By Joe Meloni
Forgive me, please, if my only reaction to Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini’s plea with his players to keep their frustrations to themselves, was a loud, enthusiastic laugh. After backup goalkeeper Shay Given, who could likely start for at least half of the clubs in the Premier League, expressed hope to leave the Eastlands during the January transfer window, Mancini essentially went to the media to keep his players from doing so.
Hypocrisy at its finest. It’s funny that City – a club that spent more money than any other in Europe this summers – is demanding that its players stop making headlines for the wrong reasons. Essentially, Mancini wants his players to keep quiet because he thinks their complaints aren’t good for the time. In this regard, shockingly, Mancini is 100 percent correct. Still, the City players complaining most frequently – Given and striker Emmanuel Adebayor – have every right to demand more playing time or ticket out of Manchester.
When the Abu Dhabi United Group, led by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, bought City prior to the 2008-09 season, a series of massive spending sprees were accepted by most as an inevitability. It began immediately when Robinho landed at City from Real Madrid and Given defected from Newcastle a few months later. After finishing 10th in the Premiership, the first of what seems like an annual spending spree began. Adebayor moved from Arsenal before Gareth Barry, Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Toure, Carlos Tevez and Joleon Lescott followed.
While City’s new 11 managed to guide the team to a fifth-place finish in the Premier League and a spot in European competition, Abu Dhabi wasn’t satisfied. And that’s where the absurdity began. As soon as the season ended, Mancini’s mouth started going. With the backing of his owners and the high of a genuinely impressive fifth-place finish, Mancini essentially declared City would take its place among England’s best and Europe’s best after that. Believing money would get it there, they kept buying. The names are among the most recognizable in the world – Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli and David Silva among them – but not one of them arrived without their share of turmoil in the past.
Beyond that, Mancini welcomed these players in without adapting to the talents of his newly formed – purchased – group of bounty hunters. Even with Adebayor, Tevez, Santa Cruz, Silva, Shaun Wright-Phillips and the myriad other offensive playmakers at his disposable, Mancini insists on playing eight defensive players at a time. Prior to the season, many question whether or not he’d make through the season with his job. This demand that his players refrain from using the media to express their concern is nothing more than Mancini trying to prevent the United Arab Emirates government from taking its frustration out on him. City has hardly played poorly through its first five league matches, but the transcendent displays of soccer warranted by consecutive $100 million summers are hardly the product we’re seeing every week.
Through eight games in all competitions, City is 5-1-2 – its lone loss coming to Sunderland on August 29 – and behind Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United in the standings. Again, this isn’t spectacular, but it’s hardly anything Mancini should be worried about. And he wouldn’t be – if a few dropped points were the only problems. Both Given and Adebayor have expressed interest in a move away from City of Manchester Stadium because of a lack of playing time. In Adebayor’s case, he’ll find very few willing to commiserate with him after the antics he resorted to with Arsenal to force his move to Manchester City two summers ago. Still, his frustration isn’t unwarranted. Most recently, Mancini denied rumors of a locker room argument with Adebayor – which naturally means it happened and was far worse than any of us thought – and that Adebayor was bench for faking an injury.
Mancini “understands” why players who don’t play are unhappy. It’s a legitimate issue that every coach has to deal with. The difference for City, however, because its inept manager doesn’t have the capital with his players that managers on other big clubs do. Managers such as Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson have won championships and built trust with players by helping them become stars. Of course, each one of these managers has their history of issues with players – Wenger’s most notable beef, oddly enough, came with Adebayor – but will be remembered more for winning championships. At this point, not many recall Mancini’s three Serie A titles with Inter Milan from 2005-2008; it’s seems more likely that he’ll be associated with consistently changing his lineup before finally getting the boot from Abu Dhabi.
“It is impossible that all the players are happy,” Mancini told ESPN Soccernet. “At every club it is normal, 11 players are happy, the rest are not. If a player is happy when he doesn’t play, he is crazy. It is important that he is unhappy. It is also important that he continues to work so that I have a chance to change my mind.”
For Adebayor and Given, they shouldn’t worry too much. Mancini will definitely change his mind again. After all, if spending £25 million on someone doesn’t buy a little loyalty, then a few early September wins won’t either.
Joe Meloni is a writer and editor for TheSoccerGuysOnline.com. He can be reached at Joe.Meloni@TheSoccerGuysOnline.com.