On the final day of last season, with Martin Tyler’s acclamation of “Aguerrooooo!” scorching the eardrums, when the most dramatic title race in Premier League history was decided in injury time of the final game, Roberto Mancini achieved hero status in the blue half of Manchester. Twelve months later, although still widely lauded by the fans, his job is far less secure than anyone could have envisaged when the title was won.
Currently City appear to be relatively secure in second place, but with the gap to city rivals United a yawning chasm, their one chance of glory is to win the FA Cup against Wigan Athletic next month. Clearly it would be disrespectful to Roberto Martinez’s team to say that sky blue ribbons will be decking the old trophy at the end of the final, but City have to be strong favourites. So, bear with me for a bit, and let’s say that City lift the trophy and finish second. How does that leave Mancini’s end of season report in the rarefied atmosphere of Eastlands, where with the brass invested, it’s reasonable to expect not only success, but also progress?
Starting as champions and finishing a distant second is clearly going to fall in the debit column. Going head-to-head with United in a slug fest, and falling by a small margin, may have been just about palatable to the City hierarchy, but the season has produced a number of mundane and uninspired performances, and even the victory at Old Trafford could not hide the fact that the team is looking- appearing to feel – a poor second to United. Many of the players that excelled in the title winning year, have appeared to be well under par this term. David Silva, the inspirational player, all silk and polish last season, now looks jaded and far less influential. Joe Hart has looked far less assured. It’s a situation that may not have been helped by him feeling the rough edge of his manager’s tongue, on a few occasions. Sergio Aguerro has had an injury ravaged time of it, but this doesn’t alter the fact that his contribution to the cause has also diminished, and this is to say little of the curious case of Mario Ballotelli, now bursting with goals in Milan. Of course these scenarios may not be Mancini’s fault, but they are however his responsibility.
Looking at the way Mancini strengthened his squad in the summer probably doesn’t help his report card either. Although young Serb centre back Nastasic has blossomed well, Scott Sinclair has rarely been seen, whilst Jack Rodwell’s well-documented injury problems have continued despite the hue of blue on the shirt he’s wearing changing. The European record again, following on from the previous year, offers little comfort. City could claim to be somewhat unfortunate in being placed in a group where the two qualifiers are in the semi-finals of the tournament, but failing to even progress to the semi-compensatory Europa League, losing out to Ajax, is barely excusable.
It’s not a very encouraging picture, so even if City do go on and claim the FA Cup, the very best it will be is that the club will have achieved precisely what it did two seasons ago, when they also finished second, won the FA Cup, and bombed out in Europe. Not exactly the progress that the owners are seeking, I think. Mancini’s prospects, on balance, don’t look great unless a measure of patience, previously not overtly evident, manifests itself at Eastlands. Here’s the nightmare scenario however. What will his prospects be if Wigan beat City?