Outburst shows Mancini feeling the pressure
At least Roberto Mancini has been spared a touchline ban to go with the other ordeals Manchester City have encountered in the Champions League, even if the threat of recriminations because of his tete-a-tete with an unobliging referee never felt the most relevant part of the story anyway.
It was more about what it said of his current frame of mind after another of the repetitive disappointments that, true to form, saw the first press release from the bookmakers land the following lunchtime. “Mancini odds on to say arrivederci” was the title. The latest odds: 2 to 5 that he leaves before the end of the season.
It is a debate that tends to ignore the fact that Alex Ferguson, for one, would be delighted if he no longer had the Italian as a direct competitor. Yet it is a legitimate debate, all the same, when another European campaign is slowly disintegrating, the people running the club on a day-to-day basis have Pep Guardiola on speed-dial and the current manager increasingly appears to be showing the strain, culminating in his march across the pitch to confront the referee after Tuesday’s 2-2 draw against Ajax.
Let’s not exaggerate this, what happened was not in the same league as, say, Mancini’s mini-breakdown at the end of the 1992 European Cup final when he tried to chase the referee, Aron Schmidhuber, and probably would have got to him, too, if it were not for Domenico Arnuzzo holding him back.
Nonetheless, Mancini’s decision to go after Peter Rasmussen and the two assistants did little but increase the sense of someone feeling the pressure. Turning on the nearest cameraman was even dafter. If Mancini genuinely believes the cameras should be turned off at the final whistle, and that the people filming the match ought not bother with a manager making a beeline straight for the referee, there is something badly blurring his judgment.
The real story here, of course, is not actually what happened after the final whistle but the preceding 90 minutes, the lack of control, the vulnerable defending, a flawed zonal-marking system and the fact it leaves City bottom of Group D, with two points from four games going into their final two fixtures against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
Two things are certain. One is that Ferran Soriano, City’s recently appointed chief executive, and the new director of football, Txiki Begiristain, prefer a manager to act with good grace rather than getting involved in the kind of outbursts we have seen from Mancini over the last week. The very reason Barcelona, under the Soriano-Begiristain regime, turned down Jose Mourinho and appointed Guardiola in 2008 was because they did not want someone who would create controversy.
The second is that there is very little appetite for change among the club’s supporters. Mancini’s name was sung loudly against Ajax, as it is in every game.
The bottom line, however, is that City have greater ambitions than being knocked out of the Champions League group stages every season. Tuesday was the first time Begiristain has watched Mancini’s team since joining the board and it ended with a manager coming dangerous close to a disciplinary charge and the captain trying to stop one of his team-mates from doing something he might regret.
It was a glimpse of the old Mancini, a return to the days when Sven-Goran Eriksson, his former coach at Lazio, remembers him as the worst player he has ever known for getting into referees’ faces.
As for Balotelli, where do you start? At Blackpool’s Sea Life, perhaps, where they have just named one of their sharks after him. “He [the shark] seems to exhibit the same behaviour as the footballer,” the general manager, Jenn Newton, told the Manchester Evening News. “At feeding time we put the fish on a big pole and he will try to pull staff into the pool or snap the pole.” Trouble, in other words.