How Mancini Beat Fergie At His Own Game

The confetti is still raining down as, favorites going into the last day, Manchester City fought back from the death to crush United’s rising hopes and end 44 years of wait. While Mancini’s men certainly left it until the very end to seal the deal, there need be no doubts about just which team was the best in the league this season. Manchester City, it would seem, have finally joined the list of elite sides that have cracked the code of managing to do enough to win the league – that supreme test of consistency more than anything else.

Mancini led Manchester City to a league win over Fergie’s Manchester United

Mancini led Manchester City to a league win over Fergie's Manchester United

Mission Accomplished

Mancini coached Manchester City to their first league win in 44 years

Manchester United are the pastmasters of winning leagues – thrashing aside hapless minnows, plotting critical victories over their biggest challengers and most importantly grinding out solitary-goal wins when the league is at its monotonous best. It’s a talent, one that Sir Alex Ferguson has honed over decades – the art of doing just enough. The biggest weapon in Fergie’s arsenal and repetoire of managerial mantras, is his legendary ability to get under the skin of other managers, getting them to throw a hissy fit Ai?? la Rafa Benitez, and take their team’s chances down the drain.

Which is why Roberto Mancini’s and Manchester City’s triumph should be celebrated even more by neutral fans. Not only did Manchester City vanquish their more illustrious neighbors at Old Trafford in a 1-6 hammering, they also showed greater firepower and a willingness to bounce back when the chips were truly down. Roberto Mancini led the way by taking on Fergie at the very top, on a minefield of mental games. As each manager insisted the other’s side was the clear favorite to run away with the league, you might have been fooled into thinking a whole degree of civility had descended on the league.

The truth was Sir Alex Ferguson knew just as well as anyone that Manchester City – despite the talent at its disposal – would be mentally suspect towards the business end of the season, when the weight of expectations of a first league title in over 4 decades would come bearing down on them. Reminding the Sky Blue brigade that they were in uncharted territory as favorites, seemed to work as Manchester City seemingly surrendered the league as they went – at one point in April – 8 points behind Manchester United. Mancini calmly conceded the league to Manchester United so convincingly, even getting bookies to pay out on bets favoring United as eventual winners.

Mancini led Manchester City to a league win over Fergie’s Manchester United

Mancini led Manchester City to a league win over Fergie's Manchester United

Beaten At His Own Game

Mancini coached Manchester City to their first league win in 44 years

In a side devoid of legends capable of speaking in one voice with the manager, the job fell to Patrick Vieira – currently Manchester City’s football development executive – to goad Fergie into losing his calm. Vieira shrugged his shoulders as he called Paul Scholes’ return to the United side, an act of desperation. Fergie must have been apoplectic with rage, and it took him a while to come up with a solid retort. Fergie pointed out that there was no greater desperation than Mancini having to call on Carlos Tevez after insisting the Argentinean would never play for him again.

Fergie may have come up with a smart retort, but he’d made the first mistake in the game of mental chess unfolding in front of him. Lending credence to the idea that getting in Scholes was partly because of a lack of faith in his current side, was deflating not just to the team but also an added reminder to Scholes on what was expected of him. Mancini, on the other hand, stayed above the fray while Fergie traded fire with Vieira.

It worked, because for the first time, Manchester United despite their famed mental prowess over the ages, were themselves suspect on that front. United were themselves a young side, and with Fergie at the helm they were accustomed to never having to deal with mental games emanating from another camp.

April would prove kind to Mancini and his men, as Manchester United uncharacteristically lost 1-0 to Wigan and drew an epic encounter with Everton. The second of the clashes between Manchester City and Manchester United ended in a 1-0 victory for the noisy neighbors. That game was played under a pregnant cloud of tension as Ferguson doubled down on the ‘Manchester City as favorites’ tag but not before reminding them that any result – short of a City victory – would do fine for United.

Mancini coached Manchester City to their first league win in 44 years

Mancini coached Manchester City to their first league win in 44 years

Former Gunner - In The Thick Of It All

Mancini led Manchester City to a league win over Fergie’s Manchester United

That’s when Mancini’s poker face was deployed in all its glory. The Italian calmly insisted that even a victory for City in the derby was unlikely to shake United from their pursuit of a 20th title. Drawing attention to the remaining fixtures and insisting his team’s opponents – Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers – were hungrier and tougher, Mancini lobbed the ball right back into United’s court.Ai?? United’s season only returned to normalcy after Paul Scholes returned, so it wasn’t the usual all-conquering Red Devils side that Mancini was staring down.

United stumbled in the derby, arguably handing Mancini his first victory over Fergie. And even then, instead of beating his drums and taking the war to Fergie and his men, Mancini continued to shrug his team’s chances away. He referred to Swansea and Sunderland – Manchester United’s opponents – as being “easy”. Never mind the fact that Sunderland and Swansea took a whopping 8 points off of Manchester City.

The real insinuation therefore was that Sunderland – in many ways the United reserves team – would be all too glad to sacrifice themselves on United’s sword if it would give Fergie and his men the league title. Cheeky, unstated but very, very potent.

In the end, it almost came apart for Roberto Mancini who might have had to live with ignominy of tussling with Fergie only to lose the league title on the final day, after losing or drawing with relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers. But Manchester City dug real deep and pulled out the unlikeliest of last-gasp wins.

The United boss complimented his victorious noisy neighbors, but not without taking one last potshot at Mancini because the champions needed 5 extra (excessive, as Fergie seemed to insinuate) minutes to seal their win. Mancini wouldn’t mind, of course. He’d won the real battle, the one that mattered.

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12 Responses to “Manchester City And Mancini Topple Ferguson’s Manchester United”

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  1. Well done Mancini, you made Ferguson well and truly crack up, with them mind games.

  2. Red till dead says:

    Firstly let’s get it out the way, yes, I’m bitter.

    Bitter, but I’m also proud. Proud to support a team that has worked it’s way up to the top of the footballing world through years of success. We are a footballing force respected the world over for the hard work that has gone into our achievements. Yes, we’ve spent a few bob along the way but we’ve also earned every single penny of that through money that is directly related to our hardwork and performances on the field. Every penny we spend isn’t a sign of us “buying a title” it’s a sign of our success in the past.

    I love the rivalry we have with Liverpool, I hate them, but I respect them. The same went with Leeds a few years back and Arsenal now.

    I don’t have a single ounce of respect for City, nor the club bankrolled by Russian mafia, Chelsea, both your team’s “success” have nothing to do with any sort of hard work that has been put in over the years, it has nothing to do with any talent your coaches have produced nor with talent born anywhere near your club.

    So, if you go on and win the league this season or next season, I’ll be smiling in the knowledge that deep down, you know you can’t really be proud of your team. Not like a United, Liverpool or Arsenal can of their team. So it doesn’t matter how successful you are from here on in, you’ll never have any real respect from any neutrals and it’ll never feel anything like how we feel when we win something. All you’ll have is the same empty feeling like when you are struggling on Football Manager so you edit the game to give to a few hundred millions, any success after that just feels wrong.

    • ManciniMan says:

      Sure. Keep telling yourself that, Mr. Sour Puss.

      It sure didn’t feel empty when they celebrated like crazy. Clearly you must have a different idea of what empty means.

      Utd’s playing 11 yesterday was worth 169 million. Citeh’s playing 11 was 161 million.

      You were saying?

  3. Shivam says:

    Red till dead, that buying the league is an old argument. So flush that argument down ur throat and learn to live with reality. Why don;t you read this for a change- “he team Fergie sent out against Sunderland cost £169m, while City’s starting line-up against QPR cost £161m. Neither team would be where they are today without the money they have available to spend in the transfer market. ” Stupid glory hunters all of them.
    and btw final matchday told us how entertaining epl really is. La liga does not even come close. Awesome end to the finale!!

  4. Man united done there fair share of buying the league, look at how much Ferdinand Rooney Berbatov,Veron,Nani,etc cost, hypocritical beyond belief, well done city enjoy your well earned title YNWA London glory hunters shut up moaning, buy your new blue strips you glory hunters.

  5. Sandeep Shenoy says:

    Dear Sanish,

    Its good to see Man City win and much better to see a CFC supporter writing about City! City won the league after 44 yrs. Remarkable! The way they won? Also remarkable, when one sees it from the eyes of 12 year old. A fairy tale I would say. But from sportsman’s point of few? Has football won? NO. Has money won? Yes. City have been a better team this season. I admit that. But have they played to their potential? Have they done justice to the money spent? A big NO. As you rightly pointed out, it took them injury time to defeat Manchester United.

    Coming to the verbal duel between Vierra and SAF. A development executive needs to focus more on the development of the club and its players and not take potshots at other managers or coaches or players. When the squad has a troubled player such as Mario Balotelli, who kicks team mates and swears at them in the training ground, acts juvenile and lights rockets in bathroom, I think Vierra had to focus more on that than on SAF. A player refuses to take field, calls his manager names in the media and the club still gets him back to play!That too after a self imposed exile( read holiday) in his native land! And you have Ferguson at the other end who refuses to field Rooney during Christmas against Blackburn, after he missed a singe training session. Clearly SAF scores over Mancini. SAF respects football and plays for pride!
    With eight of its first team players injured in early October, United still managed to finish level on points. Yes we got Scholes back. It made sense rather than paying extravagant sum of money for an inflated transfer window. We know what happened to Carroll and Torres. SAF clearly mentioned he didn’t want to buy players b’cos others were injured and didn’t know what to do with the signing when others in the squad recovered. City have loaned a huge number of players and some have been warming the bench for a long time. And all have been getting paid a bomb for it! You mentioned about the added reminder to Scholes of his responsibility. For a player who has spent 20 years training and playing, does he really need to be reminded of his duties?Seriously!

    To be very frank, this has been one of the most substandard article content-wise in this site. I’ve read quite a few good articles, for and against different clubs, on this site. But this article publishes only one side of the story. Just tries to demean, ridicule SAF and his achievements over 25 years at United. Beating a team on goal difference and winning the league sounds nice. But in football that’s not called toppling my friend! The money from Russia and Arab world has lead to the death of the pure footballing era. An era where names such as Scholes, Giggs, Lampard, Gerrard were taken with respect.They sold their souls to the club, not to money! I bet no player in City would do that without money being offered!

    • Thank you for your comment.

      1) I don’t see where I “demeaned, ridiculed” SAF. That’s a very serious allegation you’ve made, so it’s only fair you provide evidence to that effect to back up said allegation.

      2) As for being one-sided, well… the piece honors Manchester City for a triumph that has reshaped the league. Every defending champion that fails to defend its title, is ‘toppled’ from their spot. What’s the controversy with that term here? It’s not like I wrote “knocked off their bleeping perch”.

      3) I’m sure Vieira leaves a lot to be desired as a football executive, and perhaps even as a husband or father. But the line was only about him successfully goading Fergie into a response. Did he or did he not?

      4) I don’t think you quite understood my point about the “added reminder”. I didn’t say Scholes had amnesia, I meant it was piling on the pressure. Reminder is used metaphorically, there.

      5) As for the article being substandard, I can assure you THT has a very competent editorial crew that puts each article thru the wringer. We also welcome it when our readers point out ‘specific’ examples of shoddy writing, and factually incorrect statements.

      • Sandeep Shenoy says:

        The article showers more praise on Mancini than needed.Yes he won the league. But the run of events in the Tevez and Balotelli saga are truly sad. Something that could ruin football if it continues in the future.Reshaped the league. Agreed. We have one more team competing for top honors. But how are they doing it?Using a shortcut to success!
        I don’t know how SAF lost the mental plot by retorting. An ex-player now claiming to be a development executive takes a jibe more than once. Its no wrong to give some back. SAF even said in jest that “if he doesn’t shut up soon, I may get Keane back!”. I don’t want to comment anything about a player’s personal life.
        The Scholes thing. Even i wasn’t referring to Amnesia or any other condition..Scholes is mature enough to understand that if he is being recalled from retirement, he has a huge role to play! You say SAF lost bit of faith in the midfield. With Fletcher ruled out and Anderson injured for 3 months in Jan,Cleverley doing guest appearances after injuries, do you realize what would have happened if Carrick got injured. I already told about why he didn’t sign a new player.
        When I said it was sub-standard it was about the content. I don’t feel its balanced as other articles were.
        The statement about demeaning and ridiculing SAF was a bit far-stretched. I sincerely apologize for that incorrect allegation.

  6. Shivam says:

    sandeep shenoy, i have never quite understood what this issue about money is really! except for arsenal there is no successful or a ‘big’ club in england that hasn’t spent millions on players to remain on top. City, chelsea ofcourse lead that line but u can’t deny other teams have done the same. you surely don’t seem to be an arsenal fan.. so in that case things like money winning over football is as hypocritical as it gets. Winning takes a hell lot more than money. just Ask Liverpool this season, biggest spenders and biggest losers.

  7. Sandeep Shenoy says:

    Shivam,
    Let me give you a clear picture of how money plays an important role in a good and bad way. When the Shiekh took over, City had their debt of 305m wiped off in a minute. Good thing for City.Since he has bought the club, transfers spends have been to the tune of 400m. Compare this to United’s spending of 160m in 5 years or Arsenal’s meager spending in the same time. While United have debt issues, Arsenal have a stingy owner and have to clear the Stadium dues.So the DEBT is a huge issue. With debt, you get limited money for transfers. When the rich clubs like City, Chelsea, Madrid are ready to shell out so much money, young players are misled and want to make a quick buck. Consider Nasri. Snubbed Arsenal, snubbed United only to join City for double the wages at 180k.And he has hardly featured like he did at Arsenal. So when few players get paid a bomb for nothing the rest want the same!Players want to hop clubs for more money. The word Loyalty goes for a toss. Passion loses its meaning. And finally FOOTBALL suffers. Spending millions is understood. Spending close to a billion is not acceptable!Winning takes a lot more than money. Then why spend so much money. I guess the Debt clearance, funds for transfers and player wages answers your dilemma on the issue of money!
    Coming to Liverpool, they were just dumb IMO. Who spends all your money on midfield and a young unaccomplished striker!

  8. Albion says:

    If anything, I think the article is too kind to Man UNITED.

    “Manchester United are the pastmasters of winning leagues – thrashing aside hapless minnows, plotting critical victories over their biggest challengers and most importantly grinding out solitary-goal wins when the league is at its monotonous best.”

    And this is in a piece on Man City.

    So WHY is Mr.Shenoy playing the Grouch?