Today is my daughter's sixth birthday. We watch soccer together—mostly English Premier League soccer—every weekend. I'm honestly not sure how much she pays attention, other than to root for Everton because of Tim Howard—also from New Jersey—and that guy with the big hair she likes a lot.
I told her about Sir Alex Ferguson's departure from Manchester United, explaining that sometimes when people get older and have an amazing run of success as a coach, they call it quits to enjoy life away from the game. To be fair, I think I snuck in a line like, "He's even a better coach than I am for your team," which really seemed to illustrate the point of how good Sir Alex was in her six-year old brain. Better than dad? Wow, he must be good.
I didn't have the heart to tell her the new Manchester United manager is David Moyes, who has managed Everton for twice her existence on this planet. She's six, after all, so I know she probably doesn't understand what a good manager does for a team. Unless Moyes plays goalkeeper or has eye-catchingly fluffy hair in the midfield, his departure from Goodison Park won't be as Earth-shattering to one of Everton's youngest fans as it may be to some of their more seasoned supporters.
Still, those moves make a lot of sense. Sir Alex's retirement has been a decade in the making and the appointment of Moyes is one of the more logical managerial moves in recent years.
That, I can explain to a six-year-old. Manchester City's decision to fire Roberto Mancini, I cannot.
Mancini was fired by owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan a year to the day after leading Manchester City to its first ever Premier League title and the club's first top-level English football championship since 1968.
In his time at Manchester City, Mancini was in charge for 191 matches, winning 113 of them, while losing just 40.
The years before Mancini took over Manchester City saw the club mired in the mid-table, placing ninth and 10th in the two seasons under new ownership before Mancini took the helm.
In the years under Mancini, Man City finished fifth, third, first and second, winning one league title and earning a place in the Champions League each of the last three seasons with relative ease.
Mancini also led Man City to the 2011 FA Cup crown and back to the FA Cup final this season, playing the final amid speculation he was going to be fired within a matter of days. Perhaps the loss to Wigan was his undoing. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the four seasons under Mancini, Manchester City has more Premier League points (302 heading into Tuesday's match with Reading) than every team but Manchester United.
City has more Premier League wins (89 heading into Tuesday's match) than every team but United as well.
Try explaining this firing to a six-year-old. Try explaining this to anyone.
Sure, owners and managers can disagree on issues and tactics and style of play, and perhaps Mancini was fired more for his inability to work well with his bosses than for not winning enough. Still, to fire a guy a year to the day after he won the first title for a club in nearly 45 years is, well, inexplicable.
This defies logic.
Let's not forget to mention the fans like the guy. Maybe the owners demand more from their manager, but the fans were in full-throated support of Mancini this week, dismayed at his firing.
This is a man who not only won the Premier League last season but did it with Carlos Tevez taking a half-season vacation and Mario Balotelli shooting off fireworks in his house and managing to get into more mischief than one man should ever find.
Sheikh Mansour demanded that Mancini win the EPL title in his first four years and he did it in three. He demanded that the high-priced talent be held in check and, for the most part, Mancini did that with aplomb, shipping out the players who were bringing down the club and maintaining a level of excellence during his tenure with a squad rife with egos and drama.
Mancini won at City, something no manager was able to do in the last half century. And for his efforts, he wasn't even asked to finish out a season in which he led his club to a likely second-place finish in one of the top leagues in Europe.
The Lesson, If There Is One
The move for Moyes is easy to explain to a child: if you try hard and make the most of what you have to work with, people will notice your efforts and reward you handsomely for it.
If you act in a respectful manner when things are tough—Everton have been in dire financial straits for some time—and just focus on doing your job, good things can happen for you and those around you.
That makes sense to a six-year-old. Work hard and good things will come.
Work hard, reach unprecedented success and grow a loving base of supporters and still find yourself out of a job in favor of a manager who had a $380-million payroll in Spain and couldn't win his league? That's impossible to explain. (It's actually pretty hard to explain why Manuel Pellegrini would want the City job with all the pressure and expectations that come with it, but that's another story altogether.)
Then again, it could be worse. Try explaining the situation at Chelsea to someone and the Manchester City saga seems lackluster by comparison. (Note: my three-year-old son is a huge Chelsea fan, and I'm not sure if it's because both he and Petr Cech wear helmets or because he thinks Chelsea is an imaginary girl who goes to his preschool.)
In 2011-12, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovic fired young manager Andre Villas-Boas during the season and promoted his assistant, Roberto Di Matteo, to interim manager. Di Matteo led Chelsea to the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League titles.
Following the success of that season, Di Matteo was retained as manager on a two-year deal. He lasted five months.
Di Matteo was replaced by interim manager Rafael Benitez, who has led Chelsea to a likely spot in the Champions League for next season while stewarding the Blues through the Europa League—after the club was eliminated in the Champions League group stages under Di Matteo—and into the Europa League final on Wednesday May 15th.
Of course, Benitez won't even get the chance to manage that match without the specter of being replaced looming over him, as the club already announced he won't be back next season. Jose Mourinho, as has been widely rumored, is likely on his way back to Stamford Bridge.
Then, of course, there is the situation at Arsenal, where if Arsene Wenger doesn't manage to secure a bid for the Champions League, the disgruntled Gooners may be clamoring for his ouster, setting up the potential situation where four of the top five clubs in England could have new managers next season.
As it stands, the top three clubs in the Premier League table will have new men in charge next year. One makes sense, while the other two are incredibly difficult to explain—to a six-year-old, or anyone.
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