Managers and mishaps

It is often said a manager is as good as his players. But mismanagement by managers has often left teams in precarious positions, writes Brian Glanville.

The term man management is one which I have never found palatable, but as things in Premiership football go at the moment, perhaps the correct expression would be managerial mismanagement. Not least in the case of as prominent and supposedly successful figure as Roberto Mancini. Yes, he was a remarkable footballer in his day. Yes, he won no fewer than three League titles at Inter. Yes, he even managed to win Manchester City their first English Championship for decades last season, though with all due deference I would submit that it was a somewhat tarnished success.

As we well know, City scraped home in injury time with a breathlessly late conclusive goal, against a QPR team reduced to 10 men. And even then, they piped their eternal local rivals, Manchester United, only on goal difference having expensed vast sums of transfer money in the process. It was hardly a famous victory.

It could be said that for all his great experience and his triumphs, Mancini also seems to have a genius for getting things strangely wrong in terms of his selection for vital game. Thus last season, when City in the European Champions League had to confront Bayern in their Munich stadium, he inexplicably and as if predictably dropped his usual centre back to replace him with the younger Toure, only just back from injury and all too inevitably, struggling in consequence. City lost and were on their way out, all too early, of the competition.

This season, at Real Madrid, Mancini surely blundered again, deciding bizarrely to field at right back the recently acquired Maicon, from Inter; though Maicon had made only one fleeting appearance as a substitute. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that poor Maicon would be confronting one of the most powerful, dangerous and elusive forwards in the world, in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo. The consequences were all but inevitable. Ronaldo played havoc with Maicon, twice eluded him with dangerous consequences, and set up the goal with which Real took the lead.

As we know, City, in the vernacular, climbed off the canvas and were actually leading when, in the crucial final minutes, Real scored twice to win the game 3-2. Joe Hart, whose three superb saves had kept City in the game before half time, being culpable, at least, for the third goal. Though, please note the complicity in it of the City centre back Vincent Kompany who ducked under Ronaldo’s decisive shot, when he surely could and should have blocked it.

After the game, immediately after it, I should emphasise, poor Hart was ambushed by a television commentator and expressed his disappointment for the way City had surrendered the lead and had been defeated. Surely, you thought, any capable man-managing manager would have spared the still emotional Hart this intrusion, but Mancini did nothing to protect him. Instead, he sharply criticised Hart for saying what he had. Yet when the matter of Kompany’s failing was raised by the interviewer, he virtually ignored the question.

One of the undoubted successes of that game was the Ghanaian international Michael Essien in midfield. Yes, the very Essien whom Chelsea, in their unwisdom, had deemed surplus to requirements and sent out on loan. To be snapped up by Jose Mourinho alias ‘The Special One’, and undoubtedly one of the shrewdest, most successful managers in football. So Essien was good enough for Real but not good enough for Chelsea. For a Chelsea team, be it noted, which so far this season for all the huge sums it has spent on star attackers such as Oscar and Eden Hazard, have been looking woefully vulnerable in central midfield, where a player of the calibre and range of Essien could have protected them from the ravages of Atletico Madrid and their incisive striker, the Columbian Falcao. Subsequently even at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have looked vulnerable in midfield and thus defence.

Not only did Essien go out on loan. So did the big, strong, thrustful, young, expensive Belgian Lukaku whom West Bromwich Albion have been all too eager to welcome. Chelsea have, in my view, carelessly allowed the potent and minatory Didier Drogba to depart to make a fortune in Shanghai when, had they only given him the two-year contract extension he wanted he’d have stayed. Lukaku looks just the striker who could have forcefully taken his place. Instead, Chelsea have been relying on the still erratic GBP50 million centre forward Fernando Torres who alas, still cannot achieve consistency.

How far can all this be blamed on Chelsea’s Manager Roberto Di Matteo who, coming in last season in place of the fallible young Villas Boas, transformed a team in crisis, taking them dramatically and remarkably all the way to a Champions League final, in which they beat Bayern Munich on their own ground. Playing, it is true, the kind of cautious, breakaway football which would always be functional rather than pretty. And alas for Di Matteo, exactly the polar opposite of the football Chelsea’s billionaire oligarch owner, Roman Abramovich, desires.

Abramovich goes through managers at a rate of knots. Six have already been shown the exit, and after Chelsea lost a 2-0 European Cup lead at home to Juventus, Roman came down to the training ground to demand explanations. He might just as well have asked himself.

Across London at Arsenal, manager Arsene Wenger recently sustained a fierce attack from his old and reliable centre back Tony Adams who accused him of tuning the Gunners into a “feeder” club for richer teams. Yet since the Bosman decision made players’ contracts finite what is a manager to do and with acquisition of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski Arsenal even without Robin van Persie, have begun this season with a fine flourish. Adams was a fine defender but, as a manager he has failed at Wycombe, Portsmouth and in Baku. While even his criticisms of Arsenal defence, now coached by his old defensive partner Steve Bould, seem misplaced. And didn’t the Gunners draw and deserve to win at Manchester City who have “stolen” Samir Nasri and Clichy from them?