Despite possessing a wealth of midfield options that is the envy of most Manchester City’s Roberto Mancini has long coveted a further addition to his engine room that remains tantalisingly out of reach, a player who the scarfed one feels is the proverbial final piece in an expensive jigsaw he is attempting to assemble into the ‘perfect squad’.
Roma’s Daniele Di Rossi has the quality and qualities that would not only compliment the current set-up but enhance the system Mancini favours, bringing with him a box-to-box mentality that Barry and De Jong arguably lack in addition to the prerequisite combative nature, an eye for a pass, and work-rate. Unfortunately he is also saddled with a £25m price tag that this January put him beyond City’s means.
Yes you read that last bit right. The club may have limitless funds on which to draw upon but with the introduction of the FFP looming ever-nearer prudence has become the watchword of every outfit regardless of resources.
So during the last window Mancini sat down with the moneymen, requested Roma’s captain, and for the first time heard the word no.
With Yaya Toure away for the African Cup of Nations, De Jong struggling to rekindle his previous vigour and form and Razak too raw for a title run-in there remained a need however to draft in a proven reinforcement and as the clock ticked down on deadline day and with Jim White’s voice getting ever-more shouty the intrigue lay in which cut-price gem the Italian would purchase from his first shop down the bargain aisle.
The answer was a 32-carot diamond by the name of David Pizarro who arrived on loan until the end of the season with a knock-down to-buy option attached.
Most of you will be already aware of the player who has lit up Serie A for thirteen years after arriving at Udinese as a youth from his native Chile. From Udine he moved to Inter where he won the Scudetto under Mancini before ironically becoming a team-mate of Di Rossi at Roma. Now in his early thirties Pizarro’s career is approaching the autumnal years and he found himself increasingly marginalised at i giallorossi who were prioritising on a more youthful, equally effervescent South American talent in Eric Lamela and the sensational Bosnian Miralem Pjanić.
Pizarro was desperate for a new challenge; to Roma he was expendable, while City desired experienced back-up who, unlike Hargreaves, had two functional legs. It was a deal that suited all parties and seemed to fly under the radar on a day when Everton grabbed the headlines by finally opening their moth-infested wallet and splashing the cash.
Even though I’ve witnessed and admired the Chilean on several occasions jinking and scheming on the peninsula I must confess my expectations were low. Pizarro is a classy orchestrator who likes to probe and create from deep and I struggled to see how such a slight figure would fit into a blueprint that relied so prominently on powerful physical presences in such roles. This pocket dynamo could hardly constitute as being strength in depth and if he wasn’t intended as a back-up enforcer and was to be utilized in more advanced areas then how would he get past Silva, Nasri and Johnson?
In Mancini I trust but had he succumbed to a touch of the Wengers and panic recruited whoever was available?
Any lingering doubts were partly dispelled in the 91st minute of City’s recent game against Fulham. In a surreal snowstorm Pizarro came on to make an all-too-fleeting debut and had precisely two touches. One was prosaic and neat, the other was a glorious searching ball that warmed the frozen hands of the watching public.
In the 4-0 routing of Porto a couple of weeks later the little man came on again late to make a big difference, setting up Silva for the third before completing the scoring himself.
A similarly influential cameo against Blackburn followed and suddenly myself and other blues were sure that here was a special talent who has the capacity not only to experience an Indian summer with us but who is of a type we had previously lacked.
Yes he might perhaps look susceptible if ever up against teams that are ambitious enough to put pressure and bodies into the area ahead of City’s back four (though Mancini has numerous other options to select for such highly-competitive fixtures), but when facing sides that need prizing open – or against sides that already have and are looking to minimize the damage – his panoramic vision is an invaluable asset.
On Saturday Pizarro was a surprise starter for the home game to Bolton. Many had predicted Milner to partner Barry in the heart of the midfield and wondered if Mancini had made an unnecessary shuffling of his pack. Not a bit of it. The wily Chilean was an absolute joy to watch as he bossed the centre circle and for one thoroughly enjoyable hour (until tiredness descended) displayed his full repertoire of passes and touches the sheer variety of which was stunning.
Balotelli, Yaya Toure and Adam Johnson haring in from out wide were clearly revelling in the novelty of making darting runs into space and being found early instead of progress being achieved incrementally through patient build-up play. Fans were caught off-guard at having to rise from their seats at moments they’d become used to lounging back and enjoying a festival of possession. Intelligent and incisive throughballs? We’ve not seen those for some time.
When not looking to split Bolton’s beleaguered defence Pizarro sprayed the ball left and right, switching play with such fluidity the swathes of players ahead of him moved in unison like a blue and white flag.
He was an aging puppeteer pulling the strings of all around him.
I must confess at this point that I am a sucker for such players – the Molbys and Benarbias and yes even the Scholes; the class acts with a conducting baton in their sock. With the modern-day emphasis on stocking the midfield with athletes – glorified long-distance runners who will snap into challenges from whistle to whistle – I genuinely feared I would not see the like again.
Admittedly it’s still too early to call for sure but on the evidence presented so far it appears that Mancini has pulled off a masterstroke on the cheap, a sumptuous talent who will only get better and better once he adjusts to the nuances and tempo of the English game. Should he sign a short-term contract in the summer it may well be the case of Mancini finally ceasing his pursuit of the final piece to the jigsaw. Daniele Di who?