Just for a moment the mask slipped and Roberto Mancini appeared today as he sometimes does to his players but never, until now, to his public. He was aggressive, angry and anxious to be accorded the respect he believes his achievement in taking Manchester City to the championship merits.
He was being asked if supporters would understand a manager who listed "seven or eight" clubs he could have joined in the summer when admitting his flirtation with Monaco. Mancini snapped partly because he felt he had already answered that in his press conference last Friday and partly because he felt his commitment in turning down Monaco and others had been rewarded with a five-year, £35m contract but may not have been sufficient recognised.
All successful managers are offered constant inducements. In a parallel world, Sir Alex Ferguson would have taken up invitations to work at Tottenham and Barcelona while Sir Bobby Robson would have succeeded George Graham at Arsenal. Mancini was being unusually honest in acknowledging the fact.
The most interesting observation in his minute-and-a-half monologue was that managing Manchester City in the future "will be easy because when you have a team the hardest work is in the first two years, when you are building the team". Nevertheless, as he prepared a club stricken by injury and poor results for their last chance to stay in the Champions League, Mancini acknowledged there was disquiet in Abu Dhabi. In the last 10 days, the owners have undermined Mancini with the appointment of director of football, and close ally of a certain Pep Guardiola, Txiki Begiristain.
"I think the owners are upset by the results," he said. "But this is normal. I don't think they are happy, but for me to work with these people is fantastic because they always support the team. To have an owner and chairman like this is very important for any manager. When we lose or only take a point, as we did at West Ham, I am disappointed and it is the same for the owner and the chairman."
Should City fail to beat Ajax tonight, "disappointed" might seem a fairly tame word, even when translated into Arabic. This, on paper, is City's easiest fixture in a vicious group and, unless the Dutch champions are beaten, last year's campaign, which Yaya Touré described as "a disaster", would seem like a qualified success.
Ten years ago, Newcastle qualified from their Champions League group from a worse situation than City find themselves in, having lost their first three fixtures. Like Mancini's, Robson's side had two home matches and one away. Newcastle beat Juventus and Dynamo Kiev at St James' Park before going to Rotterdam and overcoming Feyenoord 3-2, thanks to a last-minute goal from Craig Bellamy.
Mancini has consistently argued that Manchester City are not yet ready to win the Champions League. In this he is probably right. Not since Porto and Liverpool, in 2004 and 2005, won the competition has the European Cup been lifted by a club from outside the existing elite.
However, winning and competing are two different concepts and you would have to go back to 1995 and Blackburn, another expensively assembled side, to find a more insipid English display in the Champions League. Members of Mancini's team have not exchanged punches on the pitch as Graeme Le Saux and David Batty did while playing for Blackburn in Moscow, but its unity has been questioned.
After their 3-1 defeat in Amsterdam, the Ajax defender, Ricardo van Rhijn, remarked that the City players were constantly arguing among themselves. In an interview with the French newspaper, L'Equipe, in which he talked of his desire to remain at Eastlands for the rest of his career, Yaya Touré said: "Of course, there are rows at a big club with all the different egos, including mine. But we will be OK. I am confident of that."
It is not necessary for any team to like each other. Manchester United could win the European Cup in 1999 with Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham on non-speaking terms and having seen Peter Schmeichel and Roy Keane almost come to blows in the dressing room.
"If you go into our dressing room, we are not high-fiving every five minutes or having long conversations," said Gareth Barry. "Team spirit is doing a job on the pitch together and this is what we feel we have got. We try to perform and run for one another, the fans and the manager. That is team spirit."
From his position in City's midfield, Barry remarked that this season had a different feel to last season's campaign. In Europe his phrase was that City had been "found out", although had they managed to cling on to their 2-1 lead in the opening game in Madrid, it might all be very different.
"This season has felt different as champions but that is what we expected. We thought it would be even tougher with more expectation. In the Champions League it has been difficult but in the Premier League we are just two points off the top with, hopefully, our best performances to come."
Manchester City may be floundering in Europe but they have made a better fist of defending their domestic title than the other champions in Group D. Real Madrid are eight points off the pace, Ajax nine and Borussia Dortmund 11. Should he fail tonight, Mancini will have to see how much that counts for in Abu Dhabi.
Key confrontations: Manchester City v Ajax
Carlos Tevez v Niklas Moisander
For a variety of reasons, the Argentine striker has yet to score a goal in the Champions League for Manchester City. Moisander, by contrast, has two for Ajax this season, although the centre-half is best known for his neat, elegant passing play.
Yaya Touré v Christian Poulsen
Much has been said about City captain Vincent Kompany's loss of form, but in midfield Yaya Touré is also not quite the player he was last season. Poulsen is, however, unrecognisable as the £4.5m signing who floundered at Liverpool under Roy Hodgson two years ago.
Matija Nastasic v Christian Eriksen
Eriksen says he has no regrets about turning down a £20m offer from City and his speed of thought was decisive in Ajax's 3-1 win in Amsterdam two weeks ago. Nastasic, meanwhile, has yet to justify Mancini's decision to bring him to Eastlands.
Manchester City: HART, ZABALETA, KOMPANY*, NASTASIC, CLICHY, NASRI, GARCIA, TEVEZ, BARRY, TOURE*, AGUERO
Ajax: VERMEER, BLIND, MOISANDER, ALDERWEIRELD, VAN RHIJN, DE JONG, POULSEN, SCHONE, BABEL, ERIKSEN, SANA
*misses next match if booked
Kick-off 7.45pm, Etihad Stadium
TV ITV 1 Referee P Rasmussen (Den)
Odds: Man City 2-5 Draw 4-1 Ajax 7-1
Results so far
B Dortmund 1-1 Ajax
Real Madrid 3-2 Man City
Ajax 1-4 Real Madrid
Man City 1-1 B
Ajax 3-1 Man City
B Dortmund 2-1 R Madrid.
Nov 6: Man City v Ajax
Real Madrid v B Dortmund
21 Nov: Ajax v B Dortmund
Man City v Real Madrid
4 Dec: B Dortmund v Man City
Real Madrid v Ajax
Roberto's rant: What Mancini was Mad about
Reporter: "On Friday you said you had spoken to 'seven or eight' other clubs. On Saturday you said City were not yet ready to win the Champions League. Some supporters are a bit confused by you saying these things..."
Mancini: "I don't understand why you continue to ask me about last year, last month, it's finished. Why? For what reason? Why do you want to ask me, 'Last year you had another chance to go'. My work is here, I've worked for two years. I built with the chairman and owner this team. We won three trophies in two years. For 35 years we didn't win anything – never. Please have respect for people sometimes. I don't understand why you continue to ask me [about] this – why? I'm polite because I answered your question and the other question but I am here to talk about respect. I answered that question because it's true, but every year I can have two or three new situations where I can go, but I want to stay here, I decided to stay here at this club because I worked for three years, I worked hard. Now in the future it will be easy because when you have a new team the hardest work is in the first two years. I think you should have respect for me, for the club. I don't understand why every time we are talking about this."
Losing the plot: manager meltdowns
"And I'll tell you honestly, I will love it if we beat them – love it." - Newcastle's Kevin Keegan about title rivals Manchester United in 1996
"Some of the questions were outrageous. I'd never had that sort of inquisition." - Joe Kinnear on his infamous first official press conference as Newcastle manager in 2008, when he swore 52 times in just six minutes
"Don't expect me to come out on the TV any more – ever – and speak to the press after a game." - Harry Redknapp threatens the media after Tottenham's 2-0 defeat at Man United in 2010, which included a controversial goal from Nani
"He [Sir Alex Ferguson] is the only manager in the league that cannot be punished for these things." - Liverpool's Rafa Benitez concludes his memorable "facts" rant about Manchester United in 2009
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