Dublin – Roberto Mancini has five months to demonstrate to his club's Abu Dhabi owners that he is capable of reviving a group of players who seem to have lost the desire to help him take Manchester City to the next level.
The City manager's job is safe for now but he was confronted with evidence that his squad have simply lost the will to win in the anaemic 1-0 defeat at Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, which left the former City player Dietmar Hamann questioning whether the high salaries commanded by the players had “taken the edge” off them.
Mancini needs to deliver the Premier League title with some style to demonstrate that he has not taken the club as far as he can, in their pursuit of global status.
The sight of Maicon, chatting at length with Borussia's Sandro before leaving the pitch on Tuesday suggested that he was certainly not devastated by the manner of City's defeat – which confirmed City's campaign as the worst of any English side in Champions League history. Mancini made it his aim to sign Maicon at all costs from Internazionale this summer, at a time when he was prepared to allow Nigel de Jong and Adam Johnson go. The Brazilian right-back is looking like an even more questionable signing than Javi Garcia, who put in another poor display.
“It's a tough group but this borders on embarrassing, to get so few points [three],” said Hamann, who won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005. “City really don't have the conviction to play in this league. The gulf looked very big. Borussia rested some of their top players. The players who came in for City all cost a lot of money. The Borussia players didn't. I saw one team that had the will to win and one that didn't.”
The most substantial questions now facing Mancini, after a night on which Scott Sinclair was also unable to grasp the opportunity of his starting place, surround his transfer market business this summer. The departure of De Jong to Milan has left Yaya Touré with increased responsibility to prevent sides running through City's midfield, as many European sides have.
Johnson's exit has left City short of naturally wide players. Some at the club thought he might have nurtured something out of the winger, given more patience. That ability is certainly a quality valued by City's new chief executive Ferran Soriano. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho share an ability to “make their players grow professionally and at a personal level,” Soriano has said. “They generate the optimal conditions and state of mind for that to happen.”
Five things City need to address in Europe
1 Develop City's team ethic
Joe Hart has been a forthright critic, earning a rebuke from Roberto Mancini for doing so after the Madrid game. At least he has shown he cares. Even Carlos Tevez, after his antics in Munich last year, puts in the effort but other players need to look at themselves and how much they are giving.
2 Make and take more chances
Seven goals was not the worst return of any Champions League teams but the number of attempts on goal in six games (64) compared poorly with the far more vibrant Real Madrid (120), Dortmund (86) and even Ajax (69). Roberto Mancini has said his strikers must start doing their job, but that means better supply too.
3 Hold on to leads
When City led Real Madrid in the Bernabeu with five minutes to play, a victory to send morale and confidence soaring was within reach. Lax defending and Cristiano Ronaldo's triumphant finish cost all three points. City have not kept a clean sheet and Matija Nastasic is having an awful lot asked of him.
4 Find a new De Jong
Replacing Nigel de Jong with Javi Garcia as one of the defensive midfield players has been nobody's idea of a success – with or without a £15m price ticket. De Jong's combative nature and experience allowed Gareth Barry, James Milner or whoever was alongside him to push forward with greater freedom.
5 Improve ranking
The only benefit of finishing third and qualifying for the Europa League would have been the opportunity to improve City's Uefa ranking, which will remain well outside the top dozen. But Dortmund have proved this season that a team drawn from the fourth pot can win the group.–The Independent