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Like father like son?

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Nick Webster

Nick Webster has been the voice of the Barclays Premier League, FIFA World Cup's and UEFA European Championships in America since 2001. Insightful, provocative and entertaining, you'll always find him at the heartbeat of the action with stories that matter.
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One of the most fascinating relationships in football is the bond between manager and star player. It always seems to have a real father-son quality, which of course, entails a myriad of ups and downs.

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The Premier League is often fertile ground for these kinds of partnerships, and in Manchester we have two fantastic examples of players we considered leading into this weekend’s derby.

In the red half of the city, Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney have co-existed for close to eight years. In the early bloom of their relationship, when Rooney was just a teenager, the Liverpudlian used to speak in reverent tones about his manager.

The compliments used to flow like wine between the two as Rooney would describe just how much the manager meant to him and how he had helped him turn into one of the world’s great players.

Ferguson would appear to get misty eyed as he spoke about ‘Wayne’ and how ‘the boy’ was dedicating himself to Manchester United. This party line was followed even when the Scotsman started playing Rooney out of position to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo. Both men would respond that Rooney was sacrificing himself for the team, but. even to the untrained eye, Rooney’s annoyance was visible.

That was three years ago. Now that the Englishman has become the one undisputed star of the team he’s not so keen to be so obedient.

Matters certainly came to a head in October of 2010 when Rooney threatened to leave United over a perceived lack of ambition. Reading between the lines, though, it wasn’t only ambition that was the cause of this threat. Manager and star were barely on speaking terms.

However, just when it seemed that Rooney was destined to join rival Manchester City, the most dramatic of U-turns occurred. The England striker penned a new five-year deal, making him United’s highest paid player.

The trouble with cracks, though, is that once they are visible they’re almost impossible to paper over. Both Rooney and Ferguson can tell any story they want to deflect attention away from their deteriorating relationship, but you can’t help but feel that where there’s smoke there's fire.

Personally, I’d be stunned if Rooney were still a United player when his contract nears its conclusion in 2015. We’ve seen from past experiences that if Ferguson believes players are becoming too big for their boots he simply ships them out. The only reason Rooney is still at Old Trafford is that Ferguson doesn’t have anyone to replace him.

Meanwhile, in the blue half of the city, Roberto Mancini has the luxury of being able to boot out his troubled son, but for now he’s trying a different approach with the turbulent Mario Balotelli.

During his 18-month stay Balotelli has tested the patience of the man who gave him his start with Inter Milan, yet Mancini, while showing signs of exasperation, has continued to put his arm around the shoulder of this wayward talent.

In many cases, the list of misdemeanors perpetrated by the young Italian would make a manager blanche. Balotelli makes Rooney look like a saint. Smoking in public, setting his house on fire, smashing up his car, chucking darts at club colleagues, multiple red cards and fighting with teammates - all offenses that seemingly fall into the category of a day's work for Balotelli. However, whenever he’s chastised by Mancini, he takes it on the chin instead of reacting in the press.

It feels to me like Mancini is prepared to let the Italian be his own man and make his own mistakes. It is a very different approach to his opposite number at the Theater of Dreams.

Of course, Balotelli has made mention of leaving City before, citing the weather, the food and the women as factors. But note, he has never used his manager as an excuse to find the exit door despite some pretty public humiliations.

Ultimately what we have are two different schools of management.

Ferguson is old school and he’s loyal to a fault. However, once that loyalty is broken, it can never be repaired.

Mancini is the new breed. He understands that we are in a different era and that the attitudes and mindsets of yesteryear no longer work with today’s modern player.

Both men are fantastic father figures though and their methods have brought them great success, whether it be the 'arm around the shoulder' or the 'swift kick up the butt’.

How they each manage to deal with their problem children in the coming months will be one of the most intriguing stories of the season. It could well decide this season’s title.

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