Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, arrived in Lisbon yesterday for the Europa League tie with Sporting, but his mind was back in England and on the Arsenal striker Robin van Persie, in particular.
City have been linked with a move for the prolific Dutch striker but it is the first time Mancini has gone public with his desire to sign him. "We are interested in all good players. This is normal, but not only us. I think all the good teams are interested in Van Persie," he said.
"I think Van Persie at this moment is one of the best strikers in Europe with [Lionel] Messi, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and with Sergio [Aguero] and Mario [Balotelli]. I think he is a fantastic striker, but I think he will remain with Arsenal."
City acquired Samir Nasri from Arsenal last summer and have also signed Gaël Clichy, Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor from them in recent years. Mancini added: "I think if there is a good player who wants to leave a club, then we are interested. But if this player wants to stay, we don't have any problem. In my opinion, Van Persie will stay at Arsenal.
"I think Robin van Persie will sign a new contract with Arsenal because if Arsenal lose also Van Persie, they will have a big problem."
As regards the Europa League, Mancini insisted that it would be perfectly possible to win the final in Bucharest and see off the constant, draining Premier League challenge of Manchester United, although those in his squad know the margins of error are now very slim.
"We have to be careful and not lose even one more match," said Sergio Aguero. "Even if we draw a game, they could catch us. The Premier League is so competitive and now the matches are harder for us."
As part of the Atletico Madrid side that overcame Fulham to win the Europa League two years ago, Aguero has been this way before. At the Vicente Calderon, though, they were not fighting on two fronts as they are at City.
In an interview with the Argentinian daily El Grafico, Aguero said: "Even if we don't win the title, the fans will still say we had a great season". In the long term he will be right, but to have come so close and be bested by a side that has consistently eclipsed them would take some swallowing in Manchester's blue corner. His father-in-law, Diego Maradona, could not understand why Argentina celebrated their second place in the 1990 World Cup, commenting tartly to his team-mates: "You don't celebrate second place, tiger."
When Mancini arrived in the press room in the Jose Alvalade Stadium yesterday, it was to face questions that City did not respect Sporting. There was the suggestion that some members of the City squad could not name any of the opposition players.
"My stance is always to be very well informed about my opponents," said the Sporting manager, Ricardo Sa Pinto. "Maybe not everyone does that but, after tomorrow, maybe they won't forget some of [my] players' names."
And yet, compared with Porto, Sporting Lisbon should be straightforward for City. Currently fourth in their league, they have recent fired their coach, Domingos Paciencia.
For once, the questions directed towards Mancini were not dominated by the twin figures of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, as the absence of the suspended Yaya Touré is more significant. Balotelli, Mancini said, had been fined for his trip to a Liverpool strip joint just before City's dismissal of Bolton on Saturday, but one week's pay rather than two. Just the £120,000, then.Reuse content