To many in Italy, Roberto Mancini was one of those they call baciato dalla grazia – kissed by good fortune; a footballing prodigy so gifted that Sampdoria were prepared to pay £2.2m for him as a 17-year-old in 1982. The most that one British club had paid at that time was Manchester United's £1.5m for Bryan Robson.
That's not how they view him in Naples, though. It is a city where they like to do things differently – they even have their own Camorra mafia – and in Mancini they see a kindred spirit, a man of integrity who resisted the lustre of Juventus and the Milan clubs to further the fortunes of smaller, sometimes destitute sides – Fiorentina, Lazio and Sampdoria. Rather like a certain little Argentine who delivered Napoli their two domestic titles, in fact. "I've got a lot of good memories of games against him; goals, wins," Mancini reflected of Diego Maradona last night. The best of them undoubtedly being his most outrageous goal for Sampdoria – scored in Napoli's Stadio San Paolo – which helped depose the hosts as Italian champions in 1991.
For all that, Mancini still arrived last night with a point to prove, as well three points to gain if City are to progress immediately to the Champions League knockout stages. His domestic record in Italy speaks for itself: he delivered Internazionale the title that 15 previous managers had failed to win over 16 years, and brought stability to a club where the turnover of players had become so great that, so the story goes, their president, Massimo Moratti, recommended signing one player who turned out to be an Inter employee already on loan somewhere else.
Europe was the unticked box, even though he dodged this notion when it was put to him here. "I think it is important to try to win everywhere – in England, Italy, Spain," he insisted. "I don't know if it's possible to go very far in the tournament but we want to go to the second stage and after that anything can happen."
It was from the ashes of a last 16 defeat to Liverpool that he quit Inter in 2008, though the machinations behind the scenes at the time suggest that Fernando Torres's goal at Anfield was not the only reason. Now Mancini will seek to show Italy what they lost by allowing him to leave for England.
"We've got the guys but I actually think it is too soon to see we are the finished product," he concluded last night. "We grew too quickly probably and we need to [pause and reflect]. At this moment we are closer to Napoli than Real or Barcelona. We can only think about tomorrow."Reuse content