That picture of the Manchester City owners looking like thunder at the Emirates was widely interpreted as Mancini’s death warrant. I am not convinced it is. It made for good pictures and headlines but maybe no more than that.
Let me concede that the Italian’s handling of Mario Balotelli has been a lesson on how not to deal with a brilliant player who is also a head case. I disagree with critics who say that the fact that he signed Balotelli showed his lack of judgement as manager. Not at all. Balotelli is gifted, there can be no doubt of that. Any manager reading his scouting reports, and probably having seen him perform, would want him in his squad if not his team.
Football, and all sport for that matter, at the end of the day is chance and luck and managers look for that little key that can make sure that luck flows in their direction and gets them success. I work in a profession where luck also plays a huge part and know how keenly we writers and journalists search for that elusive key. The search is even more exhausting at the top level of sport.
And don’t tell me managers do not sign troublesome players. Remember a certain Eric Cantona? And who signed him? Why a certain Sir Alex Ferguson, then plain Mr Ferguson.
Recall that when United signed Cantona in the 1992 season, Emlyn Hughes predicted disaster for United with Cantona and that was the conventional wisdom. The term enfant terrible could have been invented for Cantona. In December 1991, he had responded to being sent off by throwing the ball at the referee. When he was subsequently banned for one month, Cantona responded by walking up to each member of the disciplinary committee and calling him an idiot. His ban was increased to two months and Cantona promptly announced his retirement.
He came to England and helped Leeds win the title, thwarting Ferguson, but could not get on with Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager and moved to United. The rest is history – how the Frenchman developed a remarkable understanding with Ferguson, fell in love with the club, gave his fellow players belief and confidence and a superstar, ‘King Eric’, was born. Manchester United won league titles and the double. But even then there were problems with the King, as the kung fu incident at Selhurst Park on that January evening in 1995 demonstrated. There is nothing that Balotelli has done that comes close to what Cantona did.
Now you will say that Ferguson’s handling of Cantona showed his vastly superior managerial skills. But let us also recall that following that infamous night at Selhurst Park, United were ready to sell Cantona and might have done so at the right price. They did not. He stayed and led them to more glory.
The difference between Ferguson and Mancini is that Cantona arrived when the Scot was already matured as a manager, having achieved with Aberdeen what no one had done in Scotland before – break the Old Firm stranglehold. He also knew how to handle the media, and let’s face it, the media was not quite as intrusive and judgemental in the 1990’s as it is now.
Mancini needs to learn from that and to keep things within the family in the way Ferguson has perfected over the years.
I thought the most revealing thing about the Emirates was his reaction as Balotelli was finally red carded and slowly trudged off. Balotelli was acting like a petulant child. Mancini reacted like a disgruntled parent and from the touchline furiously gestured to Balotelli to get off the pitch quickly. I can understand why he did so. There were still a few minutes remaining and he was hoping City could snatch a goal and at least take a point. But in reacting that way he showed a certain immaturity.
But then he is still learning. He has brought City a long way. Taken them to heights they have not enjoyed since the 60’s. Remember this is the club that before the war was the by far the bigger club in Manchester. United is much more of a post-war phenomenon. City’s owners need to learn from Martin Edwards and the patience he showed with Ferguson. I do not know if they will. I hope they do.
Follow Mihir on Twitter @mihirbose