What a difference a year makes.
Exactly a year to the day after winning their first Premier League title in 44 years, Manchester City sacked Manager Roberto Mancini following a season of disappointment culminating in their embarrassing 1-0 defeat at the hands of relegated Wigan Athletic in Saturday's F.A Cup final. The writing appears to have been on the wall for some time, given Mancini's disillusioned demeanor during Interviews and there have been strong rumours circulating for some time now that Manchester City have actively been looking for a replacement behind the back of the current Manager. Hardly the best way to do business, but this is the exact same situation Mancini himself walked into when he agreed terms on a contract when then Manager Mark Hughes was still at the helm.
So, where did it all go wrong?
The official reason from the club was that "Mancini had failed to achieve any of the club's targets, with the exception of qualification for next season's Champions League". That is no doubt correct, the newly crowned Premier League Champions were expected to make a serious challenge on all fronts this season and one trophy was seen to be the minimum requirement. Retaining the league title was a priority as it's one of the hardest things in football to do, however the club was also expected to make great strides in the Champions League and were one of the favourites to lift the biggest prize in club football. The club that had been in the shadow of their neighbours United for almost half a century were now in pole position to overtake them as the dominant force in English and possibly even European Football, something these long-suffering City fans could scarcely believe.
The reality didn't match the dream.
The problems may have occurred on the pitch, but you have to start with last summers transfer activity if you want to look at the reasons for City's failure. With a significant financial backing from their wealthy owners the Champions of England were expected to make some significant moves in the transfer market to ensure this magical season wasn't a one-off. Some of the biggest names in World football were linked with Manchester City and with their growing reputation and ability to offer extortionate wages few would doubt that they could land any of these names. To say things did not go according to plan was an understatement. As United were pulling off the coup of the summer by signing Robin Van Persie for £20 million from Arsenal, who himself was a long-time Mancini target and reportedly turned a very lucrative offer from City down, their exploits in the transfer market were far more understated. Mancini's dealings in the transfer market baffled most onlookers, these were not the players he needed if he wanted to make great strides in Europe. Jack Rodwell, a talented but injury-prone youngster. was signed from Everton for £15 million. Everton fans couldn't believe that City paid such an amount for a relatively unproven talent who been injured more often than not during his time in their first team. Then, Scott Sinclair was signed from Swansea for £8 million. If the Rodwell deal was somewhat of a surprise then this signing beggared belief. Sinclair was a raw, pacey winger who had played well for Swansea but nobody felt he was ready for this step up so soon in his career. It was incomprehensible to see just where Sinclair would fit into Mancini's heavyweight squad of Internationals and star players and this move was expected to seriously hamper his progress as a footballer. As it turned out, everybody's fears were confirmed, both players had minimal impact on the team this season and were injured or not selected for a large portion of the games. So, when Mancini was being linked with players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Danielle De Rossi, instead he opted for young, English talent and it backfired on him in a big way.
The one positive signing Mancini made during the summer was the signing of Matija Nastasic for £12 million from Fiorentina, which looks already to be a sensational bit of business from the Italian. Already a Serbian International at the tender age of 20, Nastasic has adapted to the pace of the English game tremendously and is one of the few success stories in City's season. He dislodged England International Joleon Lescott from the starting lineup and hasn't looked back. He is expected to make even more improvement over the coming years and signing him when he was relatively unknown quantity was a masterstroke by Mancini. Nastasic is considered one of the finest prospects in Europe at the present time and the similarities with United's Nemanja Vidić are striking. However, this signing was the only one that has worked out for Mancini. The summer should have been a time to build on their success of the previous year and it was an opportunity to sign one or two genuine world-class players to freshen up the squad and offer that little bit of quality needed in the tighter environment of European football. Mancini instead chose to stick with the squad he had and added young players who, Nastasic aside, were not ready for a move to a club of City's size and ambition. It is a decision that has cost him dear.
City's season was one of abject failure. One could argue that for most teams finishing runners-up in the league and being F.A Cup finalists would be cause for optimism. Not for City, they expected more, especially after last seasons triumph, and were left wondering what went wrong. The title challenge was virtually non-existent, United winning the league in a procession with City not putting up much of a fight at all. There is one thing that has separated the great teams from the good over the years, and that's striving for greatness after initial objectives had been achieved. This City team has had a look of contentment on it all season, almost as if the job was done last year and they felt things would come far more easily for them this season. Football, and life, doesn't work like that. You can't take anything for granted, especially in the ultra-competitive Premier League, and City have been found wanting on more than one occasion this season. Whether it was the 1-0 defeat at Sunderland, the 3-1 defeat at Southampton or the capitulation at White Hart Lane against Tottenham, City have struggled mightily in trying to get to the level they were at last season. The senior players at the club have looked lethargic and disinterested at times and this has been a major contributing factor to Mancini's demise. He has failed to keep his players motivated and failed to make changes when it was obvious to everybody that they were needed. Now City must regroup under a new regime as they look to get the title back from the clutches of Manchester United.
If the club was looking to build their global brand via the European Cup then this season's efforts can only be described as catastrophic. Granted, they weren't dealt the easiest hand when they were given the 'Group of Death' in the group stages, drawn with Real Madrid, Ajax and eventual finalists Borussia Dortmund. This wouldn't have been an easy task for any side in the world but once again City showed a distinct lack of heart and quality against the European elite as they failed to record even a single win during the group stage. This was the second season that Mancini had failed to lead the club into the latter stages of the competition and their tally of 3 points was the lowest by an English side since the creation of the group stages of the competition. Another embarrassing moment in a season full of disappointment. Mancini appeared tactically inept at times during the competition, failing to adjust to the in-game situations and this would cost him valuable points against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, where they were 2-1 ahead with just three minutes to go and ended up losing the game 3-2 amid chaotic scenes. Mancini's stubbornness to alter his tactics cost him dear and things could have been very different had they emerged from that game with a priceless victory. Instead, City didn't even qualify for the EUROPA Cup and the club simply couldn't afford another season of misery in Europe if they want to be considered amongst the superpowers of European and World football. Another timid showing would not have gone down well with the club's owners and this must have gone a long way to ensuring Mancini would be removed as Manager.
At least Mancini took solace in the fact that despite the main two prizes weren't attainable, they did make it to the F.A Cup final. What's more significant is that they beat United in the semi-final and all that stood in their way was lowly Wigan, who were all-but-relegated from the Division after so many years of defying the odds. The final itself typified City's season and the result was the final nail in Mancini's coffin. Whether the speculation surrounding Mancini's future before the game had an effect on the players on not, we will never know. What was apparent from the moment the game kicked off was that City's highly paid stars thought they had won this game before a ball had been kicked. All they had to do was turn up, put the sky blue shirt on and the cup would be there's. Wigan have never been the sort of club to just roll over when the odds are stacked against them and this proved to be the case once again. They dominated the game from the outset and were extremely deserving winners once again. Mancini could only watch on as his players were second best in every department, a story of their season. The look on the players' faces at the final whistle told you all you needed to know. Few appeared disconsolate. They were emotionless and seemed eager to depart from the scene, some almost without a care in the World. Mancini looked as wounded as he had ever been during his reign that began in December 2009. He had a look of acceptance on his face, as if he knew the ending to his story before it had been written. He had once more been let down again by his players and as it turned out he wouldn't have to wait long before he took the fall for their inept performances on the pitch.
That's not to say the controversial Italian is without blame, far from it. He has a reputation within the game stemming from his playing days of being very stubborn and volatile and this has been evident on more than one occasion during his tenor. Training ground clashes with players were reported, there was the infamous falling out with Carlos Tevez and his temper in press conferences would often rear it's ugly head if he is asked a question that he deemed inappropriate. All of these things happen everywhere in football, it's a part of the game, but his blind faith in Mario Balotelli is another of the reasons that Mancini is currently out of work. The troublesome Italian is no doubt one of the most talented players in the World when he is on his game. Trouble is, throughout his time in England that was seldom the case. He was petulant, arrogant and drove Mancini to the brink of insanity with his exploits on-and-off the field. Mancini was adamant he could control Balotelli and continued to stick by him regardless of the headlines he was making. He inexplicably started with Balotelli in the crucial Manchester derby ahead of Carlos Tevez. Tevez had been a thorn in United's side ever since he made the move across Manchester and he was expected to be a major factor in this game too. Mancini's patience with Balotelli was very out of character and he was convinced that he would one day be rewarded for his loyalty to the mercurial striker. It was, as it turned out, something he would never receive. Balotelli was awful in the Derby, lazy and as sulky as ever. Mancini finally replaced him after 52 minutes, no longer able to cope with the character flaws Balotelli clearly possesses. Mancini should have given up on Balotelli after he was sent off in disgrace at Arsenal back in April 2012 and it would have saved Mancini an incredible amount of grief if he'd have just cut his losses and shipped him off during the summer. Instead, his detrimental effect on the team would go on for another ten months before he was eventually sold to A.C Milan for a fee of £19 million. Another slight on Mancini is that he waited until the final day of the January transfer window to do this deal, leaving no time to bring in a replacement which would prove costly during talisman Sergio Aguero's time on the sidelines through injury.
As Mancini goes off into the sunset the Manchester City fans can look upon his time at the club with fondness. He had, after all, steered them to their first league title in 44 years. Who could forget the final day of last season? Aguero's stoppage time winner that snatched the title out of the hands of United while they waited on the pitch at Sunderland to celebrate. Those are scenes that will go down in the annals of history, never to be forgotten. Mancini was responsible for that, as he was for their F.A Cup victory the previous season. That was the first stepping stone and gave the players belief that more was possible under their fiery Manager. He also provided the club with a little bit of stability after Hughes' sacking and installed a will-to-win among a reluctant group of players. He brought in talent such as Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Nastasic, players who should provide the backbone of the club for the next few years. Mancini can count himself a little unfortunate that he hasn't been given more support by the club's hierarchy but football is a cut-throat business now and foreign owners aren't known for their patience when it comes to under-achieving Managers. After pumping in £1 Billion to change the persona of the club Sheik Mansour is free to do what he likes and he, along with Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak clearly felt that Mancini had lost the support of his players and felt there was no other alternative but to remove him from the position of Manager, even if the timing was a little heartless (the anniversary of winning the title last season). It would appear unlikely that Mancini will be out of work for long, with AS Monaco in France ready to make Mancini an enticing offer to become their next Manager. Whether he wants to jump back into Management straight away after what was no doubt an extremely stressful season for him personally remains to be seen.
What next for Manchester City? Well, it appears pretty cut-and-dried that Malaga's Chilean Manager Manuel Pellegrini will be appointed in the not-to-distant future. Malaga have today announced that Pellegrini is free to leave at the end of the season and a two-year deal has already been agreed to take over at City. Pellegrini has worked wonders at Malaga and under extreme financial constraints has guided them to possible European qualification in La Liga and incredible success in the Champions League, where they reached the Quarter-Finals, losing to finalists Dortmund in dramatic fashion. It will be Pellegrini's job to get his players singing from the same hymn-sheet as they look to impose their authority once more on all the competitions they participate in. He has a good nucleus of players at the club who all have the experience of knowing what it takes to succeed. This is a team of winners and while they might not have looked much like a team under Mancini this season a change in Manager could result in a change of fortune for this talented group of individuals.
Some of the players Mancini brought in should be feeling very vulnerable indeed with the arrival of Pellegrini. Some would say these under-performing players have been given an easy ride by the previous management and they are about to get a rude awakening if they think this will be the case this time around. There are alot of fringe players at the club on enormous wages who simply cannot be kept on if the club is to comply with the new UEFA Financial Fair Play ruling, set to be implemented this season. It will be interesting to see just who makes the grade and who is farmed out, presumably to a inferior club who will expect Manchester City to supplement his wages. Such is life for one of the richest club's in the World with no concern over finances or morals.
With the new ruling, that could be about to change. If Manchester City's history has taught us anything, it is sure to be eventful.
It's just a shame Roberto Mancini will be watching on like the rest of us.
What a difference a year makes...
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_