MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - If Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners were as ruthless as Chelsea’s Russian billionaire boss Roman Abramovich, then City coach Roberto Mancini would already be out a job following his side’s elimination from the Champions League.
Abramovich wasted no time on Wednesday sacking Italian Roberto Di Matteo three months after he led them to their greatest night by lifting the European Cup in Munich.
Di Matteo’s crime, besides never being Abramovich’s first choice as coach, was that Chelsea had hit a blip with two wins out of eight games in all competitions.
Their 3-0 defeat at Juventus on Tuesday leaves their qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League hanging by a thread and out of their own hands.
By contrast, Manchester City’s exit from the Champions League at the group stage for the second successive season represents poor return for the hundreds of millions of pounds invested in the club since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought it, and could be regarded as a far greater failure.
Mancini, who guided City to their first English league title for 44 years last May, has failed to inspire a victory in any of their five Champions League matches this season, and with three points from three draws, City will either finish bottom or third in the group.
To avoid last place, they will have to beat impressive Borussia Dortmund, already assured of topping the group, in their final game in Germany on December 4.
If they do that and finish above Ajax Amsterdam, City will qualify for the Europa League but that trophy, while prized by some, is very much an unwanted consolation prize for Europe’s richest and most ambitious clubs.
Mancini told reporters after the match that despite their elimination he was not worried about losing his job.
“No, why, why? I don’t fear this,” he said. “If we think we can win the Champions League after two years we are crazy.”
It took Abramovich nine years to see the European Cup delivered to Stamford Bridge but while the trophy arrived, little kudos and respect followed.
Chelsea are widely regarded as the luckiest winners of the trophy, seemingly guided by divine intervention when they needed it most.
City have hardly looked like winning a match in the competition over the last two seasons, never mind the competition itself and, for that, Mancini must accept his share of the blame.
While Di Matteo gambled and failed against Juventus by leaving striker Fernando Torres out of his starting lineup and playing with creative midfielder Eden Hazard as the front man, Mancini gambled on a three-man defence against Real and paid the price.
Real scored in the 10th minute when Karim Benzema was left unmarked, and City were lucky not to be five or six goals behind by the time Mancini reshuffled his defence with four at the back.
Even though they improved after that and were better in the second half, equalising with a Sergio Aguero penalty in the 73rd minute, City have had a poor campaign and have looked unconvincing for most of the time, almost as if they did not belong among the elite.
Along with Qatari-owned Paris St Germain, City are valued as one of the two richest clubs in the world, even richer than Real Madrid, Barcelona or their own rivals Manchester United.
Those clubs, however, have more than financial wealth; they have experience, players who can cope at the highest level and an established system in place. City are still novices in comparison, as three draws from five matches prove.
Last season, City won three Champions League group matches and still went out at the first stage and so they have gone backwards this season with only home draws against Borussia Dortmund, Ajax Amsterdam and now Real Madrid to show for their efforts following defeats in Madrid and Amsterdam.
Mancini did not have a great Champions League record at Inter Milan either, where he led them to three Italian titles but made no impression in Europe.
After he left the club, Jose Mourinho, now Real’s coach, came in and brought them the European Cup in 2010 - their first success in Europe’s elite competition since 1965.
If City want to emulate them - not to mention United who have won the European Cup three times - they need to improve fast.
Currently top of the Premier League and the only unbeaten team left in the division, City will probably be in contention again next season, but will need to be far more convincing.
If they had played the whole match against Real as they played in the second half, they might even have won the game.
Their play needs some urgency and a focal point. Too often in this campaign they have meandered around in midfield seemingly not knowing what to do with the ball.
Players such as Yaya Toure and Aguero, Samir Nasri and even the impressive Vincent Kompany have appeared to be over-awed by the opposition.
David Silva injects drive and innovation into the side but is often out of the picture for periods of time and City look like a pale imitation of the side that top the domestic table and won the League last season.
City’s next match is at Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday when Rafa Benitez will take charge of the failing European champions for the first time against the disappointed English champions. The timing could hardly be more poignant. (Editing by Clare Fallon)