Soccer

Mancini pays price for City's stagnation

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MANCHESTER, England (AP)

After ending Manchester City's long wait for silverware and tipping English football's balance of power to the blue half of the city, Roberto Mancini established the perfect platform to dominate the Premier League - and perhaps Europe - for years to come.

The Italian had wealth beyond his rivals to draw on and a collection of the best players in the world at his disposal.

How did it all go so wrong in the space of 12 months?

Poor dealings in the transfer market, the appointment of new personnel in the club's technical staff and an apparent lack of motivation among players are the underlying factors in City's undoubted regression this season, ultimately costing Mancini his job.

From a position of strength, City is now back behind Manchester United and likely to face fresh challenges next season from a Chelsea team set to be revitalized with the hiring of Jose Mourinho, as well as from a Liverpool team widely expected to continue its improvement under Brendan Rodgers. Lucrative new commercial deals signed this season could see Arsene Wenger finally spend some money at Arsenal, too.

It's been one step forward and two steps back for City. A golden opportunity could have been lost and it may be hard to recover.

All signs are pointing to City appointing Manuel Pellegrini as its new manager. The Chilean is highly respected in Spain after his impressive body of work at Real Madrid, Villarreal and Malaga but he will be new to the demands of the Premier League. It remains to be seen how long it takes for him to settle in England and how he copes with the egos of City's dressing-room millionaires.

The fact that City has been in talks with Pellegrini is an indication of the work behind the scenes undertaken by executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain.

The former Barcelona officials both joined in October last year - Soriano as chief executive and Begiristain as director of football - and were entrusted with developing City's long-term strategy, with emphasis on producing young talent to fit in with the demands of financial fair play and an ability to attract the cream of the established players. Begiristain, for example, is widely reported to have been a key figure behind Yaya Toure agreeing a new deal with City through 2017.

The Spaniards' arrival at Etihad Stadium immediately left Mancini in a vulnerable position. Throw in City's slump in fortunes and ultimately its failure to land a major trophy and Mancini was always unlikely to last.

Mourinho is another possible candidate that City could hire this summer - his likely move to Chelsea is yet to be finalized - although it is improbable that two men with previous ties to Barca would turn to the current coach of Real Madrid to take the club forward.

Whoever does take over from Mancini must improve City's goal threat, which has plummeted this season compared to last and is only the sixth best in the Premier League this season, and improve the team's performances in the Champions League, which have been woeful under Mancini.

Having conquered the Premier League once, City's Abu Dhabi ownership want to see the club established as a force in Europe and challenge the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich on a consistent basis. City has failed to make it out of the group stage in either of its two seasons in the Champions League, with three points from six games this season an embarrassing total despite the group including eventual semifinalists Madrid and Dortmund.

Pellegrini has shown by guiding Villarreal to the semifinals in 2006 and Malaga to the quarterfinals this season that he knows his way around the Champions League and can get the best out of his players. He only lasted a year at Madrid but he was hardly a failure there, losing out to Barcelona in a tight La Liga title race despite winning 96 points - a record number for a second-place team.

With its resources and ambition, the City job remains an attractive one and the task of knocking United off top spot once again will provide the new manager with all the motivation he needs. With Alex Ferguson gone, the chances of that happening surely improve.

If he goes on to achieve that, it's imperative he builds on that success and doesn't stagnate, like Mancini's side did to his cost.



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