ONE word stood out. And it wasn't 'schadenfreude', 'bottlers' or even 'typical'. It was a word actually wholly untypical in most of Manchester City's history: "Organised".
In the aftermath of Wednesday's defeat to Tottenham and the club's immediate endorsement of Roberto Mancini, chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak used it three times including twice in a single sentence. "He came in mid-season and organised the team, I'm very happy with Roberto and [owner] Sheikh Mansour is delighted with the way he has organised the team." City, of course, don't just want "organised". They want excess and a permanent place among the elite. But, as Real Madrid found out for most of the last decade, you can't have the latter without the former. Short-term strain often leads to long-term pain.
The majority feeling from that effective Champions League play-off is that Tottenham have spared English – and European – football a lot of long-term pain themselves by denying City an even bigger platform, even if a minority point to the fact that it makes little difference since Spurs and all of the last few European champions have spent multi-millions themselves. While there is undoubted truth in the latter, simply put, there's more in the fact that City have already taken spending to unprecedented levels. Not for them, remember, the sales of the likes of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben Real were forced into.
A place in the Champions League would have put them out of orbit, turning Gigi Buffon's words around and forcing him to accept City are very much part of the elite. As Mancini himself admitted during the week "if we can reach the Champions League, it would make it much easier to make two or three really important signings". Indeed, one of them could have been Jose Mourinho. And, in a parallel to his time at Chelsea, just when English and European football looked to be getting more egalitarian as the global recession rippled, we could have returned to the middle days of the last decade when economics appeared to be football's only determining factor.That is the deeper effect of Wednesday's drama. For a start, the wealth is going to be spread. Rather than City – a team that certainly don't need the money – hogging the extra Champions League cash, Spurs will. Temporarily at least, that creates a wider power base and more interesting Premier League. Many will argue that makes little difference since City will get there eventually. But, in whatever shape or form, Michel Platini's economic reforms of European football are coming. They may not be as far-reaching as he likes but they will help to at least diminish City's potential power. In which case, the window for City to establish and embolden their own economic supremacy has been closed slightly.
For that, the question that then arises is how long Mancini's will remain open. Judging a manager on less than a season is ludicrous and the Abu Dhabi powerbase deserve some praise for looking at the foundations Mancini has tried to build rather than an unfinished structure. The statistics do provide some vindication here since Mancini has a better points-per-game ratio than Mark Hughes (1.85 to 1.7), better goals ratio (2.29 to 1.94) and, least surprisingly, better defensive record (0.7 to 1.35). There were also some hugely impressive performances such as the shock 4-2 win over Chelsea and the 6-1 thrashing of Burnley.
Nevertheless, Hughes was disposed of because of a series of draws last autumn that looked set to cost City a Champions League place. Ultimately, the same weakness cost Mancini. City were unable to win crunch games against Everton, Liverpool and, most recently, Arsenal and Tottenham. The match at the Emirates was arguably the most damning since it encapsulated City's admittedly few problems under Mancini. Rather than attack an under-strength and under-the-weather Arsenal,
Mancini preferred to stay organised. Consolidate. Protect. In the end, it only consolidated fifth when it could have put them in the driving seat for fourth. And too often Mancini favoured defensive organisation over attacking initiative.
Without meaning to draw on an obvious Italian stereotype, there were parallels here with Giovanni Trapattoni's tenure as Irish manager up until Paris. Rather than trust the players he had to express themselves, Mancini merely placed a 'safe' structure on top of them and got them to follow orders. And this despite the spending power at the club and array of attacking talent. It shouldn't be forgotten, however, that Mancini's first transfer window – his first full month – was the only time since City were taken over that they did not attempt to radically enhance the squad. Each previous window had seen gradual upgrades in a series of different positions. We're likely to see a return to form this summer, even if it's now not going to be as dramatic as City would have liked. Attracting genuine top-class talent like Fernando Torres won't be so easy without the carrot of the Champions League since few prime players will take the gamble Gareth Barry did.
In saying that, however, the City squad is hardly in need of radical overhaul. A few sprinkles of stardust here and there maybe but, primarily, it requires integration and evolution. Then will be time to discuss how successful Mancini's "organisation" will be. Not at the end of an ambitious if ultimately helter-skelter season.