TFN debutant Luke Jarrett takes a look at why the Premier League’s most expensive defender is struggling to settle at Manchester City…
It’s no secret that footballers often need time to adjust to the different pace of life and football in a new league. Even so, Eliaquim Mangala’s flimsiness so far in a Manchester City shirt has looked troubling pronounced following his summer move to the Premier League champions from Porto. It cost the Sky Blues £32 million to bring the 23-year-old to England; a price tag that has only intensified the ferocity of the criticism thrown at the young defender.
After having impressed so many new admirers in the Champions League last year, the highly-rated Frenchman has looked more worthy of the Football League Show than Match Of The Day up against the likes of Enner Valenica and Charlie Austin this season. His sudden fall from grace, and the sturdy promise he showed at the back for his former club in Europe, to becoming a damp squib for City is understandably unnerving for the neutral, let alone those forced to watch on from the stands of the Etihad.
Questions must be asked of Mangala’s mentality and maturity on and off the pitch. Perhaps he is a touch too cocksure in his approach, especially when playing alongside a centre-back as recklessly enthusiastic as Vincent Kompany? Though the two centre-backs defended well against a strong Chelsea attack, when tasked with dealing with the less imminent dangers posed of Hull City’s front line he went to pieces, hitting the back of his own net and conceding a penalty. The BBC dubbed his performance against the Blues as “colossal”, leaving City fans eagerly anticipating his next game. Fittingly, his outing against Hull now looks as ruinous to that review as the earthquake that brought down the similarly titled grand statue of brass and iron that once adorned the entrance to the ancient harbour of Rhodes.
Spare a thought for Dedryck Boyata: another 23-year-old who could be considered to be City’s original attempt at brining in a golden boy to play the role of prodigy at the back. Purchased from Brussels in 2006, he made his first team debut in 2009, a year before the arrival of the next big hope, Jerome Boatang. Since then, the German has left to become a treble and World Cup winner at Bayern Munich after failing to impress at City. Stefan Savic has also been and gone, while Matija Nastasic’s future with the blue half of Manchester looks unclear after not quite matching the hype that was built up around his arrival. In the context of this pattern of impatient wonderkid chasing, it’s perhaps hard to see how Mangala can thrive at the Etihad unless he enjoys a turnaround in form that is both rapid and sudden. Yet given the trigger happy nature by which City have bought, sold and disposed of previous young defenders, in their seemingly endless pursuit of some instant perfection, his card may already be marked.
Martin Demichelis was brought in last year as the accidental antithesis of this approach. The Argentinian was a consolation signing sought after other targets slipped out of reach, and perceived by many to be little more than a short-term stop gap. He hasn’t been incompetent but neither has always looked able to offer a standard of defending to match the quality of City’s attack. For Botaya, 11 performances in six Premier League season looks unreasonable, but given that his greatest spell in England has come while on loan at Bolton Wanderers during the season in which they were relegated, it’s understandable.
City reportedly beat a number of big name clubs to Mangala’s signature this summer but after watching his recent form, you have to wonder whether it was worth it. He has cost them two points at Loftus Road, and almost the game at the KC stadium but surely he will improve in the short-term. The bigger worry should be over whether he has the attributes and backing to be a success long-term.
As Sheikh Mansour ponders whether to call his manager Manuel Pellegrini into the boardroom to announce, “you’re fired!”, it appears that the City hierarchy’s search for a defensive apprentice to Kompany will continue.