LONDON – According to some reports, Manchester City has lined up various replacements should Roberto Mancini be fired this summer. This, of course, presupposes the club’s power brokers have met to discuss possible successors in case they decide to fire the Italian.
Apart from this unlikely scenario, why on earth would City want to get rid of Mancini?
True, he is an emotional man prone to fits of insensitivity, but trying to manage a diverse locker room like the one at Etihad Stadium, plus the pressure of being in charge of potentially the most lucrative club in the world, would test the patience of Job.
In Mancini’s first season as manager, City won the F.A. Cup. Last season it was Premier League champion, this season it will almost certainly finish second and, if it beats Chelsea in Sunday’s F.A. Cup semifinal, City will be odds-on to defeat either Millwall or Wigan Athletic in the final.
That can hardly be deemed as failure or reason to thumb through the “managers available” list, and City’s Middle East-based owners do not possess the hair-trigger of Roman Abramovich.
To find a manager who can improve on being runnerup and possible F.A. Cup winner is not easy and City showed, in beating Manchester United 2-1 that the noisy neighbors still have a lot to shout about.
City was terrific, winning local bragging rights even if a 12-point deficit saw Mancini concede the title to the enemy.
Rafa Benitez has already announced he will leave Chelsea at the end of the season, thus becoming only the second man in charge (the other was Guus Hiddink) not to have been fired by Abramovich. The Spaniard has never been accepted by the Stamford Bridge faithful, but then neither has Fernando Torres, the vilified striker who has scored 20 goals this season, four more than Wayne Rooney.
Supporters can be immovable in their emotions once their collective minds are made up.
Benitez took over from Roberto di Matteo at a club where disharmony, player-power, in-fighting, off-field controversies and accusations of racism have been commonplace. The water is a little calmer at Chelsea these days and Benitez could leave having guided the club to third place in the Premier League and having won the Europa League and F.A. Cup.
At most clubs a manager who achieved this would be chained in his office and the locks changed, but at Stamford Bridge the rules are different. Winning the Champions League is good for little more than three months into your contract before the axeman cometh.
For City and Chelsea, winners of the F.A. Cup in four of the last six seasons, the F.A. Cup represents a chance to paper over the cracks of their disappointing league campaigns, their form in finishing in the top four inconsistent and underachieving as both have been left in the wake of Man United.
The difference between the two semifinals could hardly be more contrasting, with Sunday’s clash inevitably billed the unofficial final because whoever wins will be expected to beat either Premier League struggler Wigan or Championship drifter Millwall with few problems.
Yet for Saturday’s winners, who have each beaten just one Premier League team on the road to Wembley, the prize will almost certainly be a place in next season’s Europa League as their opponents are set to have secured their European spot. Both Wigan and Millwall could be in the Championship next season, one or the other in Europe.
When Millwall played Manchester United in the 2004 final it was one of the most uninspiring, one-sided climaxes to the competition in memory, the 3-0 score line in no way illustrating United’s domination.
Wigan would provide more of the unknown, a side with talented if unpredictable players capable of beating or losing heavily to anyone in the Premier League.
While Millwall’s status in the Championship is more certain, Wigan’s appearance at Wembley is merely a timeout from the more important business of Premier League survival.
“Staying up is more important than winning the semifinal,” said Wigan chairman Dave Whelan. “No question about that. I have promised the players a holiday in Barbados, not for winning the F.A. Cup but for staying up.”
Take Wigan and City to meet in the final.
THERE WAS a spell last season when there was a minute’s silence at five consecutive games I attended. I had heard of only one of the bereaved.
One was the wife of a club employee, another a chief scout and while not wishing to be disrespectful to those who died, a football match, where emotions and adrenaline are running high, is not the best place to pay such a tribute to those not involved in the public face of the game.
A minute’s silence this weekend on the anniversary of those who perished at the Hillsborough disaster will be observed impeccably. It is something that unites all fans.
Politicians do not. Any British Prime Minister will not be popular with around half of those in attendance, so calls for football to pay tribute to Baroness Thatcher who died this week, are misplaced and naive.
At any stadium, especially those in the north where Thatcher was widely abhorred, the “silence” would be a minute of booing and jeering. Not from a dozen or so, but thousands. Perhaps it is giving way to mob rule but if you know a tribute is going to be abused, there is little point in going ahead with it.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.