Could stylish Mancini be the next Mourinho?

by William Abbs

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Knot Making Sense

It is only a little over a week since Roberto Mancini swept into Manchester City, but already the mood and the expectation levels at the club have enjoyed a significant upturn. Can this entirely be put down to the blue-and-white scarf that the Italian wears on match days? Certainly, the British media have been charmed by it; the manner in which Mancini ties the scarf about his neck demonstrates not only his football colours but his sartorial sensibilities as well.

As ever, though, such a fashion statement would count for nought were results not going the new manager’s way too. After beating Stoke 2-0 at home on Boxing Day, City put three past Wolves without reply at Molineux two days later. An energetic Wolves side’s hopes of denying City their first away win since August might only have been dashed by a dozing linesman who failed to give Craig Bellamy offside in the run-up to the second goal but, nonetheless, Mancini is refusing to rule out winning the title this year after having previously claimed that qualification for the Champions League was the only goal.

Mancini replaced an iconic figure in British football when Manchester City bade arrivederci to Mark Hughes. During a playing career that straddled the period in English football when the First Division became the Premier League, the Welshman played for two of the current ‘big four’ – Manchester United and Chelsea, winning two league titles with the former and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup with both clubs – and managed his country to a famous victory against Italy in 2002.

Mancini did enjoy a brief but well-received loan spell with Leicester City in the first half of 2001 but, with his playing career winding down at the age of 36, the Italian returned to Serie A that summer to become Fiorentina’s player-coach. Consequently, Mancini’s profile in England never grew to the same extent as that of other Italian imports, such as Gianfranco Zola and Gianluca Vialli, who moved to the Premiership earlier on in their careers and, consequently, stayed for longer too.

Despite having won three consecutive Serie A titles with Inter Milan between 2006 and 2008, then, Mancini’s appointment at Manchester City was met with surprise and suspicion in some quarters. Mancini had been out of work since being sacked by Inter last year, nominally for failing to succeed in the Champions League. Furthermore, Mancini’s presence at Eastlands for Hughes’ final home game in charge, a 4-3 win over Sunderland, could have been construed as a show of disrespect for his predecessor.

However, Mancini cannot be held culpable for the undignified way in which the news of Hughes’ sacking leaked out of the club before and after City’s league game on 19th December. The Italian did not deserve certain incredulous responses to his appointment that picked up on the similarity between his name and that of the composer of the signature score for the “Pink Panther” films. The league titles that Mancini won with Inter were undoubtedly made easier to rack up by the fact that AC Milan and Juventus were hamstrung by penalties imposed upon them as a result of the calciopoli scandal (indeed, the title was awarded to Inter in 2006 only after it was stripped from the bianconeri), but the Italian has also won the Italian Cup four times with three different clubs.

Mancini’s scarf, though, might just hold the answer to his future at Manchester City. It is tied into what resembles a hangman’s noose, oddly complementing the rumours that the current manager’s fate is already sealed. It has been suggested that Mancini is merely keeping the seat in the dugout warm until the summer, when the club will look to tempt a manager capable of bringing instant but enduring success. José Mourinho and Arsène Wenger are being touted as the City board’s main targets, despite the former preferring to wait for the job across town at United to become available and the latter unlikely to suffer gladly the interference in transfer policy that seems to operate from within City’s boardroom. Unless Mancini does improbably overcome a 10-point gap to take the Blues to the top of the table between now and May, he will be faced with continual questioning over his job security for the rest of the season. How Mancini handles the pressure will be fascinating to watch, lest the new manager suffer a pratfall at City befitting Inspector Clouseau himself.

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