Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini declared last night that a career that has seen him take charge of the underdog in three great footballing cities would help him rally his side for tomorrow's FA Cup semi-final, and ride out the huge blow delivered by the news that Carlos Tevez could have played his last game this season.
Mancini believes that victory over Manchester United at Wembley could prove to be a seminal moment in City's progression to the future he sees for them as "an important club in the world". But Tevez's absence for at least three weeks with a hamstring tear has left him seeking to nurture the spirit of the underdog. The comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson's side are tough to live up to, Mancini admitted. "But it was the same when I went to Lazio because Roma were better; and at Inter because Milan won everything," he said. "This is my life."
Tevez was in Milan last night, though with City's blessing at the end of the week in which he has been linked with a possible summer move to Internazionale. The striker flew out to meet the Argentinian national squad doctor in the city yesterday, after undergoing a scan on his hamstring at Carrington earlier in the day.
Mancini is striving to reinforce the idea that life can go on without Tevez. "We can't cry now. We have other players. We know that Carlos is very important for us but we can win this game without him," the manager said and he invoked the recent feat of Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final as evidence that "football can change in 90 minutes", as he put it. "Anything can happen in one game against United. Who would have thought Birmingham could beat Arsenal?"
One of the City manager's priorities has been to prevent the dismal 3-0 defeat at Anfield on Monday having a negative effect on the players. Mancini has not put the players through sessions watching DVDs of the match and one of his first messages when the players involved returned to full training on Wednesday was that he wanted to forget the game. He gesticulated that he wanted the memory thrown away. His suggestion that a mistake of his own making was somehow responsible for the defeat appears simply to be a device to prevent his players dwelling on their worst display of the season. He also claimed in the dressing room after the match that he was responsible, though has offered no explanation of the mistake he might have been referring to.
The manager's disclosure yesterday that Micah Richards has recuperated from his hamstring injury at a rate beyond all expectation and is available for Wembley is significant, considering the defensive implosion at Liverpool. But Mancini will also need to summon his powers of motivation, with James Milner's display when substituted at Anfield contributing to the sense City are not behind him in a way that United are Sir Alex Ferguson.
It would be "stupid" for any of them to bear grudges if left out on Saturday he said, "because the players have a good chance. It's important for these players because it could be their first trophy. I always played to win. For them it's the same. Don't change. It's not important who plays on Saturday, all the players are behind me."
Mancini cannot take any blame for the Tevez injury since the Argentine is understood to have trained strenuously for a week before his reintroduction to the City side for last week's 5-0 home win over Sunderland. Pressed hard on Tevez's recuperation time, Mancini said the striker would play some part this season. "I hope he can recover for the last three games maybe because it's a serious injury," he said. That prognosis would see Tevez available for the potentially crucial Premier League clash with Tottenham which, with Spurs three points behind City with a game in hand, could be the same Champions League eliminator it was last season.
Mancini has asked his staff to help to minimise the hype surrounding the match, which City enter with only one win in six against Manchester United in the Abu Dhabi era. But he said yesterday that victory would see City lift the FA Cup and their first silverware for 35 years and provide a springboard to a title next year. "I'm sure that if we get to the final we will win the cup," Mancini said. "If we win the FA Cup and go in the Champions League next year we will play to win the title. From next year everything would be different. I don't know if United think that the future will be different for them if we win. But I think it will be different if we win."
Mancini's calm approach to the semi-final included a tart response to rumours that Jose Mourinho might replace him at Eastlands: "For me it's difficult that I can go to Real Madrid!"
United captain Nemanja Vidic said City have "an obsession" about winning a trophy. "After the big money they have spent, they want to win their first trophy," said Vidic who taunted City with a list of Manchester United's recent achievements. "In the last few years we have always been in quarter-finals, semi-finals, two Champions League finals. We are playing at the top level."
How the strikers compare
40 games (38 starts, two as substitute)
Goal every 1.81 games
15 games (11 starts, four as substitute)
Goal every 3.75 games
23 games (16 starts, seven as substitute)
Goal every 2.30 games
Games Tevez may miss...
Tomorrow: FA Cup semi-final v Man Utd
Tevez will sit out the Wembley derby as City seek to book a return trip to London.
25 April: Blackburn (a)
The 27-year-old will also be missing for the potentially tricky trip to Ewood Park.
1 May: West Ham (h)
Still a fans' favourite after helping the Hammers stave off relegation in 2007, Tevez will have to take the applause from the away support in the stands.
7 May: Everton (a)
An early recovery could see Tevez pitched into battle at a ground where City have traditionally struggled.
10 May: Tottenham (h)
The forward will hope to feature in what could be another Champions League play-off against Harry Redknapp's side.
14 May: Stoke (h)/FA Cup final
Playing a second game in the space of four days could be risky, although the potential prospect of a winners' medal could speed up Tevez's recovery.
22 May: Bolton (a)
By this point, Roberto Mancini will hope to have a top-four spot and Champions League football next season secured – which would help to keep Tevez at City.
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