unique in modern  European football.

Ok. He broke the 100 point barrier. But, so what? It doesn’t matter if you win the league with 55 points as long as it’s one more than the team finishing 2nd. It is worth pointing out that it’s also been done in Spain and Italy - by the usual suspects, which further supports my argument above. The Italian League, like Portugal and Scotland, has also produced its first invincibles. Some of the football City played in that treble that season was beautiful to watch - as lovely as it was clinical - but when you take into account what was happening elsewhere in Europe - was it unique or following a trend?

Guardiola’s domestic success has come during an era when United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been in decline. Spurs have joined the big six and Liverpool have arrived back on the scene - but has the competition for trophies been as intense as it was when Mancini was at City? Not a chance. No, it hasn’t.

The City boss is credited with making Sterling a better player. Perhaps he has, but I’d argue that Sterling was always going to get better at City. Did Guardiola turn Stones into the world class defender that we expected to see? No. He didn’t. In fact, he’s spent the best part of £320m on defenders and only Laporte has ever looked decent. Think about that and consider how he went in against Lyon - and the personnel he used. It’s staggering. I’ve often asked the question ‘how is it that a super-coach can’t teach individuals - or a team - how to defend?’ 

Only once in four seasons have City had the best defensive record in the premier league. It is worth pointing out that in Mancini's three seasons they were the best and in his first season Mancini's team also won by four goals or more on eight occasions. 

So, other than ordinary central defenders what has Guardiola added? Walker has been terrific. So too Fernandinho when he played in central midfield. De Bruyne has been enormous. I tweeted the other day asking ‘how much longer can they keep hold of him?’ Surely consistent CL failure isn’t good enough for him?

Jesus might yet prove to be decent and if you want a goalkeeper who can pass Ederson is that man (I prefer mine to be able to make saves like Alisson) but the backbone of Guardiola’s success was of Mancini’s making - Kompany, Silva, initially YaYa and Aguero.

You’re getting the impression that Guardiola isn’t my favourite aren’t you? You’d be right! Yes, his Barca side were untouchable - but it was a Barca side built by Rijkaard that had already started winning. He really couldn’t fail with Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. But fail he did in Germany. The team he inherited at Bayern won the treble the year before he took charge. Yea, he won three successive titles, but they were three of eight in succession won the by Germans. His job was the same as it is at City - win the CL - but he didn’t. He hasn’t. In fact, he didn’t get close at Bayern and it’s three successive 1/4-final failures at City. I’d expect him to be winning the things he has with the teams he’s had. It was the big one he was asked to win in Germany and Manchester.

Would he ever consider building as Mourinho has got to at Spurs? I doubt it. Klopp has had a more dramatic effect on Liverpool than Guardiola has on City - yet still he looks down his nose at inquisitors dismissing their right to ask questions of him. No matter what he or his disciples believe, Guardiola did not invent football.

It was Mancini that invented modern day City. There’s no question about that. He took over a ‘nearly’ team. The team that Francis Lee once said of ‘if there was a cup for cock-ups then City would win it every year’. Mancini had to change everything - but his biggest challenge was to make City ‘believe’ - just as Klopp has done at Liverpool. Get City over the line. And boy, didn’t he do just that? Aguerooooooo. Apart from their recent win at CAS - that has to be City’s greatest moment in this era. Oh - and Mancini taking his team to Old Trafford and spanking United 6-1!

Talk to those who were at the club at the time and they’ll tell you that Mancini was elusive, difficult, abrasive and demanding - all of the things that make winners. He didn’t care if he was liked. He wanted people to want to prove him wrong - to fight with him - to go the extra yard and not settle for indifference or second best. It worked didn’t it?

I’ve seen it argued that he lost his appetite the year after City won the title. Nonsense. His players did. Even being five per cent off the pace is enough when the rest are chasing. That’s why they always say winning a second successive title is more difficult. It was avoidable as well. Mancini wanted to add players that summer - the likes of Hazard and Van Persie. I’ve heard Di Rossi’s name mentioned - as well as Cavani’s. The hierarchy didn’t back him. Imagine the injection of just two or three of those. Everybody would’ve been on their toes. If you don’t get better when you come first - you don’t just stand still - you go backwards. That’s what happened.

The following summer Mancini’s players downed tools and played him out by losing the Cup Final to Wigan. It wasn’t just players either - it was staff, who couldn’t wait to see the back of him. By now Garry Cook had gone and the Spanish were moving in - with one long term objective - get Guardiola. His philosophy has never changed - defend by attacking. That’s all very well, but not against the very best. Mancini is Italian. Defend first. It’s impossible for me to think he wouldn’t have won the CL by now. Incidentally, I haven’t mentioned Pellegrini because he won a title with Mancini’s team. He was simply a stop-gap.

So what next at City? Guardiola has 10 months left on his contract. Do City trust him and watch him waste more money? If there’s change should there also be change behind the scenes? Is the Spanish era over? Is it Fraudiola or genius? Super-coach or myth? And who could possibly follow? My vote - Roberto Mancini, but sadly that ship has sailed. And so have City’s chances of ever winning the CL under Guardiola.