As our long and emotionally gruelling season starts to come to its end, we find ourselves 8 points off the leaders with us needing a galaxy sized miracle to turn a season of despair into triumph. With the odds of City winning the title now in the realms of Paul Gascoigne becoming the next Chelsea manager, the spirit of post mortem has descended on the Club from our fans, from the media and even from the less than complimentary fans of other clubs.
We started the season in spectacular form; the form of champions elect. Up until late December, we barely looked like dropping 10 points let alone points in 10 matches. Were we overrated by the pundits and now come crashing down to Earth? Was this just good form that we got carried away with? I don't tend to think so; I still believe that this team when they have their tails up are capable of greatness. Our comebacks against Chelsea, against Sporting and earlier in the season an unsuccessful but spirited comeback against United show the level of fight that this team possesses and the mental strength that they draw upon in tough times.
The question still remains however, where did it all go wrong?
The latest batch of punditry will tell you that it's Balotelli's fault. The one before that was Silva's fault, the one before that was Yaya at the African Nations. These are overly simplistic. There is not just ONE reason why City have failed to keep up with their rivals and dropped out of form, there are many. Some of them are huge problems, others minor ones that have affected our season in a negative way. The point of this post was to try and help identify these using the season as a perspective.
We Have Consistently Lacked Leadership At Board Level
I believe this to be a very major point that many have overlooked. Our summer transfer dealing was partially unsuccessful (which I'll get to later) and we had zero opportunity to fix this in the January window due to the lack of a CEO. We failed to deal effectively with the Tevez saga in January and made a rod for our own backs in terms of the later effects. Some of our PR activity this year has been the equivalent of letting yourself get punched over and over, then eventually flicking the ears of a random bypasser. We still lack a cohesive structure for our Academy and the EDS experiment with the NextGen series was a failure by every metric. There are powerbases formed in the Club with alternative theories for the future.
All of this could have been stopped by having a strong leader. Khaldoon, for all of his charm and dedication, is an international businessman with hundreds of Directorships with many far bigger and more involved problems than City. It isn't his job to strategise the most effective way to deal with the BBC and Vieira. Whilst I'm sure John MacBeth is a very capable individual, he has shown that he is not currently fit to deal with the challenges of one of the biggest, most difficult and highest profile jobs in football.
I accept that appointing candidates at this level is a difficult and time consuming task, with many people on 12 months notice periods but this does not mean that it isn't a problem, just that it is an understandable problem. Let's hope this summer brings in a new CEO, a new Technical Director and dare I say a new Football Administrator.
Width, Wingers and Whingers
In a more football orientated sense, we have failed to provide width in games where we are facing 2 banks of four. Mancini has always played very narrowly, even back to his days as Inter and Fiorentina manager, with his fullbacks charging up to provide the width that having "inside out" wingers fails with. I know that Gary Neville had a very popular video on Youtube recently discussing this and I agree with much that he has to say (as an aside, Gary Neville is singlehandedly changing punditry in England as we know it, and for the better. I wonder if those people who cancelled Sky are picking it back up yet?).
It's no good having one fullback go forward, both of them need to go forward together to create the overload opportunities that we need to create the space for the central players. Even if Neville is correct and fullbacks are no longer closing them, we still have guys who can cross to a box with Balotelli, Dzeko, Toure, and Richards possibly occupying it.
Outside of the Harlem Globetrotters, we aren't going to be beaten for height by any team. Unfortunately, we seem to be playing fullbacks who are very good at knowing when to go forward but not great at actually crossing. They aim for the high man in a first time cross and it usually ends up on the other wing or out of play.
Personally, I'd like to see them try a different tact. If pin point crossing isn't working and you aren't hitting your targets, play a fast paced, low ball into the box. You've lost possession either way and you have a packed box in which anything can happen. This sounds very anti-Mancini-style and even a bit anti-technique but to be honest, guys like Valencia have made a career off of it and he's one of the best wingers in the world.
Losing Kompany and Lescott to be replaced by Toure and a very unsure Savic made the fullbacks only go up one at time, probably because they didn't trust their defence in a counter attacking scenario and it has hurt us quite a bit. The amount of time that Kompany has been out for, again with the lack of action at board level concerning a reliable CB has been one of the key points in our failure to continue this season.
The winger problem has a few different causes. Again we can point to the lack of leadership and fight at board level. We allowed Sanchez to drag out his decision to go to Barca for way too long, and put all of our eggs in the Sanchez/Cerci basket. With none of these coming off, we were left short. Why we then decided to allow SWP to move on I am not sure but I imagine it was due to his exemplary service to the Club and the fact that he wanted regular first team football - something that we couldn't guarantee. Even after the Sanchez/Cerci debacle in the summer, we were far too concerned with managing the Tevez situation in January to go out and secure this very important piece of the jigsaw.
This is certainly one way of looking at events and I agree that we failed to secure our targets. However, Mancini has to take a big portion of the blame here simply because we have wide players in the squad that he failed to utilise. I'm not sure if he has forgotten his first few months at City, but he played Milner out wide, or whether he has forgotten that he also played Balotelli as a wide winger at Inter more than a few times.
I do understand his reluctance to start Johnson as he has consistently proven himself to be defensively poor, predictable and one dimensional. I don't even need to mention why he's predictable as anybody reading a blog post on a Man City site will all have the same answer when I ask the question "What does he do when he faces a man?".
The professional managers and scouts have also noticed this yet have also noticed his constant inability to hand off players and his inability to get goalside of his man when tracking. He has a severely challenging football intelligence; he's so dense that light seems to bend around him yet we have been forced to play him simply because he's one of the only players who have shown that they can come off the bench and change the game for us, simply because he's so different to what we have available.
For me, this is the big one. The Tevez incident had so many knock on effects with this season that analysing them all is like trying to explain quantum physics to that "Nice one Steeeeeeeeeeeeve" bloke on the insurance adverts. Speaking of him, if anybody happens to come across him in the street and would like to eviscerate him for me, then that would just be dandy. But I digress.
The Tevez scenario completely took over our January, created questions around Mancini, created questions around his trust in his players and created questions around his mental attitude in recalling him. Whilst these are all damaging, it also buggered us in other ways.
As we had our fourth striker absent, Aguero and Silva were completely ran into the ground.
I see what Mancini was trying to do here, two big men up front in Balo/Dzeko, two little men behind in Aguero/Tevez (or whoever he wanted when he threw Tevez out) and two close control playmakers in Silva/Nasri. It's a nice balance and a sensible, considered plan. The problem is that having Tevez on the books meant that we couldn't fill the spot for him, which meant that Aguero played constantly and Silva had to try and fill in the gaps. Those times when he did rest Aguero, he tried Balo/Dzeko combination which is the equivalent of swapping a cheese and tomato pizza with a tomato and tomato pizza. You can call it a pizza, but basically you've got a ketchup butty.
Having two strikers wanting to play the channels/break the lines in front of him, Silva was the only one who was actually passing forwards from that position. Nasri, for all of his recent improvements, spent most of the season baulking out of challenges and making pretty yet uneffective runs. He's another one who could have played as a guy who stays wide if Mancini fancied him though I do understand why this one particularly didn't.
Tevez not only cost us our self respect, he also cost us the chance for a fourth striker, he could have saved Silva and Aguero's legs for ten games a year and hell, he might even have scored once or twice when not concentrating on his golf swing. His effects on squad morale are personally unknown to me and I'm trying to keep this thing free of too much speculation but I imagine that a tag team of Balotelli thinking he's Charlie Chaplin and Tevez thinking that he answers only to God or something can't have helped much. We are nothing if not entertaining though. Even when we're playing well on the pitch you can always find something that will make you question what the bloody hell you are doing throwing your kids inheritance away on this shower of shite. Typical City eh?
This is a small point that I give points to Mancini for but then almost immediately take them away. City, more than any other English team I have seen including Arsenal, can keep the ball. They hold on to that ball like their lives depended on it. Unfortunately with a midfield of De Jong, Barry, Milner and Yaya, this meant that we either passed it sideways to a wingback, or we ran with the ball and tried to carry it a few yards....before passing it to the side. Too many times, Silva, Nasri and Aguero had to drop back to pick up the ball and it put them in positions on the field where their obvious talents where utterly useless. These are not Messi; men who will take on their man within a 3 yard gap and carry the ball, they all create space by movement and excellent passing. This movement and excellent passing is completely ineffective if it's on the half way line.
To be fair to Mancini, he recognised this very early and made overtures to De Rossi, a guy who is the regista type player that we need. We can chalk this one down to yet ANOTHER target that we failed to land, instead ending up with David Pizarro, his partner at Roma on loan. As much as I rate Pizarro's influence on our style of play (and I heavily rate it), it's like shooting for Laurel and Hardy and ending up with the Chuckle Brothers. Good, but a little disappointing.
The reason why I immediately take those points away however, is that he just hasn't been used enough. What is the point of securing a lynchpin for the team who can heavily contribute to the problems that we face as a playing style and bringing him on with twenty minutes to go. If he was as important to the team as his transfer suggests (a loan move in January for a completely different type of player) then surely he should recognise that his presence alone will not solve our problems and we needed him on the pitch?
Either way, it's a little harsh to berate Mancini for such a move. His fitness wasn't great when he came in and guys like Milner would rightly be asking about their place in the side if a 30-odd year old loanee was playing more games than them. I can't help but feel that he has sacrificed his vision here for the sake of internal politics, just as he did in the Tevez saga.
Ok, I can see alarm bells ringing already with the "crank alert" but hear me out. This post is supposed to look at some of the causes of our downfall over this past season and why we failed to seal the title despite our strong position. I don't think the media had a huge hand in that, but it didn't help.
The media set the discourse in the country. The conversation agenda of 90% of fans stems directly from what analysis they have read combined with what they see themselves. Due to this, the media basically get to set the agenda for the nation.
Many papers ran with stories about City "cracking under the pressure" even when we were in fine form, and the absolute shite about "Fergie's mind games" spouted by these hacks was even more frustrating. But it worked. People believe this drivel or it at least plants an idea in their head.
The fans have been nervous, and that nervousness transfers to the players on the pitch if we are not doing well in the first 30 minutes or so. An audible groan is heard every time we hit a ball into touch, or a sloppy pass is lost. This makes the players much more cautious than they usually are and it's probably why City's PR team started the #together campaign and why our players on Twitter keep banging on about cheering for the team. Overly cautious teams don't score goals. Just a small point, but one that I wanted to make.
Never one to end on a sour note, I'm positive about our future. I think we need to go big this summer. Sack Mancini, bring in Mourinho, Ronaldo, possibly Messi if we can, maybe Rooney might fancy a change and that bloke in Dortmund is meant to be a bit of alright.
In all seriousness though, all of these are problems that have cost us, yet none of them are insurmountable; it's just that they all came together into a perfect storm of crap. Blame must be assigned but I'm personally trying not to do that so much simply because of the subjective nature of it and stoking the fires doesn't seem helpful to anyone. You can decide for yourselves here.
We need to address our problem with width, either by utilising Kolarov/Milner in wide spaces to spread out defences or by purchasing a player. I like the idea of Bale personally. With Spurs struggling to get in the top four and an uncertain future for their manager, with his age and ability, he seems to perfect fit for us. Well, assuming we don't have a manager who takes the most exciting winger prospect in the world and puts him behind the strikers. Nice one 'Arry. Triffic mate.
I still think that we need to address our midfield situation and I can see De Jong leaving at the end of the year. I would like to see us go for Xavi to fill his spot. With Fabregas years younger than him, and the emergence of Thiago from Barca's excellent youth policy, his age at 32 and their struggles with FFP coming up, Barca may be tempted to allow him to move on. There was talk of this last summer and he'd fit like a glove.
Fourth striker/centre back wise you can basically go to Football Manager or FIFA and pick any name you like. Or visit the Bluemoon Transfer Forum. The striker will need to be the Aguero type mold rather than Dzeko and we're desperate for a ball playing centreback in case Lescott/Kompany get injured. I'd like to keep Savic if possible as he's one of those that looks like he needs a loan deal but may be very good in years to come. Guidetti should go to another Premier League club mainly because I don't think his exploits in the Netherlands mean that he is bang on for a starting role at a club fighting for the CL and the Premier League. Even Freddie Mercury-alike Suarez scored loads over there and he can't score for toffee here. Or even against the Toffees (ok, I'll stop).
The board level leadership is a serious issue that needs to be addressed as soon as humanely possible. I'm not anywhere close to qualified to talk about suitable candidates here but many on the Forums are, so ask them. Apparently, some bloke from Tesco is a front runner. Not sure what running a supermarket has to do with running a football club but as I say, I'm woefully underqualified to judge. Maybe he'll do a 2-for-1 deal on Adebayor and Santa Cruz?
We need a football guy. A person who understands the intricate business of running a football club and is not out of place quaffing with Platini and his chums. A person who can take us to the next level and beyond, both as a company, a club and as an academy. Who they get to fill this gap is vital for where we go from here.
Either way, this year has shown people that we've arrived. Last year we were fighting it out for 4th spot, now we've overtaken those lot and are fighting for top spot and we will strengthen again this summer. United look ominously good in what most think is a transitional season for them, but they didn't win it, we lost it for ourselves. Next year, I wouldn't bet against us taking one more step up the ladder.