Man City’s faltering title challenge leaves Roberto Mancini vulnerable takes a look at Roberto Mancini's reign at Manchester City, and André Villas-Boas' Chelsea sacking

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Roberto Mancini's side trail league leaders Manchester United by five points PA Photos

roberto mancini

Much is made of the ruthless and hostile climate Premier League managers now work in.

While the advantages of managerial stability are clear to see at Old Trafford, The Emirates and, in a different way, in the overachievement of David Moyes’ bargain basement Everton squads.

It is also noted that the results of Sir Alex Ferguson’s first season – dropping from fourth in 1986, to 11th in 1987 – would not have kept him in a job had he taken the reigns with a similar lack of lustre in the billionaire era.

Under Roman Abramovich, Sheik Mansour and the Madrid power-mongers, as a new manager at the sharp end of European football you either win within your first season or look to career in television punditry.

With this ugly truth in mind, managers are rarely in a position to walk into a job with absolute, unquestioning authority – players are fully aware that if the losses pile up, it is the manager who will be first out the door.

In seeing Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini shake his head as Mario Balotelli argued like a child when he was not allowed to take a free kick, it was the look of a man who’s headed the same way as André Villas-Boas.

Mancini himself has failed to address the major cracks in character that have come to haunt his side’s recent results.

It might be a media thing to want to believe in the virtues of sport in the face of so much excess and ruinous vanity in the modern game, but two facts are evident: City’s big money buys lack their neighbours’ team ethic, and their title campaign is sliding when it matters most while United’s inferior squad are still winning.

Mancini looked as though he had taken a stand, and solidified a strong team identity behind his famous declaration that he would never play Carlos Tévez again.

It was the stance of a manager building a squad under the right values and a shot across the bows of fellow dissenters and tabloid darlings.

Things have changed. Balotelli became a walking headline, and a constant distraction whose footballing ability could not compensate, for Mancini turned back to Tévez.

The selections of both these players felt every bit the actions of a desperate man, playing all his aces in an attempt to buy short-term gains in a title race.

These of course would come at the expense of long-term squad cohesion, and, as was evident with the on-pitch argument on Saturday, it came quicker than expected.

Leadership can be greatly weakened by one of two key decisions and Mancini’s handling of Tévez and Balotelli will undoubtedly undermine the identity of his squad.

The players feel it. The owners and supporters can see it. Arguably the City manager would have been in big trouble anyway had he not won the title, so why not hold true to his principles and prove that had he, criminally, only finished second, at least he was building the squad’s identity and future?

Villas-Boas did the same when bowing to player power in adjusting his own footballing principles as early as November. In doing so, nothing less than the Champions League or Premier League would have saved him either way.

As a young manager, unproven in any major European league, Villas-Boas’ job required him to balance, with precision and diplomacy, short and long-term gains without the aid of Mancini’s Serie A pedigree.

He also was tasked with de-throning John Terry and Frank Lampard, and in hindsight if you were to suggest he was appointed simply as a fall guy in order to clear the decks and lead the way for another manager to launch a new era at the club without the blood of two fan favourites on his hands, it may not be so ridiculous.

Chelsea’s celebrated rejuvenation under Roberto Di Matteo and the old style should not be overstated. It is welcomed by Chelsea supporters subjected to six months of abject mediocrity but should not be heralded as a new dawn.

The current squad are winning, but be under no illusions, they would not challenge United or City over the course of a season even if they maintained their current form.

Villas-Boas arguably mortgaged his own opportunity to be the man Abramovich trusts to build a squad when he changed his tactics in November.

The Russian appears to respect strong leadership above any quality in a manager.

Although he fired the last man whose authority threatened his own, I’m relatively sure Abramovich would regret the decision to let go of José Mourinho for having an excess of power far above doing the same to Villas-Boas for a lack of it.

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