Balotelli, Mancini & The Schizophrenia of the Manager

4 08 2011

by Adam Bate

The brief furore surrounding Mario Balotelli’s fluffed backheel and subsequent substitution by Roberto Mancini left the public divided. Was this just the latest indication of a player on the verge of a mental breakdown or a manager over-reacting to a bit of fun in a pre-season knockabout?

There’s little need to wade further into that debate. Besides, it was the comments of the irate coach himself that really intrigued. Mancini said: “In football you always need to be professional, always serious.”

For anybody who had the pleasure of seeing ‘Mancio’ at the peak of his powers it was quite a statement. The diminutive forward was as imaginative as they come; a cunning player whose creativity knew no bounds – and all done while making it look oh so easy. In short, he was Dimitar Berbatov turned up to eleven.

So what to make of this new-found demand for seriousness? Instinctively, it feels desperately sad. In a world where sheikhs and oligarchs dictate the landscape, a joyless and neutered Mancini is surely the final straw.

And yet, he is in fact just the latest in a long line of players who have sung a different tune once their name has appeared on the office door.

George Graham is remembered for his regimented approach to management. He valued hard-work and commitment above everything. But this was a man who, in his playing days, had fully justified the nickname ‘Stroller’.

He may have had a lackadaisical approach to playing the game but this actually seemed to harden his attitude to similar-minded players when he became a manager. Like the father who knows exactly what his daughter’s boyfriend is after, Graham was quick to dispose of ‘Champagne’ Charlie Nicholas. At Tottenham Hotspur it was the mercurial David Ginola that Graham sought to ease out of the club at the earliest convenience.

When it comes to a manager’s outlook on the game, the player he was would appear to have little bearing on the characteristics he looks for in others. Moreover, it would also seem to have minimal impact on that manager’s tactical outlook too.

Arsene Wenger was a sweeper in his playing days at Strasbourg and in his first season with Arsenal he was happy to utilise a 3-5-2 system. Perhaps he envisaged a player with his intelligence stepping out from the back. However, he soon realised the benefits of the back four he had – as well as the limitations of three stopper centre-backs – and thus made redundant the position in which he used to play.

Sir Alex Ferguson was an out-and-out centre forward with an enviable goalscoring record. These instincts didn’t stop him pioneering one of the first versions of a strikerless formation seen in English football. He had come to recognise that the centre forward of old was dead – winning the Champions League in 2008 with a flexible front three of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.

Kenny Dalglish, like the two men discussed above, is one of only five men to have coached a team to the Premier League title. Dalglish the player, and indeed Dalglish the Liverpool manager, is remembered as an exponent and advocate of the ‘pass-and-move’ style. But these footballing beliefs were flexible enough for him to create a title-winning side at Blackburn that saw no need for a Dalglish-type player. He instead opted to fashion a simple 4-4-2 with Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox as the one-dimensional wingers, together with Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton operating in tandem as old-fashioned number 9s.

These are just the most high profile examples. There can be few men more evangelical in their devotion to the beautiful game than Tony Mowbray. He is a coach who has suffered for his art – overseeing a West Bromwich Albion side that passed their way to relegation before constructing a Celtic side for which defending was little more than an afterthought. Bizarre then that Mowbray had found fame as the classic no-nonsense centre-back – the man who, as Celtic captain, had invented the pre-game huddle, a move in synch with his tub-thumping image.

It would seem that we shouldn’t be surprised by Mancini’s incongruous views regarding the importance of seriousness. Who knows what events might occur in twenty years time. Perhaps we will see a flabbergasted Mario Balotelli berating a young buck for not punishing the opposition with the requisite sobriety?

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5 responses

4 08 2011
Thomas Baugh

One question I’d like to know the answer to is this:

What if Balotelli had scored with his backheel?

I can only assume their wouldn’t have been any of this furore and probably no more than a smirk from Mancini on the touchline.

Personally, I thought what he did was brilliant, although admittedly in these situations you live or die by the sword.

What a sad, boring game we’d have though if players didn’t try these things.

No Higuita scorpion kick, no Pele dummy, no Cruyff turn.

And for every glorious piece of outrageous Ronaldo skill that’s executed perfectly, there’s a Balotelli backheel that goes badly wrong.

Either way, these are the moments that make watching the game enjoyable aren’t they?

4 08 2011
zack

Balotelli just need to be reminded that he cannot pull that kind of stunt because of his fat wages. Man City cannot be caught paying silly money to someone who could’nt complete his stunt. It’ s that simple.

4 08 2011
Balotelli, Mancini & The Schizophrenia of the Manager « Scissors Kick

[…] “The brief furore surrounding Mario Balotelli’s fluffed backheel and subsequent substitution by Roberto Mancini left the public divided. Was this just the latest indication of a player on the verge of a mental breakdown or a manager over-reacting to a bit of fun in a pre-season knockabout?” Ghost Goal […]

4 08 2011
Refly

It is ignorant to compare what Balotelli did to Mancini, Higuita, and Cruyff. Players like Mancini might have made what they do looks easy, but it was just because of their genius. But, you never see them try something like what Balotelli did. What Balotelli did was just disrespectful and unprofessional. You see players trying to lob the keeper, or dribbling past the goalkeeper, but it was all moves to increase the chance of getting a goal. Turning your back to the goal and kicking the ball without looking is just decrease your chance of getting a goal. It was a disgusting behavior that shouldn’t be displayed by a professional player. Mancini was right to take off Balotelli after that stunt.

11 08 2011
Jerry Jones

Refly

Mancini’s most famous goal is a backheel from a corner.

To quote you:

Players like Mancini might have made what they do looks easy, but it was just because of their genius. But, you never see them try something like what Balotelli did.

You see players trying to lob the keeper, or dribbling past the goalkeeper, but it was all moves to increase the chance of getting a goal. Turning your back to the goal and kicking the ball without looking is just decrease your chance of getting a goal. It was a disgusting behavior that shouldn’t be displayed by a professional player. Mancini was right to take off Balotelli after that stunt.

YOU FAIL REFLY.

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