by Ewan McQueen  

Is the Champions League too much for Bobby Manc?

There can be no doubting that Roberto Mancini is a top manager. You don’t win league titles and cups in Italy and England without having a bit of managerial nous about you.

Before arriving at Man City, the Italian had a very successful time in his native land; leading Inter Milan to three successive Serie A titles (albeit one of them was given to Inter after Juventus’s implication in the match fixing scandal in 2005-2006). He also led his previous clubs Fiorentina and Lazio to Italian Cup titles in 2001 and 2004 respectively.

Mancini has built on this in England winning the FA Cup with City in 2011 in his first full season in charge before dramatically winning the Premier League title in the final minute in May this year. A very impressive CV that no one can argue with. However, there is one glaring omission from Mancini’s managerial CV and that is a successful run in the Champions League.

His first season in Europe’s Premier club competition came in the 2004-05 season when his side were blessed with the attacking talents of Adriano, Obafemi Martins and Christian Vieri which enabled them to get to the quarter finals. Somewhat remarkably, the quarter finals remains the furthest Mancini has reached as a manager, having reached the final as a player with Sampdoria in 1992. There were some impressive results in that run to the last eight, including a 5-1 away win against Valencia in the group stage, before beating defending champions Porto 4-2 on aggregate in the last 16.

However, they suffered a humiliating 5-0 aggregate loss to bitter rivals AC in the following round despite dominating for large spells of the first leg.

Whilst Mancini cannot be blamed for the Inter fans rioting in the second leg which saw AC awarded a 3-0 victory in the game, his side seemed toothless throughout both ties despite their array of attacking talent.

Mancini couldn’t get any further than the quarter finals the next season either and his side lost out to the unfancied Villarreal. He comfortably negotiated a relatively easy group which saw them pitted alongside Rangers, Artmedia Bratislava and Porto by winning 13 points from the six games. However, the warning signs were there in a 2-0 loss to Porto (who finished bottom of the group) where Mancini bizarrely played a 4-5-1.

Having won the home leg 2-1 against Villarreal, Mancini’s men crashed out by losing 1-0 in Spain. Again Mancini seemed to be tactically naive and defensive by playing winger Alvaro Recoba up front alongside Adriano rather than Julio Cruz.

If the quarter finals were seen as poor by the Inter Milan hierarchy, then things weren’t going to get any better.

Despite comfortably winning the Serie A title in 2006-07 and 2007-08, they were defeated in the first knockout round in each of these seasons by Valencia and Liverpool respectively. A huge contributing factor to these exits was Mancini’s insistence on playing defensive football.

In the group stages in 2006-2007, they only managed a pitiful five goals in the six matches before a 0-0 draw at home to Valencia in the last sixteen saw them eliminated. Signs of improvement came in the following season’s group stage where they won five out of six games after an opening night loss to Fenerbache.

Mancini’s side lost their discipline though in the games against Liverpool with Marco Materazzi (a former Everton defender) sent off after 30 minutes. Inter were more than content to settle for a draw but were hit with two late sucker punches. In the San Siro, they failed to show much of an attacking endeavour and after Nicolas Burdisso’s sending off, Fernando Torres killed off the tie.

After rumours he was going to be sacked, Mancini stepped down at the end of the 2008 season and it would be three years before he’d get another attempt at cracking the Champions League winning formula.

His chance came with big spending Man City, whom he just led into the Champions League. The draw was hardly kind to Mancini though as his side were drawn against Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal in Group A. Hopes were high amongst the City fans though that they could at least get into the last 16 thanks to their hugely talented squad.

It wasn’t to be for Mancini again. Despite the fact they were flying in the English Premier League, which included a 6-1 demolition of Manchester United, they couldn’t transform that onto the European stage. In the opening game, they drew 1-1 against Napoli at home and frankly only came alive when Napoli went ahead with 20 minutes to go.

Next up was a game against Bayern Munich, where Mancini’s tactics were utterly baffling against such a top side. He picked Micah Richards and Gael Clichy- hardly the most defensive of full backs whilst leaving out the tough tackling Nigel De Jong from his midfield. City promptly lost 2-0 in a game which also saw Carlos Tevez refuse to come off the bench.

Despite ending the group stage with a win over Bayern Munich (who were without Franck Ribery, Manuel Neuer and Mario Gomez), City still finished third in the group.

Mancini seemed to have learned very little from his time at Inter in the Champions League and has already started this season with a 3-2 loss to Real Madrid after leading 2-1 with five minutes to go.

The Italian may well go on and be a Champions League winning manager one day but right now he doesn’t look anywhere close to achieving that dream.