It is often said that dogs look like their owners with the passing of time. In football there is yet to be an equivalent dictum, but a lot can be said about a manager’s thoughts process by the players he purchases. It can also reflect the type of player he was in his own time, with some matters much forgotten, when as a manager the same individuals project an air of authority. For Roberto Mancini at Manchester City there are numerous examples in his own career that easily relate to behaviour of Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez . Both very talented footballers on the field, but short on discipline, and sometimes so full of self belief that playing for the team falls by the wayside.
In Mancini’s career at Sampdoria he had well documented training pitch rows with a number of more senior players, including the expensive imports such as Trevor Francis, Liam Brady and former United midfielder, Juan Sebastian Veron. When Arrigo Sacchi refused to guarantee him a place on the national team for the 1994 World Cup, Roberto retired from international football. Indeed his departure from Leicester in 2001 was less than formal, choosing to phone the club from Italy when offered a managerial position at Fiorentina. All of which sounds vaguely Tevez like in many ways.
Having said that his achievements, for Internazionale at the cauldron that is San Siro, in the shadow of AC, were masterful with only failure in the Champions League bringing him down, and leading to his sacking in 2008. But it was after he had delivered three Serie A titles, 2 Coppa Italia’s and one Super Coppa.
Just not enough for club owner, Massimo Moratti. Now at Manchester City, Mancini may find that one FA Cup may not be enough for Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan either. All not helped by the notoriety of Balotelli’s dalliances on the front of the tabloids.
It is not hard to see why Jose Mourinho, when he replaced Mancini at Inter, dropped the young Italian prospect from the squad, after continuing disciplinary actions. In fact one time Mourinho brought him on in a Champions League semi-final, Balotelli did so under protest as he had not started the match. In the end he contributed little to the efforts.
"The guy has incredible qualities, but sometimes does not know how to use his brain,” said Mourinho when Mancini was trying to sign Mario for City.
"Let me give an example of when we played at home in the semi-final of the Champions League against Barcelona and he would not take the field.
"I threw him into the fray and Mario was static, not even giving a hand in defence."
After almost two seasons with Roberto Mancini little has changed with stories of fireworks going off at a house party, late night visit to a strip club, rumours of training field rows, a bizarre appearance at an Inter press conference and then a crash in his Bentley on Good Friday – it all seems a recipe for continued catastrophe.
Mancini said he could understand why his squad sometimes got frustrated with the enigmatic 21-year-old striker. The City boss said: "I told him, if you played with me 10 years ago I would give you every day maybe one punch in your head.
"There are different ways to help a guy like Mario."
Mancini added: "I don't speak with him every day, otherwise I would need a psychologist, but I speak with him because I don't want him to lose his quality.
"If Mario is not one of the best players in the world it will be his fault, because he has everything.
"Mario can be one of the top players in Europe. I don't want him to lose his talent
Further up the M6 the issues for the manager are to make an enthusiastic and energetic Andy Carroll deliver on his thirty five million pound promise, an added frustration to Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish. Who as a player himself made more effort on the field than any other, given his natural talent and ability. But it maybe the curse of the modern game for the passionate Dalglish who seems confused when players don’t respond as he did on the playing field on playing for the Reds. To see the club fail over recent weeks is the antithesis of the Liverpool of his time, who used to just get stronger as the season reached its conclusion. Often competing on the domestic and European front – successfully during the month of May.
This season it does not look the same vintage with Carroll so closely identified with Kenny that it adds to the burden. And with US owners, keen on winning to help the franchise fund its debt, the reliance on passion, love and commitment to Liverpool Football Club may not be enough.
Whatever happens what is clear that Andy Carroll is not a striker in Kenny’s likeness, and not since the days of John Toshack has the club really sought the route 1 approach to success. As almost the inventors of possession football in England during those heady European Cup days, the formula with Big Tosh was really the continuous scurrying of one little Kevin Keegan, who chased and rallied every bounce of the ball. When Dalglish arrived as King Kev’s replacement his game plan was the same and it delivered success year on yer, ably supported with the legendary wing play at Anfield. Which over the years had come from the likes of Heighway, Barnes, Beardsley and so on.
In fact the last FA Cup final appearance at Wembley in 1996 the two players up front were Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore, playing the traditional style of football fostered by the boot room and guided by Roy Evans on this occasion. Albeit unsuccessfully on the day in what was a poor spectacle against Manchester United.
At Old Trafford the mystery will always remain as to the reasons why the games most successful manager acquired Juan Sebastian Veron, a player that offered the exact opposite of the style he had pursued since his first days at Aberdeen. Although very talented, skilful and a precision passer of a foot ball, his lack of industry and physicality in the middle of the park contrast starkly to the countless names that have passed through Fergie’s teams. Even today Dimitar Berbatov struggles to find his place with the work rate of Chicharrito, Rooney or Danny Wellbeck. Or up against the work rate of one Antonio Valencia for example.
But with yet another Premier League title within his grasp few will dare remind of Sir Alex of his Veron moment.
For Mancini though, it is a showdown on Sunday with Arsenal that will define his adventure in the Premier League, as it will be Manchester City’s last chance to keep the race alive. For that he will really need his mirror images – Balotelli and Tevez – to be at full strength.
In fact on the day he needs footballing fireworks to have any chance.