The Holistic One

Mancini’s dismissal was a bit of an embarrassment, there’s no doubting it. There’s no point dwelling on it any more, really. We know it was callous and humiliating. It was awkward and mishandled and cringe worthy and, taking place on the 13th of May this year, was timed awfully after the events 365 days back. After his dedicated service to the club, it really was a shameful goodbye to Bobby Manc.

The club’s statement in which they proffered their rationale for Mancini’s sacking caused further embarrassment; one word in particular. One little word has become the buzzword that’s hovered around City all season, refusing to be swatted away – be it in the printed media or on Twitter. The word is ‘holistic’ and it provided the sting in the tail of what was already a bittersweet situation. Losing Mancini was always going to be hard after what he’d done for us. However, most fans could acknowledge that a new, fresh approach was needed and Manuel Pellegrini was charged with developing “a holistic approach to all aspects of football at the club.”

Few could have predicted that one word would be cause for such gleeful media mockery. Like, what does it even mean? Well I’ve researched (Googled) the word and it is defined as being, “characterised by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.”

Laugh all you want, you know, but that sounds pretty bang on as to what Pellegrini has brought to Manchester City since he was hired in June. Some of the football the first team has been playing this season has been awe inspiring. There’s cohesion and harmony and smiles on faces. Everyone’s enjoying playing their football and everyone’s enjoying watching this football being played. He believes that, no matter who the members of the starting 11 are – even when they’re shuffled – everyone should know how to play his game and adhere to his philosophy. The youth teams are on-board, too as Pellegrini’s understanding and know-how trickles down to them through their coaching echoing Manuel’s. The ‘Top-Down’ approach has meant that everything at the club is intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole. Although sounding like management speak, holistic needn’t necessarily be a negative word. If the first team, ladies’ team and youth teams have a universal approach to football and it’s successful, what’s not to like?

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European Dreaming

Part of the holistic vision and the decision to hire Manuel Pellegrini has surely come down to his track record in The Champion’s League. Past experience with Villarreal and Real Madrid combined with last year’s plucky underdog / dark horse / Mighty Ducks story in the shape of a Quarter Final appearance from little old Malaga clearly impressed the board at little old City.

It’d be unfair to Roberto Mancini not to point out that the Gods of the Draw were much kinder in this campaign than the two previous that City were involved in. However, you’ve got to be fairly apathetic to any hypothetic ifs and buts; what’s the use in wondering how a former manager would have fared? What I do know is that City achieved, in their first game of this year’s campaign, as many points in 6 games last year. We finished on 5 times as many points as last year. We won every away game this year -we lost every away game last year. We also, to quote Fernandinho on Twitter, “won the best team in Europe at their house.” Love him, me. We’re in the last 16! Furthermore, a saliva-inducing contest with Barcelona awaits in the next round.

It would be worth adding in the little glitch that subtracted from the victory over Bayern Munich a little, dividing opinions and giving multiple media outlets much mirth in mulling over Manuel’s mathematics. Here’s an equation I can’t work out, though. Coming from 2-0 down minus a string of key players to beat the Champions of Europe 3-2 at their ground, equals an excuse to get mauled in the media? Doesn’t quite add up. The angle the media chose to report from didn’t tell the real story. We’re delighted, to the nth degree squared, to be out of the group stages for a change. We knew we could count on you, Manuel.

Quit playing games with Joe Hart

I mean, his name just works brilliantly with puns meaning headline writers had Joe much fun when Pellegrini decided to drop our goalkeeper after a long line of shaky performances between the sticks. Some of my favourite headlines surrounding the England ‘keeper  included: “Hart Under Fire”, “Total Eclipse of the Hart”, “D’oh Hart” and “Say It Ain’t Joe”. One tabloid, with a cavalier disregard for lazy, boring and clichéd back page spreads opted for “Broken Hart” after the particularly poor performance from Joe at home to Bayern Munich led to much criticism and blame.

What an odd situation for Pellegrini to find himself in; the Chilean inheriting a squad featuring a world class goalkeeper, head and shoulders above every rival in the country, with zero confidence and making a series of costly mistakes on a weekly basis. The second choice ‘keeper he inherited in the squad, isn’t even second choice in his native Romanian squad so back-up for Joe a certain cause of Hartache for the City management.

Pellegrini has handled the situation with aplomb. Fans on Twitter, the single most fickle and capricious place on earth, called and called for Joe’s head and believed in Pantilimon’s ability after individual errors punctuated Hart’s performances against Cardiff, Villa and Munich. I’m just about over the calamitous misunderstanding that led to the sickening defeat at Stamford Bridge. Of all Hart’s errors, that was the special one. He was “SENSATIONALLY DROPPED” against Norwich in City’s next Premier League game.

In surprising scenes of fickleness and capriciousness, fans on Twitter called and called for Joe Hart to be reinstated after one or two games. The main sort of vibe being:  “Alright Manuel, we get the point. You can put Hart back in now. He’s ready.” Pellegrini, however, held his nerve and returned Hart to his rightful position after almost two months missing from Premier League action. The boss reckoned that he needed a rest to return to his best and after a Man of the Match winning performance against Crystal Palace, signs are already there that Old Hart could be on his way back. By Joe have we missed Old Hart. Pellegrini had stated that players will feature judging by performance, not by name or stature. This was the first decision of any magnitude that he had to make after those claims. He’s struck the balance between pragmatism and sensitivity extremely well and, hopefully, it will pay off.

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Player Improvements

I asked on Twitter lately which players did City fans feel hadn’t improved under Manuel Pellegrini’s stewardship. Joe Hart was an obvious answer and that was being addressed by his little break. Edin Dzeko was showing signs of improvement early in the season, then regressed, stagnated then improved again in a fashion typical big Bosnian ball of frustration. It was also pointed out to be that Gael Clichy hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory this season after being the go-to guy for reliable performances in the past. Jack Rodwell and Micah Richards are other sad tales for another sad day with injuries and competition for places making it very difficult for two great talents.

My point is that there are only a handful of players who haven’t improved with Pellegrini in charge. That means that every other player has gotten *better*. What a thought…

There are certain players flourishing this season that I thought (and almost hoped) were finished with City at the tail end of last season. In the summer, I would happily have said, “Oui oui. Bon voyage. Au revoir now …LEAVE!!” had the Samir Nasri to PSG rumours held any substance whatsoever. I read a rumour online that Aleksandar Kolarov was high on Juventus’s shopping list with £12million the touted fee. After cleaning coffee off my computer screen I’d have happily nipped down to help him pack, such was my feeling of disdain towards him due to his poor performances and questionable attitude last season.

I’m happy to gorge on my words, eat my hat and chow down some humble pie as the turnaround from, not just these two players, but the majority of the squad has been remarkable. Players of already unquestionable quality have been producing stellar performances, buoyed by the new manager, a new approach and new arrivals to the squad.

Sergio Aguero, if he makes a speedy recovery from his current hamstring injury, will surpass his goal scoring tally of the title winning season, and then some. David Silva is the master puppeteer once more and so many of the ridiculous amounts of goals this season are down to his creativity. Yaya Toure has become a free kick specialist and already has more goals this season than any other of his career. Zabaleta has over double the assists he achieved last season. Javi Garcia’s getting better, James Milner is having the season of his life and even Vincent Kompany, who City loves – more than he will know –, seems more assured this season. The showboating against Arsenal and the goalscoring, er, rampage he was on for two games there should attest to that.

It’s definitely worth mentioning the two I thought I wanted rid of. Samir Nasri: L’Homme Nouveau. The very face that Roberto Mancini said he’d love to punch now bares a very large grin across it in every match. There’s an icy spot on the bench where Nasri’s derrière once (supposedly) sat perched. He’s tracking back, he’s creating chances and he’s loving life now the threat of fisticuffs with the boss has surely been eradicated. He’s been one of the players of the season so far.

And if you’re ever at a pub quiz and you get asked who captained (and scored for) Manchester City in December 2013 when they put three past Bayern Munich… Aleksandar “AK47” Kolarov is your answer.
Thankfully Manuel knows more about buying, selling and keeping players than me. I know nothing!

Happiness and Harmony

Reading the first couple of points in Howard Hockin’s sublime Review of 2013 immediately reminded me of the discord and disarray that, at times, emitted from the City camp under Mancini. Not content with idly threatening Samir Nasri with violence, Mancini actually physically grappled with Mario Balotelli a mere matter of days into 2013. I’m not bothering to look up who was fighting who but, during Mancini’s tenure, images from tussles featuring heavyweights such as Yaya Toure, Micah Richards, Jerome Boateng and finally, Mario were beamed around the world for all to see and judge. Not a great advertisement for team spirit, really.

I imagine those prats up trees whose lenses lay in wait for someone to snap have twigged it’s not a likely prospect under Pellegrini and have branched off looking for other non-news stories to report.

The Sunday Telegraph’s Jason Burt said of Pellegrini’s appointment in the summer, “City will be more exciting on the pitch with Pellegrini, but less exciting off it.” Prophetic words, they turned out to be. But that’s exactly what we should be after. Of course the media will sell more papers and have more hits on their websites reporting on cutting edge news stories like football players getting speeding fines, wrestling with each other or playing golf. Of course that’s more exciting than scoring 54 goals in 19 games, obvs.

My point is that the trouble that perhaps followed City around in the past few years, isn’t stalking us so badly under Pellegrini. Why not? Well there don’t seem to be as many big egos or trouble makers in the squad any more, for a start. Divisive players like Balotelli, Tevez or say even a Craig Bellamy type character aren’t a feature in the City dressing room any longer. Secondly, Pellegrini, in comparison to his predecessor, seems to be more encouraging, approachable and tolerant and his man management skills seem to extend to salving the bruised egos of his playing staff. Manuel also dictates press conferences; refusing to engage in petty gossip mongering or offering sound-bites that will be giggled at, fawned over and regurgitated in the press ad nauseam (See Mourinho, Jose), or that will show a lack of unity between manager and players (See Mancini, Roberto).

The new additions have slotted in extremely well, too. It surely helps that all five of our summer additions have teammates in the squad who they’ve played with before or share a spoken language with. Training sessions seem more enjoyable. The away form (mercifully) is starting to improve. The squad’s more harmonious than a Beach Boys Greatest Hits CD and Pellegrini has everyone singing off the same hymn sheet. God only knows what we’d be without him. Manchester City are realistic title challengers, too and those who have tasted success in 2011/2012 are hungry for it again. Those who didn’t taste that success are willing to work for it. Pellegrini, whose appointment was questioned due to a lack of silverware, will want to disprove a few of the doubters by showing what he can do. We haven’t even really seen what #Jovetic is capable of yet, either. It could get even better under. Manuel Pellegrini could be the man to engineer the most successful period in the club’s history and everything feels, on a holistic level, that it’s starting to click into place.

This is how it feels to be City.

Written by Ciaran Murray

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