Mancini's meddling gets the right response
Manchester C 1 Swansea 0:DRAMATIC CHANGES in formation and personnel are not confined to Roberto Mancini’s tactics. Manchester City overhauled their management team yesterday by appointing Txiki Begiristain as director of football. The former Spain international occupied the same position at Barcelona for seven years and will assume responsibility for transfers at his new club.
The football administrator Brian Marwood, previously in charge of recruitment, has been moved sideways to become the managing director of the club’s academy in a move overseen by City’s new chief executive, Ferran Soriano, who worked with Begiristain at the Camp Nou.
“Given the scale and importance of this challenge, we want to commit our very best people to it,” Soriano said.
“I am delighted Brian Marwood will take leadership of the CFA initiative and I am equally very pleased to welcome an individual of Begiristain’s calibre. I have no doubt that together, and in support of Mancini, they will be a formidable team.”
Mancini and Marwood may not have been; they endured a fractious relationship, especially when the manager’s preferred transfer targets eluded him in the summer. Yet change is a constant where Mancini is concerned.
While Claudio Ranieri tinkered at Chelsea and Rafa Benitez rotated at Liverpool, Mancini meddles, incessantly and, according to his critics, needlessly.
The Italian is an obsessive, compulsive decision-maker, unable to let a game evolve without his interference. Against Swansea, as in Amsterdam three days earlier, he switched the shape and altered the individuals in his team and, once again, he got a reaction from the dressingroom.
This time, however, it was a seal of approval.
“It was a good change,” said Gareth Barry after a half-time reshuffle when Sergio Aguero was redirected to the left, Mario Balotelli brought on to lead the line and Carlos Tevez ordered to operate behind the Italian.
“Carlos pressed the holding midfielders and put them under a lot of pressure,” Barry said. “The period we were on top in the second half was probably down to that.”
If Ajax profited from one of Mancini’s radical rethinks, this time City were the beneficiaries.
“It’s nice to talk about a positive one,” Barry added, noting it was the second successive league game shaped by Mancini.
“He made an attacking decision at West Brom and [Edin] Dzeko came on and scored two goals. Those things don’t get spoken about.”
Indeed, City’s adrenaline-fuelled surge to the title owed much to Mancini’s mid-match input. Telling substitutions against Chelsea, Newcastle and QPR were reasons for eventual, vital victories.
This season’s narrative has been different. With his fondness for a three-man backline, Mancini has been charged with breaking something that did not require fixing.
“The manager wanted a Plan B,” Barry said. “The players didn’t seem to be overly confident playing it but, if the manager wants to go with it, you have to do your best.”
And Mancini remains undeterred.
Switching to three central defenders was an attacking gambit that backfired against Ajax and a way of shutting up shop against Swansea.
When Joleon Lescott was introduced, City finished with five defenders. Just a second clean sheet of the season was secured before, having frustrated the Swans, Vincent Kompany turned his attention to his accusers.
Defiance is his default setting and Kompany denied his form has suffered – “I feel good,” he said – and, while a former rebel, in Tevez, delivered the winner, he denied reports of a modern-day mutiny in the City camp.
“The stories are based on things that I can’t even relate to,” he said. “I question the integrity of anyone who would write this. It’s sensationalism, nothing more.”
Siege mentalities tend to be features of title-winning teams in Manchester and it appears another is being constructed.
“I have been at City four-and-a -half years and can’t say I have had many moments where we have had the whole country singing our praises,” the Belgian said. “I don’t listen to criticism. It doesn’t affect me. I wouldn’t expect the manager to be affected by it . . . We won the game and we move on now. We are doing all right in the league. The most important thing here would always have been the result, certainly after Wednesday.
Mancini may not be affected but he is aware of it. Knowing his growing reputation as a hardline disciplinarian, the manager joked that he shot only three players after a wretched first-half display. Actually his response was entirely in character. He meddled. And once again his intervention was influential.