City, Negative Media, Khaldoon and Stoke 2010

I’m going to talk about a period when I got totally riled by the way Manchester City was being covered by some in the media. This was this month in 2010 when considerable negative coverage was thrown City’s way. At that time I was interviewing several key figures at City and the following piece includes quotes from one of several interviews I did with City chair Khaldoon Al Mubarak. I asked him about the negativity that seemed to be building in the media towards the club and its ‘trigger-happy’ leader (ridiculous then, even more ridiculous now!). It angered me that some of those talking had not spent any time interviewing those in charge at City yet they were freely talking as if they knew them inside out. This is a free read and is well worth taking a moment to read.

The Blues were only defeated in three of their final 15 League games of the 2009-10 season and were managed by Roberto Mancini, who had replaced Mark Hughes at Christmas.  City faced Stoke City three times in February – twice in the FA Cup and once in the League.  The first FA Cup meeting on 13 February ended in a 1-1 draw, as did the League meeting three days later. 

Stoke had scored in the 72nd minute of the League game, before Gareth Barry saved City’s blushes with an 85th minute equaliser.  The draw lifted the Blues to fourth place.  During the post-match interviews one journalist asked Mancini about an incident in the game.  The Italian claimed he had not seen it, but another journalist said:  “You’re learning fast.”  Mancini replied:  “Thank you.  I have been ­watching ­Coronation Street.”

The following Sunday, 21 February, presumably after worrying about the situation with Coronation Street’s Gail and her missing husband Joe (whose body had just bobbed to the surface of Lake Windermere), Mancini guided City to a goalless draw against Liverpool.  The result was satisfactory but some journalists claimed the manager was likely to lose his job at the season’s end.  Paul Wilson wrote an article on Jose Mourinho for The Observer which suggested that the former Chelsea manager could be arriving at either Liverpool or City at the end of the season.  In his Guardian report Paul McCarra referred indirectly to the rumour:  “These clubs have high expectations and Mancini has the added worry of trying to retain his job.” 

Some supporters saw reports like these as a validation of the rumours that continued to circulate.  This contributed to a feeling of anxiety.  No matter what was said the rumours were believed.  When City travelled to Stoke for the FA Cup replay on 24 February the home fans teased Mancini and City supporters with the chant of “You’re getting sacked in the morning.”  This is fairly normal banter when a side is facing a struggling competitor but the Blues actually lay in fifth place, with a game in hand over most sides, and of course Mancini was only two months into his managerial reign.  The chants were premature but when the Stoke-City replay ended in a 3-1 home win, others suggested this would be the final straw for City’s Chairman.  The fact was, however, City’s owner and other executives were not looking to make a change.  There was no intention whatsoever to remove Mancini.

In his match report journalist Joe Lovejoy commented:  “Mancini’s claims after the game that his team had ‘played very well and dictated for 80 minutes’ will cut no ice with demanding employers who had so little patience with Mark Hughes.”

Chairman Khaldoon found the constant speculation about Mancini’s future baffling:  “It’s extremely frustrating.  I read the ‘papers and see this ‘trigger-happy City’.  Trigger-happy City based on what?  Based on twenty managers fired in our first 18 months?  No, this is based on one change.  Absolutely one change of an individual that we hadn’t even selected to start with, but we had stuck with him.  So where does this trigger-happy City come from? 

“From day one I have always stated that we would be patient and we have been that way.  I cannot see a single contradiction of anything I or ‘we’ – the team we have put in place – have said since starting out.  Not a single one.   We said what we would do and we’ve done it – from A to Z.”

As most Blues will recognise, the media negativity towards City has increased at times and has rarely matched the feeling of the fans or the club’s leaders. We’ve come to expect it but in February 2010 it seemed so new.

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