Mancini needs to win title again to keep job

Trevor Steven
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ONCE again Roberto Mancini was quick to divert attention from his own failings and blame the referee after Tuesday’s draw with Ajax pushed Manchester City closer to another embarrassing Champions League elimination.

He was similarly blinkered when City were well beaten by the same opponents in Amsterdam last month, emphasising the uphill struggle they would face to qualify rather than his team’s glaring deficiencies.

Mancini’s evasiveness when queries are raised about his side’s failures begs the question: does he see them and refuse to acknowledge them, or is he blind to their lack of focus, concentration and desire?

Moaning about decisions in their latest European disappointment is like crying over spilt milk. It was nigh-on impossible for City to reach the last 16 even if they beat Ajax.

He has talked about being found out in the Champions League because they’re not used to that level. That’s tosh – City are man-for-man better than most squads and should walk the group stage.

The fact is that Mancini, while enjoying great success in the Italian and English top flight, has a poor record in European competition, and it is creating huge pressure for him.

He more or less has to retain the Premier League now if he wants to save his job. Even then it would be touch and go and he would only have succeeded in treading water.

You could argue he’s a victim of his own success. Nobody at City really believed they would win the title last season, but they did, and now even doing it again won’t feel like progress.

To make matters worse for Mancini, a huge shadow has been cast over his future by the arrival of Txiki Begiristain, the former Barcelona director of football now occupying the same role at Eastlands.

With Pep Guardiola, the coach credited with moulding the universally adored Barca team, rumoured to be ready to return to management next year in England, the conspiracy theories will go into overdrive. Begiristain has seen Guardiola’s work – and its fruits – first hand, while Mancini might have won the league but has only got City playing anything like as attractive football early last season.

If Mancini runs away with the title, Begiristain can’t say too much. But any other outcome and you can’t tell me that City’s ultra-ambitious owners won’t be asking him what Pep would do.

I’m fascinated to see whether Mancini’s players rally for him now. If they are 100 per cent behind him they will go on a strong run and start playing, but at the moment, like his post-match remarks, they remain unconvincing.

Trevor Steven is former England footballer who played in two World Cups and two European Championships. He now acts as a scout and media commentator.