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Mancini dies by the sword of Damocles

Manchester City have summarily sacked Roberto Mancini. Editor Gary Parkinson on the Greek tragedy of the Italian at the Etihad...

In the end, the only surprise was the time of death. Many had suspected that Manchester City would pull the plug on their support machine for Roberto Mancini, but few suspected it would be with two league games left to play. At least Roman Abramovich waited until the end of the season to have Carlo Ancelotti sacked in a corridor.

Few in football will be glad to see the back of the urbane Mancini, and there are a great many City fans who will howl at the blue moon over the sudden demise of "Bobby Manc". But not many will be shocked by it. City have an agenda, and some might say the daggers have been drawn for the manager since December 4th, when the club's decrepit Champions League campaign wheezed into an early grave.

True, City were unlucky to be drawn in a Group of Death with the champions of Spain (Real Madrid), Germany (Borussia Dortmund) and the Netherlands (Ajax), but their abject return of three points from six games was the worst by an English team in the Champions League, eclipsing Blackburn's hapless attempt in 1995: like Rovers, City were out by Christmas.

Where did it all go wrong? Mancini watches City crash out at Dortmund

Fourth place in Group D meant Mancini didn't even get a tilt at the consolation bauble of the Europa League. There were those who thought this a blessing in disguise, clearing the way for a determined defence of their Premier League title against a resurgent Manchester United. But five days after that dismal night in Dortmund ended their European adventure, United won 3-2 at the Etihad to go six points clear at the top. City never caught them, nor even looked likely to do so.

The manner of City's home defeat to United cut like a knife. The visitors had gone two up through Wayne Rooney, once briefly a City target until his Old Trafford contract was extended, but Mancini's men had battled back to parity through Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta â until they were defeated in injury time by a deflected shot from Robin van Persie.

Mancini made no bones about his summer pursuit of the Dutchman, but again United had outmuscled their upstart neighbours. True, the Old Trafford top brass had rescinded their long-term plan not to spend big on players whose contracts would take them beyond the age of resale value, but Van Persie was a special case. And once Manchester United were interested, he was only going to one club.

That wasn't the way City wanted it to be. A club in a hurry, they wanted the Premier League title to foreshadow their elevation to the level of European super-club. Instead, they found themselves outmanoeuvred in the transfer market, oil money unable to compete with the perceived establishment. Mancini may have won a league, but he's no Alex Ferguson. The fact that nobody is didn't save the Italian.

And so he is ejected from the hot seat, just as he had been at Internazionale, where he had also found himself failing to meet the expectations of continental success. At least at Inter he retained the league title, albeit in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal which weakened their rivals. But still Massimo Moratti turned to Jose Mourinho, who combined domestic domination with a continent-conquering campaign in the Champions League.

He's behind you: Mourinho and Mancini

That is the level of achievement for which Manchester City are striving, and they will seek a suitable man to take them there. And although the fans have been foursquare behind their man, Mancini must have known what he was letting himself in for when he took the job. After all, he was appointed on the day his predecessor Mark Hughes was sacked, two hours after a bizarre 4-3 home win over Sunderland following which the Welshman, clearly knowing his impending doom, waved a forlorn farewell to the fans.

At that point, City were sixth; they finished fifth, then third, then top. Second is no longer sufficient. According to a club statement, "the club had failed to achieve any of its stated targets this year, with the exception of qualification for next season's UEFA Champions League."

On that day in December 2009, as Hughes waved goodbye to the City fans, one of those watching on from the stands was Roberto Mancini. Like Damocles the courtier in the old Greek tale, Mancini was only too happy to assume the throne and be surrounded by opulence; but whereas Damocles had to sit below a sword suspended by a single horsehair, the unveiled threat hanging over Mancini was that he must take Manchester City ever forward.

Football is not life and death, thankfully. But in a true Greek tragedy, a once great hero suffers a downfall, and while managing a team to the Premier League title may not be "heroic" in the tabloid sense, it was certainly enough to elevate Mancini into Man City folklore. But when he failed to maintain momentum, winning the title 12 months previously was no defence, just as it hadn't been for Ancelotti at Chelsea.

Along with Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini, Ancelotti may now be on the shortlist of men to replace Mancini. But whoever takes the job had better keep the club kicking onwards, and beware the sword ever hanging over their head.