For a club with more money than God, or at least more money than all the other teams, Man City do have a tendency to try and make sure they never look like they enjoying themselves. This season in particular they’ve been given an overriding impression of taking the whole thing painfully seriously. It was ever thus with modern football, one day your fans are dancing around with tea towels on their heads and celebrating signing Robinho, the next you’re bringing in ex Barca directors of football to help with your project and talking about wanting to comply with financial fair play standards. Telling everyone you want to be self sustaining by 2020 might make financial sense but quicken the pulse it does not. If nothing else being a billionaire’s plaything should be fun in a way that buying Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott just isn’t.
It tells in their football. Since the new era they’ve shot up the table and won trophies but the football itself has never been overly inspiring. They haven’t been helped by their managers. Both Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini have aspired to have their teams be ruthlessly efficient. The trophies have primarily been based on defence. This dependency was fine last season but the major factor in the title slipping away in this one. The team has conceded two more goals this season but has scored twenty nine less. Mario Balotelli proved too much fun for anyone at the club to handle and was shipped off to Milan. Exciting players were considered and then promptly not signed in the summer. The Champions League was an unmitigated disaster.
The prevailing attitude at all times (as it is in almost all of football) is that this is a very serious business. It is too much to expect a little fantasy? Especially since the club can undoubtedly afford it. Essentially Mancini lines his teams up in a 4-4-1-1 normally with two holding midfielders. This can look stodgy and inflexible when they’re not on form and places a great deal of pressure on the two wide midfielders to provide the creativity. When there’s a few players off their game (which City had plenty of this season) it breaks down easily. For all the money they’ve spent at times I looked at City this season and wondered how exactly they wanted to play. Say what you want about Arsenal for example but at least you can see what they are trying to do.
And this is where Pellegrini comes in. From the outside it seems that Mancini has been sacked as much for his style of play as for his results. The owners tire of the style of their club it seems which for better or worse is their right (after initial success with an efficient style at Chelsea Abramovich has gone through the same thing, in their case deciding to sign exclusively creative midfielders). The appointment of Txiki Begiristain was seen as an open attempt to lure Guardiola, the closest European football has to a guarantee of titles won with style. Prepare for Pellegrini to be presented as a kind of Guardiola-lite, wedded to his principles of passing football and of his teams taking the initiative. He’s not got the titles but the style is there.
Which can only be a good thing. If they stick with him he should deliver (his one season at Real Madrid before Mourniho took over they set a league record for points by the runner up). His teams should be more entertaining that this year’s vintage anyway. And surely they’ll realise that signing at least a couple of top level players a season is a decent enough way to get the blood pumping. Short of bringing Mario back it’s the best chance they have.