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Making sense of Manchester's madness

The English title drama fizzled out early this year but actions off the pitch this week have more than made up for that.

Last Modified: 14 May 2013 16:50
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The leading men of Manchester will be replaced by new faces next season [GALLO/GETTY]

And now breathe. Because one of the craziest weeks in English football is over.

Fittingly it was Alex Ferguson who kicked off the action on Wednesday. After keeping his secret since Christmas, Britain’s most successful football manager announced he was stepping down as Manchester United manager.

Predictably the tributes from fans, players, managers, friends and foes came rolling in – all in agreement that football was losing the irreplaceable. Almost 27 years in the job had seen the Scot win a remarkable 38 trophies – a feat which is going to be near impossible to emulate in modern day football.

Because as this week has also showed – the Premier League is still as ruthless as ever.

From the red half of Manchester, we travel to the blue.

On Monday, as United fans dispersed from a victory parade celebrating their title win and Ferguson’s reign, news was leaking from Man City that they had sacked manager Roberto Mancini.

The timing of their announcement was hardly surprising (and no coincidence). It is often the case with Manchester United and Manchester City that their thirst for the limelight is as unquenchable as their lust for trophies.

And so it came to pass that two of the world's biggest football teams, both based in the northern City, will enter the 2013/2014 season under new leadership. Something very few could have predicted a week ago.

Fans' favourites

City sacked Mancini on the back of their FA Cup final loss to Wigan at Wembley on Saturday.

However, those who follow the game closely knew Mancini’s job was already up for grabs. A season without silverware which saw United run away with the title and another poor display in the Champions League was not good enough for the world’s richest club.

Before the Wigan match, Mancini was seething that his club hadn’t thwarted the rumours – something much more understandable to him now.

We will find out soon enough whether City were right to dispose of Mancini but his sacking does leave fans wondering whether Ferguson’s departure also saw the final symbol of stability desert the game. Sometimes managers need time and support - after all it took Fergie four seasons to win his first piece of silverware with United.

           Travelling south - Everton manager David Moyes has the challenge of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson [Reuters]

Mancini was six months away from the four-year mark and some believe his sacking shows a lack of patience from the City board. The flamboyant Italian won the FA Cup in 2011 and secured City’s first top flight title in 44 years in 2012. One year later - to the day - City sack him. Thankfully, namesake Roberto di Matteo will provide the perfect shoulder to cry on. 

These two trophies made Mancini popular with the fans who showed their love of the man chanting, ‘He comes from Italy to manage Man City, Mancini, woah, Mancini.’ Although his failure to control players such as Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli meant he has faced his fair share of criticism too.

So when a manager leaves – we inevitably jump to the question of who will replace them. While Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini is being touted for the City job, we already know who is arriving at Old Trafford.

The storm over Fergie’s departure has left Everton in the shade - something the overachieving Premier League club is fairly used to. But Toffee fans now join City fans in mourning the loss of a popular manager.

While David Moyes admitted he did not hesitate over joining Man United, the Everton board is likely to hesitate in choosing a replacement. How can you replace a man who has become to define what the club stands for?

United were lucky they had Moyes already lined up with Alex Ferguson’s full support. Which is more than enough to appease United fans – at least for now. A six-year contract proof United will be patient with Moyes, much like they were with Ferguson in the early 1990s. But what do Everton do?

One manager linked with the job is Wigan manager Roberto Martinez. On Saturday, Martinez achieved the unthinkable with the small club defeating Man City 1-0 to lift their first FA Cup. It was a masterful tactical display from both Wigan’s players and their manager, and achieved with the threat of relegation hanging over their heads.

When rumours surfaced linking Martinez to the Everton job, Wigan owner Dave Whelan said he believed Martinez ‘was too big for Everton’. That could be wishful thinking from the Wigan stalwart. If it is then perhaps Martinez could replace Moyes – although Celtic manager Neil Lennon has become a firm favourite for the job too.

If Whelan is right then perhaps Man City is a better fit for Martinez. However, it is unlikely City would sack Mancini without a replacement – so on this occasion Pellegrini makes more sense.

One thing is for certain, there are still many loose ends to tie up from Ferguson’s and Mancini’s departures. And a manager swap-shop is likely to be set up over the summer break.

The sparks lacking from the title race this season have fortunately been found in one of the most dramatic ends to the Premier League season off the pitch.

The biggest decisions came to fruition this week. The great Ferguson is hanging up his tracksuit, the honeymoon between Man City and Mancini is over and David Moyes has become manager of one of the biggest clubs in the world.

And this is even before we’ve mentioned two more words – Chelsea and Mourinho.

What an interesting time it is to be an English football fan.


Joanna Tilley is a freelance sports journalist for Al Jazeera English.

Follow her on Twitter @JoannaTilley or on her blog. 

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