Past achievements may not be enough to keep Mancini and Adkins in their jobs
SOCCER ANGLES:Perceived recent failings are already piling the pressure on two managers
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time,” said Tolstoy.
“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength,” said someone else.
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Which brings us to Roberto Mancini and Nigel Adkins. When the Premier League season opened back in August, Manchester City’s first match as reigning champions was at home to Southampton, just promoted from the Championship.
The two managers were Mancini and Adkins. That remains the situation but it is a measure of the sliding status of patience within public life, not just sport, that the question hovering around both Mancini and Adkins nine league games on is: for how much longer?
Adkins had not even reached his second anniversary in the Southampton job when seeing his promoted side lose 3-2 at Eastlands. It was an afternoon that suggested the Saints would be an exciting addition to the Premier League.
Mancini will not see a third anniversary at City until next month. Both men are cherished by the respective club’s supporters for their achievements.
At City, Mancini has been the manager who won the FA Cup for the first time in 42 years and the league title for the first time in 44. Those triumphs were hardly Mancini’s alone, but his was the name above the door.
At St Mary’s Adkins inherited a fallen club flailing in the third division and led it to not one, but two promotions. Truly, this was the stuff of dreams.
But if Southampton lose at home to Swansea today and Manchester City lose at home to Tottenham tomorrow, the doubts about Adkins’ and Mancini’s survival in their posts would receive another forward push. Short-termism dictates that two home wins and the issue would temporarily subside.
But the debate as to the two men’s likely successors is already vigorous. The arrival of two figures at City from the Barcelona hierarchy – Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain – mean that Pep Guardiola is being linked with a move to east Manchester, this despite the reality of a Mancini five-year contract signed in July.
This was signed, we know now, after a dalliance with Monaco and as many as seven other clubs according to Mancini himself last week.
“But I preferred to stay here because I’d worked well for three years,” Mancini explained. “The next three or four years will be important. With Begiristain and Ferran we can improve our team. I’ve always thought my future was here. I signed a contract for the next five years because I believe in this squad.”
But belief in the City squad, and Mancini’s ability to inspire it, is faltering, and without core belief, the vital quality of patience is undermined. Three or four years – 2015 or 2016 – feels about a decade away.
The Premier League table shows City to be the only unbeaten team in it, yet the higher measure – Europe – leaves City and the manager vulnerable.
Mancini was on the pitch at the end of Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Ajax shouting “was goal, was goal” at the referee who had just ruled out Sergio Aguero’s onside strike.
That would have won the game and left City third in Group D on four points. As it stands, they are fourth on two points and Real Madrid visit before a last-day trip to Dortmund. City look to be on their way out and even if they win a second consecutive league title, it will come with the caveat: ‘But they didn’t do it in the Champions League’.
Patience with Mancini would then be tested. The question is whether, even now, City’s rulers have lost belief or merely begun to doubt. It is nigh-on impossible to have patience with something you don’t believe; it is possible, in fact essential, to have patience with something you do believe, but momentarily doubt.
This is where Mancini’s and Adkins’s path may diverge.
Those who defend Adkins point out that City are only one of seven of the current top nine whom Southampton have so far faced. After today against Swansea, it’s QPR away, then Newcastle and Norwich at home. By the end of the month, Adkins may be deemed to have soothed doubts and galvanised Southampton.
Some of us thought he had already done the latter. This weekend two years ago Saints were losing at Carlisle in League One and the Championship looked a fantasy, never mind the Premier League.
Adkins drove them upwards.
Now it is about acclimatising to the Premier League. True, Southampton have spent money – around £12 million on Gaston Ramirez alone – but have four points from 10 games and have conceded 28 times.
Yet had they not gone up last season and, say, sat second in the Championship now, Adkins would be hailed for his management. Steady growth, patience - that would be the mantra.
It could be argued that Adkins and his club went too far, too fast. In Champions League terms it’s the opposite for Mancini and City. They’ve not gone far enough, fast enough.
In both instances patience is a victim, along with, quite possibly, managers Roberto Mancini and Nigel Adkins.
McGuinness times it well: Celtic on a high
Jim McGuinness has chosen a good week to join Celtic. The club could scarcely be happier. Wednesday night’s amazing 2-1 victory over Barcelona at Celtic Park has warranted all the bouquets that have been thrown towards Neil Lennon and Co in the days since.
In a purely sporting context, Celtic have put themselves in a strong position in Champions League Group G, second behind Barca and three points ahead of Benfica. They face a trip to Lisbon next and if Celtic win there, they are through to the last 16.
But even a draw would make qualification hard for Benfica. Celtic have then a final game, at home to Spartak Moscow in December, a team they beat in Russia.
That 2-3 result in early October seems a long time ago. It raised eyebrows both in Glasgow and beyond, but what Celtic did in Glasgow on Wednesday caused an altogether greater response.
On a night when both Chelsea and Manchester United won in fairly dramatic circumstances, Celtic still led the news south of the border.
Lennon’s men captured the imagination far away from Parkhead and while that may fade and prove to have no tangible effect, Celtic’s strategic thinkers may muse otherwise.
What took Barcelona aback, said their players, was the volume at Parkhead; what might take Celtic aback is the volume of goodwill that has patted them from outside Scotland.