Jim White

Vieira could make all the difference

Jim White

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Roberto Mancini's first significant act as manager of Manchester City is hardly going to make a dent in that £90 million working loss the club posted last season.

£140,000 a week for a veteran deemed too old for the Premier League five seasons ago is not exactly going to help close the deficit.

Yet if he does what the Italian believes he can do, the £10m or so that will be transferred into Patrick Vieira's bank account over the time of his freshly-signed City contract will be money well spent.

Anyone who found a DVD of the excellent movie 'The Damned United' in their stocking at Christmas will have seen that there is a startlingly successful precedent for what Mancini did this week. The film, which centres on Brian Clough's unfortunate 40 days in charge of Leeds, fills in the back story of what made Old Big 'Ead such a coveted manager in the first place.

One of the main reasons was what happened in 1968, in the early days of his managerial career at Derby, when he and sidekick Peter Taylor fetched up at the North London home of 34-year-old Dave Mackay, who they persuaded to join them from Tottenham.

It didn't quite take £140,000-a-week to seal the deal then, more like - given Cloughie's penchant - a few hundred quid in a brown envelope. But the purpose of recruiting the grizzled Scotsman was much the same as Mancini's intent in signing Vieira: it was to give some authority, some heft, some dressing room presence to a side that was full of potential but not yet burdened with achievement.

It was a superb piece of management. Mackay's influence was immediate, projecting Derby upwards so rapidly that, following an unbeaten run of 22 games in the wake of his signing, they were promoted to the First Division. Once there, Mackay played on for another year, instilling such a winning mentality in the dressing room, the club would go on to lift the title.

In short, Mancini wants Vieira to be his Mackay. This is what the manager sees in him: a presence as much as a player. And the Frenchman is all that. Intelligent, steely, brave and a proven winner, he is exactly what is required to meld the disparate egos of City's dressing room.

Mark Hughes recognised what was needed when he tried to sign John Terry last summer to assume that role. In truth, Mancini's target was always more likely to be tempted to go to Manchester. At his age - and the rumours emanating from Arsenal have long been that he is more chronologically advanced that official figures suggest - a big last pay day is a huge temptation.

So must be the chance for glory, particularly with a place in France's World Cup squad to secure.

What Mancini won't expect is the player to be as he was when he last turned out in the Premier League. All that energy, all those box-to-box runs, all those leggy interventions: he will have to leave those to someone else. Slowed by a succession of injuries, his role will be much more of a stroll in front of the back four, barking orders and terrifying opposition and team-mates alike with the size of his aura.

Besides, there are others who can do the scurrying. Mancini is blessed with the legacy he received from Hughes in Gareth Barry, Vincent Kompany, Stephen Ireland and Nigel de Jong. He has plenty of people to do the running for him. What he urgently needed was someone to tell them in which direction to run.

Of course, there was a post script to the relationship between Mackay and Clough that Mancini will hope is not get repeated at the City of Manchester stadium.

In a magnificent demonstration of hubris, five years on from signing Mackay, Clough tendered his resignation to Derby chairman's chairman Sam Longson after the two had argued once too often.

He thought the other directors would rush to his aid and organise a coup against the chairman. Instead they supported Longson, accepted his resignation and quickly recruited a replacement. It was Dave Mackay. Much to Cloughie's fury, Mackay demonstrated his continued hold over the Derby dressing room by going on to lift the club's second title.

Patrick Vieira as City manager within three years? It wouldn't be the silliest flutter.

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