Ferguson v Mancini: only one winner
With typical binary thinking, Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, claims that his team are better than Manchester United. In the wake of City's 3-2 defeat at home to United on Sunday, Mancini's misconceived viewpoint might either have been an attempt to cheer himself up or an attempt to wind up Alex Ferguson.
Whatever, it was difficult to take him seriously. "Things aren't going well but I know we will still have a great year," Mancini said. "United have more experience but we have a much better team and play much better football. Six points is not a big difference with 24 games still to play. We need to try to win five or six games in a row to try to reduce the gap."
Yes, things are not going well. Yes, City have had a great year (but not as great as it should have been). Yes, United have more experience. Yes, six points is not a big difference with 24 matches to play. But "we have a much better team and play much better football"? This is where Mancini starts to look like a propagandist, and not a convincing one - more Comical Ali than Fredrich Nietzsche.
City do not have a "much better team". Man for man, they are probably slightly better - just, by a minuscule margin - but football is not about man for man. It is about the team, and Ferguson has done far better with a weaker squad than Mancini has with unlimited funds. And the suggestion that City "play much better football" is laughable in the extreme. Given the talent available to Mancini (Tevez, Balotelli, Aguero, Silva, Nasri, Yaya Toure), City are nowhere near as effective or as pleasing on the eye as they should be. For much of the time, City are uncertain, erratic, vulnerable, and capricious - as proven by their wretched form in the Uefa Champions League this season and as proven by their performance in losing to United.
The truth is that United, with what I would describe as their worst team since 2006, are favourites to land the 2013 Premier League title. Part of that is because for all City's strength in human resources, in Mancini they do not have the right manager. (They remind me of England from 2002-06, who underachieved because Sven-Goran Eriksson, more a cheer-leader than a manager, could not get the team playing with any intensity).
United, by contrast, have a manager who can make a collection of very good players into a great team. In that regard, Ferguson is like Alf Ramsey, who led England to success at the 1966 World Cup with a collection of players that might otherwise have fallen short.
Some observers have suggested that the importance of a manager is exaggerated because a team's final league position correlates usually to the size of their wage bill. I disagree. I think the game is more about managers than it has ever been. Think United without Ferguson. Think City without Mancini. Think Arsenal without Arsene Wenger. The rule is not universal, however, because in some cases the definining individual can be a player. Think Real Madrid without Cristiano Ronaldo. Or an owner. Think Chelsea without Roman Abramovich. Or a circus act. Think Los Angeles Galaxy without David Beckham.
The point is that in this age of celebrity culture, one man can embody an entire club. For United, it is Ferguson, for City it is Mancini, and for now there is no serious competition between the two. Mancini might have the better squad but Ferguson is far and away the better manager.