Lawyers chase ambulances, José Mourinho chases Roberto Mancini

By Mark Griffiths

Well, it’s a living.

Or rather, it could turn out to be a profitable living. Mourinho has carefully crafted his career, step-by-step, taking over clubs which are in the perfect state to be taken on to a higher level; Mancini has a track record of taking clubs so far, but then hitting the wall. Having already succeeded him at Inter, Mourinho might realise after his visit to the Etihad this week that Mancini is an expert at creating the sort of conditions he loves to inherit.

Mourinho knows what he’s looking for when he moves on. Chelsea were flush with cash and had gone through the awkward settling-in period which such a dramatic change of financial circumstances inevitably brings. Just ask Claudio Ranieri, Mark Hughes and Antoine Kombouaré about it for confirmation. Inter had got themselves stuck at a level of domestic domination but continental stagnation. Real Madrid needed someone to slay the Catalan dragon.

The ‘Special One’ calculated their situations carefully. They appeared to be well set, financially strong, but there was definitely another level they could aspire to. Mourinho recognised in each of them that the step up was attainable and took them there, fulfilling the yearning of fans who, like all supporters do, told themselves they were entitled to more. And when he left, things went back to normal. Hence his messianic status at each of his old clubs.

At City, Mancini has achieved domestic success but failing in Europe. And he’s been there before. That was the combination which did for him at Inter where he oversaw a monopoly of the Scudetto but could make no impact in the Champions League. He won three consecutive Italian titles, although the first one was stripped from Juventus after the Calciopoli scandal and the two subsequent victories have to be seen in the context of a Serie A denuded of the threat of the Old Lady.

But in Europe he went backwards, a heavy quarter-final loss to Milan early in his tenure being the furthest he reached. The nature of their eliminations, such as a 3-0 thumping by Liverpool which could have been much worse, left a bad taste in the mouth.

It could be argued that, with the amount of expenditure City have committed to the squad in the last few years, a Premier League title is the least Mancini ought to have managed. His theory that arrivistes to the Champions League like his side need a decade to become “a top team” in the competition is rather given the lie by Paris St Germain’s stately progress through the group stages, or indeed the performances of Borussia Dortmund, who top City’s group with a youthful squad whose first taste of Champions League competition came last season, as City’s did.

The media have latched onto Mancini’s tactical switches, Micah Richards’ comments offering grist to their mill, but they’ve picked the wrong stick to beat him with. A manager is entitled to expect a side to be able to switch from one formation to another in mid-match, especially if it’s something they’ve worked on. Those who criticise his attempts to switch shape seem to have watched the majority of games they’ve attended with their eyes shut: tactical alterations are the norm at all levels of the game.

The issue is more about Mancini’s instinctively cautious approach, and his creation of a solid side which can steam roller over domestic opposition as much through strength as anything else, but isn’t cute enough to do the same against more technical opposition.

The fact is that a draw and a win from City’s last two group matches would only see them match the lowest points total a Premier League side has ever managed in the group stage of the Champions League. And those results would still lead to another abject European failure.

Mancini and Mourinho are superficially similar in many ways, but scratch the surface and you see that they are essentially philosophical opposites. Both appear to be passionate hot heads, but there is a level of control in Mourinho’s outbursts which are always absent in Mancini’s furious moments.

When Mancini hares onto the pitch to harangue the referee after a late penalty is not given, or criticises his own player on TV post-match because without pausing to contemplate its accuracy, he has accepted an interviewers a heavily-spun angle on the player’s earlier comment, he does so without any thought of the consequences. Mourinho only grandstands like that because he has calculated the impact it will have on his players or the watching world’s impression of him.

Before the last-16 defeat Mancini suffered to Liverpool in 2008 Mancini had declared “if by any chance we go out, we must not turn it into a drama”, prompting claims of a blazing row with club president Massimo Moratti, which precipitated his post-match announcement that he would leave at the end of the season. Luca Caioli’s book “A Footballing Life” suggests there was another reason though: Mancini was jumping before he was pushed, aware that Mourinho had already been signed up as his replacement for the following season.

Mancini certainly regretted yet another hot-headed outburst, and recanted his intention to leave, but he had shot himself in the foot. He was dismissed, and Mourinho’s contract with the Nerazzurri was signed a day before Mancini departed.

The City changing room is probably ready for Mourinho too. Mancini is famously cold with his players, while Mourinho is on a par with Sir Alex Ferguson when it comes to creating a siege mentality for his players to feed off. The glee with which Inter’s players embraced his new broom shows that Mourinho is a player’s coach. Surely there are malcontents in the City changing room who would raise their game for him.

Mourinho would also be welcomed in the stands. City fans naturally feel that, as the man who took them to the promised land of the league title, Mancini ought to be beyond criticism, yet his counter-productive press conferences and European under-performance leave them feeling uneasy. Only an ugrade would be seen as a positive move by them: Mourinho would be exactly that.

The short-comings of Mancini are gaps Mourinho can naturally fill, and he knows it.

Mourinho’s career doesn’t just happen. It’s a carefully crafted route. Like the pilot of a small ship, skilfully navigating the currents that threaten to drag him in the wrong direction, he plots his course carefully. There’s a thesis (or at least a nice long blog) to be written on the circumstances in which he will take a job, and the scorched earth policy he applies to ensure his predecessor will inherit difficult circumstances so his legacy will be further enhanced by the club’s return back to the level he found it in.

Octavio Machado, Mancini, Ranieri and Manuel Pellegrini will attest to the former state of affairs, while Porto went through three coaches in the year after Mourinho left, Roman Abramovic chewed up and spat out any number of coaches as he searched for Chelsea’s ‘Special One - Mark Two’, Rafa Benitez crashed and burned at Inter, and Michel will tell you how unmanageable Real Madrid had become in a year or so.

When asked if he felt any responsibility for Mourinho’s success at Inter, Mancini replied bitterly, “Did I build the foundations? I built the roof too!”

And perhaps he’s just done the same again.

This is a guest article by Mark Griffiths. He’s been commentating about football on radio and the internet for 25 years, alongside producing podcasts and is also a freelance football writer who, apart from a regular newspaper column, has had his work published in When Saturday Comes and a variety of websites. Comments below please.

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