Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini said yesterday that Liverpool should have apologised immediately for Luis Suarez's use of the word "negro" and admitted a mistake, rather than defend him by wearing T-shirts bearing his name.
Mancini became the first opposition manager to enter the treacherous territory of discussing Kenny Dalglish's conduct in the hugely controversial case which has dealt Suarez an eight-game ban and ruled him out of the two clubs' Carling Cup semi-final, with the first leg at the Etihad Stadium tonight. But he qualified his comments with an appreciation of the pressures Suarez would have faced against Manchester United on 15 October.
"Sometimes it can happen on the pitch, a situation like this," Mancini said. "It is important to apologise for what you did. Sometimes on the pitch you can do something that you don't want to do, because you are nervous, you don't think. I don't think Suarez is a racist. I think he made a mistake, probably, yes." Asked if Liverpool had made a mistake by deciding to wear T-shirts in support of Suarez last month, before the club's game at Wigan Athletic the night after FA independent regulatory commission found him guilty of abusing Patrice Evra, Mancini nodded. "Maybe, maybe this," he said.
Mancini said he had experienced similar problems with racism in his last year in Italy, in 2007-08 – a season when Mario Balotelli was racially abused by Juventus fans.
Though privately, some within Anfield now agree with Mancini's contention that a rapid, diplomatic apology for any unintentional damage done by Suarez might have prevented the escalating furore which has damaged Liverpool, his comments are unlikely to be welcomed and they may well draw opprobrium from some on Merseyside. The issue has created such unbridled tribalism that the "comment" option on some Independent website articles on the topic has been withdrawn out of necessity in recent weeks.
But Mancini has a habit of speaking on any topic put to him and he certainly demonstrated an awareness of what Suarez was up against that day, in a spat with Evra which began with the Frenchman's abusive Spanish term "concha de tu hermana" which translates as a term of abuse for a recipient's sister. Mancini said he had experienced "everything, in 20 years, everything [on a football pitch.] I didn't cry for this on the pitch because I repeat I have my opinion that on the pitch everything can happen because you don't think, because you are tired, because you are stupid, you are young, for many reasons." Asked about the worst abuse he has delivered, Mancini replied: "I said some things but not important things like racist words."
Mancini, who is likely to be without David Silva for tonight's first leg because of the Spaniard's long-standing ankle problem, was angered to learn that the Football Association had rejected his club's appeal against Vincent Kompany's four-game ban after his dismissal against Manchester United. Privately, the City manager is deeply unhappy about the post-match comments of Sir Alex Ferguson, who suggested Kompany has form for two-footed challenges, considering this an attempt to influence City's appeal.
The United response has left Mancini harbouring a desire to beat United to the title before the two Manchester clubs meet in the league at the Etihad Stadium in April. Though the City manager voiced indifference about the Carling Cup yesterday, the FA Cup defeat appears to have sharpened his desire to beat Liverpool and take a huge stride to claiming a trophy, thus striking an early blow in the struggle for supremacy with United.
He may well not go into the transfer market this month, though, with Stefan Savic and Joleon Lescott expected to hold the fort during Kolo Touré's absence at the African Cup of Nations, and provided an indication yesterday that his call for another new signing this month had not gone down well at City.
"Every time that I talk about this I have a problem... but when I said this, it is not because I want to criticise the club," he said. Mancini is likely to have Mario Balotelli back tonight, with Edin Dzeko on the bench.