Jim White

City need time, but three points is unacceptable

Jim White

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Aguero Tevez Zabaleta

£365million: it is a heck of an investment in personnel, only to end up accruing the lowest points total by an English team in the history of the Champions League.

Yes, not even Blackburn's hapless 1995campaign - which degenerated into their players scrapping on the pitch amongst themselves - was as fruitless as Manchester City's efforts this season. Three points: at over £100million apiece that hardly constitutes value.

City's abject European failure has many causes, but Roberto Mancini is absolutely right to point out that it takes time to accrue sufficient knowledge of the competition to compete properly. Domestic dominance does not necessarily quickly translate into continental ascendancy.

Remember Manchester United being upended by Galatasaray and hammered by Barcelona in the mid-nineties before they found their feet? Remember how long it took Chelsea to convert their potential? Even Liverpool, when they won in 2005, had a several more years of competition experience under their belt than City.

But three points. That must hurt. However naive a side might be, that is a feeble return. Particularly as the side which has looked so solid — if not exactly sparkly — in the Premier League this season found itself resembling damp blotting paper when faced with continental opposition.

Of course, it didn't help City who that opposition was. As groups of death go, theirs was in the bubonic plague class. From the moment the draw was made, Mancini must have been dreading what was going to come next.

Placed in the same group as Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, two sides with good cause to be optimistic about still being around come the final, there was not even the consolation of a whipping boy against whom City might accrue points. Ajax, as they proved in their games against City, look a side on the march.

Still, there was one piece of good fortune for Mancini as he lost once again in Germany last night. At least his team finished bottom of the group. So he won't be obliged come the spring to stumble into the Thursday nightmare of the Europa League. He can instead concentrate on solidifying his grip on domestic issues without the distraction of pointless trips back from eastern Europe just ahead of the weekend.

It might be argued that if European experience is what they need, then at least the Europa League would offer that. But Mancini will doubtless consider himself well out of it. If he is not to be engaged in the proper competition, it is better not to be distracted from the domestic challenge by this most pointless of exercises.

He had already hinted that if City were to be given a place in the Europa, he would field a reserve team to preserve the first choice for the league campaign. So any learning would have been of limited value, not much more useful than giving his second string a run out.

The question now is: how does he make sure it doesn't happen again? His bosses have less inclination than their Chelsea counterparts to issue P45s. But his failure to translate home success into the European triumph they crave has cost him in the past. He was fired by Inter in 2008, despite winning three successive Serie A titles; the reason widely cited was his side's lack of progress in the Champions League.

And what happened when he left Milan? In came Jose Mourinho, who, in his one season in charge, won the competition, thrilling his employer.

Now we hear that Mourinho is agitating for a move back to England. He has tired of the politics at Madrid and wants a return to the place where he achieved so much with Chelsea. Could history be about to repeat itself? Mancini clearly bristled at the close proximity of his nemesis when the two met in this season's competition.

In response, Mourinho was at his most mischievous, cheerfully stating in the press conference after the game at the Etihad that if his Madrid team had performed as badly as City, he would be out of a job.

Of course, it may never happen. City's hierarchy may take the view that the Italian's prickly perfectionism is the best way to drive the players to achieve the world domination they crave. Better than Mourinho's capricious politicking.

Maybe Chelsea, or even Manchester United, will step in first to sign up the great Portugeezer? Perhaps he was only saying he wanted to go to England to strengthen his negotiating position in Spain?

But one thing is for sure: coming bottom of his group with the lowest points total ever recorded by and English representative is not the best way for Mancini to stop having to look over his shoulder.

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