There has been an inevitability
about Manchester City's journey to the Premier League title
since Abu Dhabi petro-dollars began flooding into the club in
2008 but they still required a steady hand at the tiller to
navigate them to glory through one of the most unpredictable
seasons for decades.
Roberto Mancini was appointed in December 2009 as the man to
make realise the dream, knocking cross-town rivals Manchester
United off their perch, and the former Inter Milan coach proved
himself equal to whatever the job threw his way.
Since taking over from the sacked Mark Hughes, Italian
Mancini has endured the initial disappointment of failing to
qualify for the Champions League in 2010, suffered criticism
over his style of football and even quelled mutiny within the
Importantly, however, even when making a disappointing group
stage exit on their Champions League debut this season, there
has been no sense of panic at the top.
More than 400 million pounds has been
spent on players since Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought City
as, first under Hughes, they began assembling a squad that is
the envy of almost every club in world football.
There is a price to pay, though, for the man in charge of
such a shopping list and caressing the egos of enormously
well-paid footballers week in and week out has often proved the
undoing of many high-calibre managers in the Premier League.
Initially, City's detractors said they were a bunch of
individuals, lacking the required team bond that has been the
hallmark of United and Chelsea in the past decade.
When Carlos Tevez refused to warm-up as a substitute in a
Champions League clash with Bayern Munich last September, an act
which sparked a high-profile stand-off between striker and
manager, the alarm bells were ringing again.
Mario Balotelli's volatile behaviour on and off the field,
including an incident in which his apartment caught light after
fireworks were set off inside, also tested Mancini's resolve, as
did a post-Christmas dip in away form that let United back in
Mancini never took his eye off the ball, however, and his
biggest success has been instilling a togetherness and harmony
while also managing the expectations of the fans, many of whom
still appear giddy at their club's recent rise from the shadows
rather than arrogantly expecting silverware.
Despite setting a hot pace for the first half of the season,
when they thrashed United 6-1 at Old Trafford, City's age old
ability to shoot themselves in the foot appeared to have
returned and they trailed United by eight points with six
matches to go after a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal on April 8.
Ironically it was that loss that galvanised the squad and at
the same time released the pressure that had been building.
Since then City have been ruthless.
As United wobbled badly, City's five-match winning streak,
including a 1-0 home victory over their title rivals, put them
on the brink of winning the championship.
On Sunday they claimed their first English title in 44 years
in barely believable circumstances as stoppage time goals from
Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero snatched a 3-2 home victory over
Queens Park Rangers.
Throughout a wildly fluctuating Premier League season, among
the most exciting in its 20-year existence, one of the
constants has been City's reliability.
Like any self-respecting Italian manager Mancini spent the
early part of his tenure making his team hard to beat,
impossibly so this at the Etihad Stadium where they won 18 and
drew one of their 19 league matches.
That stability was based on the rock-like defending of
skipper Vincent Kompany and the emergence of Joleon Lescott as
his number one central defensive partner.
With goalkeeper Joe Hart rubber-stamping his England No.1
status, and Yaya Toure a formidable presence in the midfield
engine room, City have been able to unleash their attacking
threat to the maximum, much of it instigated by the brilliance
of Spanish playmaker David Silva.
Up front, Aguero has proved a class act, netting 23 league
goals while in support Balotelli, despite his erratic behaviour,
and Dzeko also reached double figures, scoring some vital goals.
While some may scoff at Mancini's achievement in finally
bringing City out of the shadow of their illustrious neighbours,
pointing to the vast wealth at his disposal, he has repaid the
faith of the owners to the full.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, whose mind games have failed
to rattle Mancini in the title run in, once said the first of
his 12 titles with United was the hardest to win.
Since that breakthrough he has produced a succession of
sides all blessed with an inner belief that generally allows
them to prevail when the going gets tough.
That is exactly what City did this season and now they have
reached the top they may take some shifting.
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