Where it all went wrong for Roberto Mancini, Manchester City

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History will judge Roberto Mancini harshly for his performance this year, and rightfully so.

Manchester City’s manager seems finally to have seen the harsh light where problem child striker Mario Balotelli is concerned – but he’s a little late to the luau on this one. That hardly seems up for debate now.

How late? That’s a better question. Because the answer could be anywhere from 20 months ago to a few weeks ago.

Back in August of 2010, Mancini decided to work anew with a talented but petulant young forward; they had been together previously at Inter Milan.

No one knew better than Mancini what he was getting. After the manager left Inter, Balotelli had difficult times with his successor, Jose Mourinho. Say what you will about Mourinho, but players seem to enjoy working under him; the man understands star player management.

Mancini may be a brilliant Italian tactician. And he may do well guiding most players. But he proved to have debilitating bland spots in two infamous cases this year. He dealt notoriously poorly with two problems – and City paid the ultimate price.

Manchester City had the will and the talent to push mighty Manchester United off the hill. It would never be easy, but the opportunity was there. It was, at least, until Mancini fumbled it away, “losing the plot,” as they like to say in England.

First it was Carlos Tevez and his well-chronicled troubles. Then came the mohawked blast of distraction that is Balotelli.

We could all write volumes about the silliness and the circus effect of it all, but the bottom line is quite simple: Problems like these become disruptive, unnecessary distractions that subtract focus from the bigger ambitions.

It all served to undermine team chemistry – and I always say that locker room chemistry is an underrated element of high-level success. Obviously, talent and game-day ability will always be the primary decider. Bolton, for instance, was never going to “chemistry” its way to Premiership greatness.

But the intangibles of belief and locker room accord can be game-changers to a point. A healthy sense of unity, a genuine esprit de corps, can certainly help a side rise beyond the sum of its parts.

When talent more or less equals out, matters of leadership, accountability and the will to fight for one another can stretch the fabric a little farther. When everyone pulls the same direction, day after day, focused on a shared ambition, then the thought of letting down the guy next to you becomes harrowing. The mindset coalesces: “I won’t be the one to let these guys down.”

Anybody think the Manchester City locker room is everything it needs to be?

There’s no way it is, and that’s on Mancini.

The manager’s stubborn refusal to deal with the problems – or better yet, just eliminate them in due haste – cost City any chance at unseating United.