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Giancarlo Rinaldi On May - 15 - 2012

Roberto Mancini’s Most Madcap Masterclass

Roberto Mancini is used to confounding the critics. They said Sampdoria could never win the Scudetto - but he teamed up with Gianluca Vialli to prove them wrong. Then his own Serie A colleagues questioned his coaching credentials - so he delivered silverware with every single team under his control. And now, in the most dramatic fashion, he has silenced those who thought he was not ready to manage in the English Premier League

Back in his playing days, Mancio was a one-off. He provided the magic that lifted the Blucerchiati from also-rans into big hitters. With a backheel here and a flick of his flowing locks there, he was one of the most watchable stars in an era when Italian football was packed full of top drawer performers.

Even in his twilight days he helped to deliver a Scudetto swansong at Lazio before moving - with almost indecent haste - into a coaching role. With Fiorentina in financial dire straits, he helped to deliver a Coppa Italia. He performed a similar miracle at Lazio and finally got the financial resources he craved at Inter to produce a string of domestic honours. It was only his failure to deliver in Europe which ultimately cost him his place with the Nerazzurri despite helping them to be undisputed champions of the post-Calciopoli scene.

He need not have worried, however, as he soon found even bigger spenders who were happy to hire him. With Mark Hughes failing to provide the results their wealthy owners aspired to, Manchester City came calling. And, nowadays, they can make the kind of offer that even an Italian can’t refuse.

Yet those first days were infused with doubt and scepticism. Many media outlets felt Hughes had been harshly treated - quite possibly true - but also wondered whether Mancini could cut it in England’s top league. The fact that he had won championships in Italy - where tactics are taught at nursery school - hardly seemed to matter.

It was a slow process to win people over. Triumphs in a good number of games helped to convince some but there were those who still pointed the finger at his over-cautious attitude. The stereotype of the defensive Italian is not an easy one to shake off.

But this term, when he came blasting out of the blocks, it seemed to persuade all but a stubborn few of his managerial qualities. Undoubtedly he had the resources to batter his opposition into submission, but he still had to know how to use them. On the domestic front, at least, he blew his adversaries out of the water.

The fly in the ointment, ultimately, seemed to come from the Champions League and off-the-pitch activity. When Napoli dumped City out of Europe’s biggest competition and they then tumbled out of the Europa League it looked like his old Achilles heel was, to mix a metaphor, rearing its ugly head.

And, in the meantime, the Carlos Tevez affair had also blasted this apparent juggernaut off course. When the Argentinian declined to obey his manager’s instructions and was subsequently banished from the squad it undoubtedly had an unsettling influence. With Mario Balotelli also in hot water for his disciplinary problems, the goals began to be a little harder to find. The blue half of Manchester was caught - and then overhauled - by the red section.

But if Mancio was feeling the pressure, he did his best not to let it show. Somewhere, deep down, he seemed to sense that his title rivals might also hit a flat spot. And, if they did, he could just squeeze enough out of his troops to make them pay.

When they met in a Monday night showdown, the tide of form and fitness seemed to have swept back in the Italian’s favour. He had played Sir Alex Ferguson at mind games and emerged victorious. The triumph on the pitch seemed more emphatic than the single goal scoreline suggested. The noisy neighbours had raised the volume levels a little bit further still.

Of course, there was still the opportunity to slip up away to Newcastle United but Mancini appeared to have gathered such a coaching head of steam that nothing could stand in his way. He kept his tactical cool as the minutes ticked away and was eventually rewarded. There was only one more step to take - ironically, perhaps, it would be against Mark Hughes.

Few could have predicted just how dramatic the Italian’s coronation as King of England would be. When Manchester United took the lead away to Sunderland on the last day of the season it raised the pressure a little but City responded in style. At half-time it looked as if the two wins everyone had forecast would come true.

Queens Park Rangers had other ideas, however. First they equalised and then, a man short thanks to the latest madness from Joey Barton, they had the audacity to take the lead. Sparky Hughes was doing his old boss a hell of a favour.

Somehow or another, in a gripping finale, Mancini’s men dragged themselves out of the mire. In one of the most intense endings to an English season they clinched the title on goal difference. Even their coach admitted he had never seen anything like it.

It’s hard to give him too much credit for the madcap conclusion to the campaign but he deserves some recognition for the season in its entirety. He produced a bulldozer side in the opening exchanges, just about kept a lid on some tricky characters and conjured up a memorable comeback. Maybe, just maybe, he deserved a little bit of luck in the final chapter.

City fans themselves would probably be the first to admit it was never going to be easy. A side which has so often shot itself in the foot could really only hit the target in dramatic fashion. It was to Mancio’s credit that he helped to put them in a position to do so.

There is more work to be done, of course. This expensive side was not put together simply to triumph in England, there are European achievements in mind. There might still, despite the weekend events, be those who doubt Mancini is the man to deliver them. But - you know what? - he probably wouldn’t mind making a mockery of that opinion too.

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