MANCHESTER CITY 0
Two teams, one prize, one winner. A team of talents against a talented team. Last night, and across a long and arduous campaign, the collective merits of Tottenham Hotspur were too much for the individuals of Manchester City.
Essentially, when Harry Redknapp waltzed into White Hart Lane eight games into last season, his job was not to save the club from relegation, but to set the platform for a Champions League push. Those 30 games in charge, in which Redknapp lifted Spurs from bottom of the pile to seventh, were fundamental to their achievements this term. Redknapp has sculpted a team in his own familiar style, a side with a spirit, an organisation and an attacking verve. Co-ordinated and cohesive, Spurs assumed the mantle of a side who knew what they were doing. Two strikers, two wingers, it is a familiar theme. In his own indelible manner this is a Redknapp prototype.
However, in the other corner it was a different story. The ample forward threats of Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor looked like they’d just met, Bellamy foraged alone, Adam Johnson flittered in and out, the two anchor men failed to knit the team and as the game slipped away, City’s attacks gained an ever increasing air of desperation when direction was needed. The margins prior to the match were as misleading as City’s rhetoric. When Mark Hughes was sacked prior to Christmas with City tucked in the slipstream of fourth, scepticism came from the top about Hughes’ ability to attain the pre-set target of 70 points, and a Champions League finish. City can now only get a maximum of 69, and have not achieved what they set out to do. Would the position have been any better off had the Welshman remained in charge? What blame the owners for making the change or Mancini for failing to capitalise on the platform Hughes set? Have the expensively assembled squad done enough? Do Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure resemble a £50m defensive partnership and have Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz got the goals their transfer fees should command? Herein lies the problem, there are too many avenues to apportion blame, not enough responsibility or guidance. Arguably, Mancini has cost them points, and has choked over a tough run-in, but the Abu Dhabi group, with their now or never, trigger happy stance, have themselves endangered their own ambition. And where will this end?
Financially, failure to get into the Champions League will have few ramifications for the Sheikhs, but no price can be put on the dent it has made to their perceived progression. Post-match, and Mancini talked optimistically about remaining in charge for next season and the merits of a good pre-season, but privately, he must be fearing that his time is up. If the faith in Hughes could be extinguished with a hunch, why will Sheikh Mansour, Garry Cook and the assorted minions have any more reason to trust the Italian who has failed to negotiate his remit? With Jose Mourinho unlikely to lower his aspirations to the Europa League, Mancini may only be saved by the lack of a genuine candidate to step into the breach.
On the face of it, City have made very constructive strides this season. Prior to last night they had lost less games than their neighbours, had beaten the champions elect twice, taken four points off Arsenal and elevated themselves to genuine top four contenders. In ordinary circumstances this should have been enough, and if the owners’ desires to conquer the world weren’t so immediate, would provide a promising pedestal on which to progress next term. Whoever is the manager next season, and at present that remains unclear, a large emphasis will fall at the hands of the owners to coax gradual evolution rather than annual revolution. For all the money in the world, the virtue of patience is priceless.