It would be easy to say that the sacking of Roberto Mancini shows the short-term mentality that is now part of DNA of owners. If a manager, who secured City their first League title for over 40 years, can be sacked a year after that triumph, then no one in modern football is secure. Yet the Italian’s departure raises questions about the faceless men of football, they are all generally men, the people who really manage the club but who never, even in this supposedly transparent world, ever have come forward to explain what they have done. These men are quick to take credit but when it suits them they hide behind the manager and the playing staff to provide a cover for their actions.

For a start the idea that City’s owner, Sheikh Mansour, has suddenly acquired the hire-fire attitude of the rich man whose example he has copied, Roman Abramovich, does not hold water. There were many who thought he should sack Mancini the season before last. Some argued that Mancini should have been sacked before the end of last season when it appeared his title challenge had faltered. But the Abu Dhabi owner held back and was duly rewarded.

And while much has been made of Mancini’s failures this season: not winning the title, eliminated in the group stages of the Champions League and, to cap it all, losing the FA Cup to Wigan as an explanation for his departure, it is quite clear that his sacking is not really a case of what happened on the field of play. It reflects more a breakdown of relationship between Mancini and the people in suits Mansour has appointed to run his club.

What else can explain how events could have turned so dramatically just over a year after City’s amazing come-from-behind victory at the Etihad Stadium secured them the title? Then Mancini was king and the day after City’s triumph 100,000 people crammed the streets of Manchester in celebration. With Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth backing their club, the club and the fans were confident that City could now go on to forge a dynasty as long and as enduring as the one Sir Alex Ferguson created at Old Trafford.

I am even more inclined to this opinion of a breakdown between Mancini and club executives because of the torrent of stories that have begun to emerge from the club following the Italian’s exit. They are designed to demonstrate how dreadful he was as a person. The very nature of these stories mean they are mostly unattributed with some, I suspect, involving a certain amount of background media briefings. These stories suggest Mancini could not get on with his players, did not even say hello to the kit man and had peculiar fads such as being superstitious about the colour purple. It seems in Italy the colour is associated with mourning.

Yet despite such rudeness to the kit man, and fear of the colour purple, Mancini won the title last season. However, now all this is being presented as a sign of colossal management failure.

What a contrast with the tales that emerged from the club last year. Then, having secured the title, all the stories portrayed Mancini as a far seeing man who loved his players and found no problems motivating his team.

So in the lead-up to last season’s climax, and the victory against QPR that gave City the title, City’s Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure declared how City had made him feel more welcome than even Barcelona. “I wanted to come to the club to make a story and my decision was to come to City. Of course, some people make some speculation about other things, but, for me, when you are a football player, you always want to go where you can be loved and be the best player. At Barcelona, I was a good player (where he won the 2009 Champions League) but at City I am an important player for the team.”

Toure also revealed some dressing-room secrets. After City’s defeat at Arsenal on April 8 last season, which had left United eight points clear at the top, Mancini had publicly conceded the title. But privately, behind closed doors, he told the players they could still emerge triumphant.

According to Toure, Mancini said: “Guys, we don’t have to give up, you know, because the Premier League is like that and maybe United can drop some points and we can come back. We have to believe to the end because we’re in the most competitive competition in the world and, most importantly, we have to keep going, keep winning and maybe we’ll be close to them.”

This suggested that Mancini was not quite the simpleton many of his critics had made him out to be when City wobbled during last season’s run-in.

Now such revisionism is not uncommon when you have a change of management be it in football or any other organisation. The departure of the top man, more so if it is sudden, always provokes negative stories as if we cannot work out why they have gone and seek to discover some hidden truth which would explain their unexpected fall.

This is where we come to the nub of the issue. Was Mancini really the top man? I know the tabloid press has made us belief that a football manager is the “boss” of the club. But that has always been a ridiculous term.

Mancini was the boss of the players while they were at the training ground and on the field of play. The real boss of Manchester City is Sheikh Mansour and the officials he has appointed to run his club.

It is interesting in this context to note that not even Sir Alex Ferguson, supposedly the greatest living Briton, could be described as the” boss” of Manchester United, if by that you mean he was master of everything that went on at Old Trafford. Yes, he was the supreme figure as far as the playing side of Manchester United was concerned. But even here he had to operate within the budget for players and transfer fee set by the board, as he himself acknowledged many times. And as Martin Edwards, the former chairman, always made a point of saying Ferguson was an employee – the most important employee, but by no means the only figure of importance in the club.

As Edwards put it to me: “He is not the old-fashioned type of manager. His role is quite sharply defined. Alex would report directly to me as chief executive. Ken Merrett, the secretary of the football club, did a typical job arranging reserve games, dealing with team travel and the rulebook. The way we ran things at Manchester United, Alex’s role would be no different to the coaches at Inter Milan, AC Milan, Barcelona or Real Madrid. I think more and more clubs in this country run the same way we do. We could not have had a George Graham situation in our club because I did all the buying and all the selling. I did all the contracts.”

And Ferguson did not have an office at Old Trafford. Carrington, United’s training ground, was his domain. Indeed Edwards knew so little about what Ferguson did at Carrington that when I told him Ferguson always arrived at the training ground at 7 in the morning he said, “It could well be. I don’t know. He comes occasionally to the office [at Old Trafford],”. Edwards rarely went to Carrington.

This did not change under the Glazers and it is interesting to note that during Ferguson’s reign at Old Trafford the club changed hugely. This included floating on the stock market, then a failed attempt by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky to buy the club and finally being sold to the Glazers. These are events which much exercised the fans but in which Ferguson played no part.

Yes, his success on the field of play shaped these events but he did not drive them. Indeed he cared so little for the club being listed on the stock market that he did not even want any shares. Edwards did not want him involved in the Sky take-over and kept him out of things despite Sky being keen to get Ferguson’s backing. And while many fans opposed the Glazers, Ferguson welcomed them, considering them better owners than his bête noire Edwards.

And this is where we come to the nub of what has happened to Mancini. Mancini the supposed boss of City has gone because he has fallen out with the real bosses of the club. But because these are faceless men who do not feel accountable to us, we are being kept in the dark about what has really happened. Such executives have become so adept at remaining faceless, and they are all over football not just City, that while they run the club, often choose the manager and often have the final say on the purchases of new players, they are able to distance themselves from any responsibility. They are never called into question and never have to explain themselves.

Even in the days when Brian Clough was manager, football clubs had such faceless men. But then they did not matter. They did not have much power and could do little. But now, as Mancini’s departure, and other such sackings show, they have power. Yet they still remain faceless thus emphasising the fact that in a world that is more transparent, football remains a dysfunctional entity. Here the people who exercise real power never come forward and never have to account for their actions.

These men are the modern equivalent of what Stanley Baldwin, denouncing Lord Beaverbrook all those years ago, called harlots: men who want power without responsibility.

It is a remarkable commentary on the game that as it modernises, and acquires all the trappings of what is considered right and proper in the 21st century, it retains much of the ideas and work patterns of the 18th. Mancini’s departure shows that for all the talk of modernism, football at its heart football remains feudal.


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