With six games of the Premier League season to go Roberto Mancini’s side found themselves eight points adrift of Manchester United. It appeared for all the world that the title would again elude Sheikh Mansour’s team, and was no doubt a low moment in his tenure as Manchester City owner. Whether or not Mansour or Mancini had the the dulcet tones of Terrence Mann cooing encouragements in their ears we can leave up to the imagination, but one thing is certain; they didn’t have Ray Kinsella’s money worries.
In fact, the swing of the title back to Manchester City was powered by eighteen goals scored by nine different players signed in the last four years for a combined total of over £193 million. In comparison, Manchester United’s run over their decisive final six games saw them register just eleven goals, scored by five different players, signed in the last eight years for a total of just over £61 million. For the red half of Manchester therein lies the problem: they are no longer the dominant force in the transfer market that they once were.
But financially out-muscling Manchester United is no guarantee of being able to usurp them in the league, as the post-Jose Mourinho Chelsea – bar the 2010 title under the stewardship of the criminally sacked Carlo Ancelotti – have so dramatically shown us. There will be many who claim Manchester City have simply bought the title but, whilst the vastness of Sheikh Mansour’s wealth and his predisposition for spending have naturally been a contributing factor, winning the league requires something more than simple resources.
Take the example of President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan who, in a moment of sheer demented whimsy that is all too common for the central Asian country, announced last month that his arid desert nation would be launching a new ice hockey league. Though temperatures in Turkmenistan can reach 50C, hugely expensive new ice arenas capable of hosting such fixtures have been erected by state enterprises and departments. President Berdymukhanov has called on Turkmenistan to become an international force in the sport, though few are genuinely convinced that they can topple the might of the Americans, Russians and Canadians on the rink.
You see the might of the squad of Manchester City could only achieve greatness in the right hands, and this season has shown us all – in case anyone had any doubts – that Mancini is really a very good manager indeed. His decision to move Yaya Toure into a more attacking role when his side were being held by Newcastle United was widely heralded after the game as the decision that would win Manchester City the title. Those that have watched City regularly this season will know that its a trick Mancini regularly deploys, but nevertheless introducing a defensive midfielder when many others would thrown more strikers into the fold shows the man’s insight into the game.
Yet the departure of Carlos Tevez following his spat with Mancini during the Champions League fixture against Bayern Munich last September could have derailed Manchester City’s title challenge before it had even truly begun. But Mancini stood firm, and made it be known that he was in charge. His real master-stroke however has been the way he has handled Tevez’s reintroduction into the side. Mancini seems to have known exactly the right moment to start the striker, such as the ravaging of Norwich City in which Tevez scored a hat-trick, and when to deploy him from the bench, as he did to such devastating effect in the last ditch win over Chelsea. Mancini has handled the entire Tevez affair with aplomb, firm enough to take action, wise and humble enough to know when to back down, and strong enough to prevent any ill feeling from proving detrimental to the title challenge.
Mancini has shown similar acumen in the case of Mario Balotelli, from whom he has harvested thirteen league goals this season despite Balotelli constantly threatening to explode at any given second. Indeed he often did. As Balotelli’s already notorious Football Focus interview with Noel Gallagher earlier in the season revealed though, the young Italian striker looks up to his manager and countryman with an affection reserved normally only for a patriarch. Mancini has been exactly that this season.
But what about spirit? You can’t win anything without it. Ray Kinsella had it, and time and time again this season Manchester City have shown it in abundance. The professional performance that sent Manchester United home empty handed. The resilience they showed in – just about – vanquishing Tottenham Hotspur when Harry Redknapp’s side were at their peak. The swagger with which they demolished Manchester United at Old Trafford. The determination to rescue the title when they were just seconds away from losing it. Manchester City have looked like champions all season, and deserved the miracle that Aguero conjured up on Sunday afternoon. To quote John Kinsella “It’s like a dream come true… Is this heaven?” No, it’s the Etihad. But, for Manchester City fans, it sure felt like heaven. It was the place where dreams come true.