Why Sheikh Mansour’s gamble on Mancini makes sense

Sympathy abounds for Mark Hughes, along with criticism of his sacking, so let’s have a look at why City have decided to make a change now and bring in Roberto Mancini.

Firstly, it’s clear that with Liverpool struggling there is a belief that a Champions League place is up for grabs and City should be going all out to grab it. Forget that line from Khaldoon at the end of last season about 6th place being good enough this time round. At the time it felt like a PR statement to keep the media happy and the pressure off Hughes in public. And now we see that’s all it was.

Following a successful Summer transfer window, and an open Premier League this season, their can be no doubt that this season’s target is a top four place.

As I’ve written previously, the professionalism of Hughes in the way he conducted himself and on matters off the pitch won the initial backing of the board and he brought in experienced quality players. We may have paid over the odds, and they aren’t Kaka style galacticos, but it is still a very good squad with strength in depth.

Unfortunately, when the team goes out on the pitch, it has consistently failed to be the sum of it’s individual parts. The defence in particular never looks convincing, and Hughes’ coaching team haven’t been able to resolve the problems.

The problem with the tactics and coaching has been best exemplified by Richard Dunne – a solid defender under Stuart Pearce, Sven, Martin O’Neill and Giovanni Trappatoni; he looked a liability under Hughes. Micah Richards has likewise gone backwards under the Welshman. Bridge and Lescott followed a nightmare performance against Burnley by appearing as England’s best two defenders against Brazil when under the guidance of Fabio Capello.

Looking back, under Sven, we went to Old Trafford, kept it tight and took the sting out of the game, before scoring twice and closing the game out. There has never been that level of discipline and control under Hughes.

In contrast, we have now conceded three goals in each of the last three fixtures. After a year and a half, a good coach shouldn’t still be waiting for the defence to gel. That has completely undermined Hughes’ position, regardless of all the good work off the pitch.

The loyalty of Hughes to his coaching team has meant no fresh talent has been brought in to this area.

Having decided that we’re going to bid for a top four place this season, the decision for Sheikh Mansour, was whether that would be best served by persevering with Mark Hughes or bringing in someone else.

The run of draws and defeat at Spurs, along with insufficient signs of improvement in the defence has made that decision go against the Welshman. The way we’re playing, there isn’t sufficient evidence that Hughes could claim a top four spot.

Therefore should we just right off this season, or take a gamble and appoint someone else mid-season?

Unfortunately for Hughes, the example of Guus Hiddink at Chelsea is still fresh in everyone’s minds.

Last season, Scolari was struggling with a squad of talented individuals. Drogba was a shadow of his former self, and a top four place was in doubt. Abramovich acted decisively, bringing in a proven coach and hey presto, second place in the league and the FA Cup. Drogba was a man reborn.

City’s board have decided to take a similar gamble. For Drogba, read Robinho and Adebayor. The refusal to sanction Robinho’s move to Barcelona indicates that Sheikh Mansour believes the Brazilian can be salvaged and help inspire us to that top four place.

Guus Hiddink may well have been the preferred coach, but time is of the essence. Games are coming thick and fast. City can’t afford to slide down the league, and there is a transfer window to negotiate.

In contrast, Hiddink is at an age where he is in no hurry to take on a major challenge like City. Extracating him from the Russia job would also be a process that couldn’t be rushed against the Russian Federation’s wishes. These factors are likely to have ruled him out.

If Inter had failed to qualify for the next stage of the Champions League, then Mourinho may have been available. They made it, and he was never going to run away from the challenge of taking on Chelsea in the knockout stages.

Mancini on the other hand has arguably the best CV of any available manager and is keen to work in the Premier League. People are questioning his lack of Premier League experience and the fact Inter benefited from other clubs being punished in the Serie A financial scandal. However Ancelotti, Wenger, Benitez, Hiddink and Mourinho didn’t have previous Premier League experience, and Mancini still managed to finish above Ancelotti and Kaka three times to get his Serie A titles.

Appointing him this weekend may be brutal for Hughes, but it gives the Italian a full week to work with the squad before the game with Stoke. That’s as long a period as he could have at this time of the season. It also gives him a few weeks to assess the squad and bring in new players during the January transfer window.

Wholesale changes are unlikely. Initially, Mancini is here primarily for his coaching skills and ability to get results. There may be a couple of additions, but the turnover of previous transfer windows is highly unlikely. That won’t stop the speculation in the press mind.

His lack of experience in England and inability to speak the language (though apparently he has been having lessons) make the appointment a big gamble. But once it was decided that Hughes wasn’t likely to take us to fourth place, what is there to lose?

Finishing in a Europa League place is neither here or there to City’s owners. If Mancini crashes and burns, then Mourinho or someone of that ilk may be available in the Summer. There is talk of a clause in the Italian’s contract that he could be paid off in the Summer, though that may just be speculation.

One thing’s for sure, the target of fourth place has now been set. We have a coach with an impressive record of trophies who is hungry to do well. It promises to be an exciting ride once again. Here we go with Mancini’s blue and white army!

  • Do you think City have done the right thing? I’d be interested to hear thoughts on Roberto Mancini.
Time running out for Mark Hughes?
City reject Barcelona bid for Robinho


  1. Your assessment makes a lot of sense but I can’t help but feel Hughes sacking was premature. He needed more time and would one season where we fell short of the top four really made any difference? After nearly 40 years supporting City, I personally could have waited a little longer. I honestly thought Hughes was being moulded in a similar manner to that of Ferguson — in that there was a long term plan. I feel very sorry for Mark Hughes right now and I sincerely wish him well. He has worked wonders for the club and helped it take significant steps forward; especially behind the scenes. I am confident that the vast majority of City fans are grateful for what he has done and he will always be thought of very highly. Best of luck, Mark!

    • There’s no doubt Hughes and his team gave it their best shot. I did want them to succeed and thought the board were right to back him in the Summer, even if performances last season were often unconvincing. I’m sure Hughes will return and he can definitely put a positive spin on his time here – left with the team in 6th place and only two league defeats, etc. I could see him turning up at Newcastle if they get promoted. Someone with his professionalism would be what they’d need to re-establish themselves in the Premier League.

  2. The assessment is spot on. If the owners perceive that the percentage chance of hitting the top 4 with Mancini is higher than by sticking with Hughes then it is the right decision. What James is missing in his response is the reasons that the 4th place target is so important this year. First it is a unique opportunity with Liverpool in such turmoil. Second, there is a perceived threat from UEFA with their proposed new rules that will stop clubs playing in the Champions League if they are spending their owner’s money rather than their income – that means we need to get our turnover higher as quickly as possible and that means we need the money – not for cash purposes but in the accounts!

    So the owners have made a gamble yes, but based on percentages chances rather than on certainty of failure with Hughes or certainty of success with Mancini. But it is still very much the right decision, whether it pays off or not!

  3. There is absolutely no chance that Huddink or Mourinho or any other ‘top manager’ coming to City anytime soon unless or until City make it into the top 4. Neither would risk their reputations on joining the joke that is currentlyCity. Mancini must be desperate or deluded or both.

  4. You are absolutely spot on – the players are excellent but points were won despite Hughes’s tactics not because of them. In almost every game he waited until disaster struck before making changes, didn’t close down games when in front and in most home games we have looked more like a team desperate for a win to stay up than a team after a top 4 finish. If Mancini has just 10% more tactical awareness than Hughes we will do extremely well. Coming in 5th behind Villa was a real possibility and would constitute a major missed opportunity, so sacking Hughes was not a gamble – it was a necessity.


    Mr Todd

  5. I concur, you have stated succinctly everything I have been thinking for the last 15 months. Since Hughes brought in his coaches the defence has gone backwards – that’s Hughes’ fault entirely and more than long enough for him to know this. He needed to act instead of persevering with his cronies.

  6. I agree with the comments on the defence and our coaching team

    Sven had in his first season a good tight defence, and then when Hughes came in he sacked these coaches

    Since then we have been poor and made every good defender look worse, and he has to take responsibility for this being a problem for 18 months, not just this year

    More fundamently he did not ever look at home with the owners and his face would never fit, yet Mancini’s face will fit

  7. very coherent analysis, if a little optimistic in some respects. this does represent a sizeable gamble on Mancini’s ability to adapt, and if he doesn’t pay off, we could well be worse off in at the end of the season than under Hughes. we’ve also lost plenty of goodwill in the press, and they will have a field day if we change again in the summer and end up with anyone less than Mourinho or Capello.

  8. You are absoutely right in everything you say. I add that every split is unpleasant but this had to take place as Hughes was too loyal to his Tafia. Was there a defence coach amonst them. That is where Hughes downfall occurred. We have been shipping in goals and if thathad not occurrred we would be up there and Hughes would still be at the helm.
    The new appointment is a gamble but one every City fan should endorse.

  9. A good decision by the owners. They have identified that this season is a very open premier league and 4th place, or better is there for the taking. Hughes has consistently made good players/signings into average “mid table” journey men, the long, high ball game was becoming more evident game by game – not a good tactic with Tevez SWP Bellamy and Robbie up front! His tactics always appeared to me to focus on the teams weaknesses rather than the strengths with the inevitable happening that a relatively new defence, still gelling and finding their feet were put under to much pressure and made to look extremely poor. Very negative tactics in home games against inferior teams, then no plan B to alter the course of the game when these teams gained upper hand. Hughes is one of the breed of managers that will always have something to offer to the average Premier league club looking for someone to get average players to punch above their weight. Doesn’t make him a bad manager, just not the manager to take us to the next level.

  10. Nice to see an article that is spot on. I’ve been sick and tired of hearing what a bad move it was. And that Hughes should have been given longer.
    Great article.

  11. A good article and while I agree with much that is written, it is the manner of Hughes departure that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I have commented on the TDLORC blog and stand by those comments.

    As for Jon’s comment about UEFA changing the rules, that says it all about Michel Platini’s petulant hypocrisy. If that particular rule were brought in, then half the clubs in Europe would no longer qualify. That City is a cash rich club is a complete anathema to the powers that be. All the top clubs are millions of pounds/euros in debt. It would certainly rule out Real Madrid whose debt is always written off at the say so of the King of Spain.

  12. Not too bad for 3 million pounds departure! After all the rumours MH finally got the axe after just 18 months at Man City. Obviously Man City had lost confidence in MH. With only 2 wins in 11 matches and going level at home with lesser teams such as Burnley and Hull as of course unacceptable and intolerable. With due respect for MH, to prove your worth, maybe you can find the time you need at other clubs. Anyway thank you and farewell Mark Hughes. And welcome the next ‘Pride In Battle’ Mancini as Man City manager.

  13. I agree with the acticle.i have said all a long that Hughes was not the man to lead us!
    His tactics was sometimes totally bizarre!!!
    I hope Mancini can deliver a more a top four finish!
    Now is definetly the time to push for it ,with Liverpool having problems! And “that other lot” selling there best players,the gap is getting smaller.

  14. I live in Milan and i’m an Inter supporter for many years and i think i know pretty well Mancini’s skill; in my opinion this has been the best choice for your club for two important points:
    1-Mancini’s idea of football is an offensive one (he made Ibrahimovic one of the best strikers in the world) and considering the players you can put in field he’ll probably give them the conditions to play in their best way.
    2-He is the perfect manager to give a winning mentality to the team; maybe you dont know but before Mancini the last trophy that Inter won was Serie A in 1989…
    for this reason i think you should trust in him and i hope to see you in the next Uefa Champions League

  15. Personally I would have preferred installing a new defensive coach and given that scenario until the end of the season before deciding whether to sack Hughes. Look what has happened at M’boro…4th when Southgate was sacked, now 14th I believe and looking like potential relegation candidates despite having a good coach installed. Change can be disruptive. However, what’s done is done so good luck to Bobby Manc.

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