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Motivating millionaires

There are few managers today that truly understand how modern day footballers tick – extracting that extra winning 10% from multi millionaires, who already have a life that stretches beyond any of our wildest imaginations, is a talent that few possess. And despite the cynicism that all football pundits are guilty of, coaching superstars is about more than simply throwing money at them, it is nothing short of an art form.

It takes more than just money to motivate footballers’ I’d appreciate it. 

So, two and half years into an all conquering football expedition, Manchester City, with their endless pots of gold and glittering expectations to match, are finding out the hard way just what it takes to be a successful football club. Roberto Mancini, the man they think can get that extra 10% from the teams superstars will, if he wasn’t already, be well aware that money alone will not allow him to make his team a success story.

To the owners though, the Abu Dhabi United Group (not exactly football fanatics), it must have seemed so simple when they took the reins at City in September 2008 – buy club, buy best players, pay best wages, win most trophies. Thankfully for us, football is a heck of a lot trickier than that flawed equation. But if City’s Arab owners were foolish enough to think otherwise, they will have been left baffled on Thursday night as big money reject Andriy Shevchenko and his Dinamo Kiev side dumped City out of the UEFA Cup.

However, when you have such colossal expectations, you are bound to have to endure a certain bemusement every now and again when your team fails to deliver. It is when that bemusement becomes etched on your face that you should begin to worry.

But City have only lost once since Rooney’s wonder goal sunk them at Old Trafford just over a month ago, so it seemed surreal to see a weary Roberto Mancini have to defend his side’s ‘poor form’. The City manager did concede that his side have been well below their best recently but rebuffed claims that his temperament and his ability to control the personalities in his dressing room were to blame. However, Mario Balotelli’s antics in their next game failed to vindicate Mancini’s ego busting claims.

Under the constant pressure Mancini is now beginning to look battle beaten. The otherwise cool Italian has looked uncharacteristically ragged as the season has gone on and cuts a figure similar to that of Rafael Benitez last season; frustrated, defensive and increasingly insular and suspicious of the media amid continued criticism of his style.

However, Mancini must endure, and the City owners must allow him to endure. Under the circumstances, the Italian is doing a good job. Unfortunately, rather than Mancini failing to get that extra 10% out of his side, too many of his big money players are letting him down. The likes of Joleon Lescott, David Silva and James Milner have all failed to show the form that would have justified their huge transfer fees and wages.

When all is going well, few question the methods or style of the manager. But with City failing to set the world alight in Mancini’s first full season, there are whispers that he could be going the same way as Mark Hughes if the poor performances and the gossip about dressing room unrest continue. The owners have already shown that they are not afraid to ruthlessly pull the trigger.

But to sack Mancini now or before he has had at least another season would be counterproductive. Naturally, the owners want a quick return for their hefty investment, but Mancini must be allowed time to continue his project. Moulding a team of personalities manufactured purely by money into a team of winners is no small feat, and the City board must look to fellow big spenders Real Madrid for lessons on how, or how not, to handle their development. They will see how interfering, trigger happy boards have made a bigger mess at bigger clubs than theirs.

The Real Madrid of the last half decade is surely the best example of how copious amounts of money and meddling mega rich money men have only succeeded in bringing the world’s most successful club to its knees and engineering one of the most barren spells in its history.

Real Madrid’s record of only two league titles in the last seven years with no major domestic trophy, and, up until this year, a failure to reach the last 8 of the Champions League is both inconceivable and unacceptable for a club of Real Madrid’s size. And let us be clear, the trigger happy Real board have played a significant role in the club’s fall from grace. Since Vicente Del Bosque was so unceremoniously sacked by Real President Florentino Perez in 2003, the nine managers since have been sanctioned an average of less than a year to put trophies in the cabinet. All have flopped with varying levels of failure, even Fabio Capello couldn’t keep his job after winning the title against all odds.

As a consequence, Real have failed to fill the trophy cabinet with the regularity they are accustomed to. And should City follow the Madrid model, then they will find that reaching their target of world domination will be significantly slower. Football matters need to be left to football people.

A good result at Chelsea this weekend will lift the pressure on Mancini and help him pass the stress buck over to his fellow Italian, Ancellotti. There will be no questions of Mancini’s style and methods should City start playing and winning well again. As Steve McManaman put it when he was at Real Madrid ‘Here you can drink all night, have your breakfast and pick up your paper on the way home, as long as the team is winning, it is not a problem.’

Michael Smith

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