The urbane manner and capacity to make even a Manchester City scarf look like a fashion item support the impression that Roberto Mancini's touchline spat with David Moyes – Glasgow meets Gucci – was out of character; a sign of the Eastlands pressure taking its toll.
The second of those assertions might be right but the first could hardly be further from the truth. Mancini's life in Italian technical areas has brought him battles far more intense than Wednesday night's handbags with Moyes and the most memorable of them were with one Fabio Capello.
Those who have followed Mancini's managerial career remember, in particular, his Fiorentina side entertaining Capello's Roma nine years ago and the reaction when the Viola failed to stop playing when Francesco Totti was injured. "What the fuck do you want?" Mancini screamed at Capello before he told the Roma coach: "You're big-headed and lack manners."
Mancini also took issue with Capello's "manners" when the men clashed on the touchline in a Rome derby two years later, when Mancini was managing Lazio. "He has always seen himself as something of a freedom fighter who deeply resents unfair behaviour on the pitch," one Italian observer said yesterday. "He's a latter-day Robin Hood in his own eyes." Ironic then that Mancini should now find himself cast as the coach of the club who lack class and manners – at least, according to many Evertonians.
Mancini is understood to be puzzled by the furore which surrounded Wednesday's set-to, a spat which he had sought to neutralise before his press conference, breaking off from a radio interview to hold out a hand when he spotted Moyes walking past (the Scot took it). "If I've done wrong I'm sorry," Mancini said. But the British obsession with the football pantomime may be the least of his problems if there are more performances like Wednesday's 2-0 defeat.
There were extenuating circumstances – the absence of two full-backs, a centre-forward and the upheaval caused by Stephen Ireland's injury. But City still need to find a way of converting Wednesday's 61 per cent possession into goalscoring opportunities. Vincent Kompany made a typically eloquent defence of his manager yesterday, insisting that the row with Moyes reflected necessary "passion" and added: "Mr Mancini is very methodical and likes us to stick to a game plan. He wants us to be well organised and disciplined – it's a very Italian way of playing football and it's served us well so far."
But his words revealed a part of the problem: that somewhere in that tight methodology, the free spirit of creativity has been lost. Perhaps the shackles will now come off with Tottenham in the box seat to finish fourth. Micah Richards seems to think so. "Spurs are favourites now. We can just go for it. We don't have to worry," he said.
Finishing fifth or sixth will not necessarily see Mancini depart this summer and he is not teetering on the brink of the sack. The Italian is particularly helped by his relationship with the chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak. Mubarak gave Mancini's predecessor, Mark Hughes, his mobile number and urged him to call regularly. Hughes rarely did. Mancini is inclined to do so and the Arabs value that.
It is hard to believe that a run of desultory performances like the one against Everton would keep Mancini in place to see in the new season, though. He can take comfort from Tottenham's difficult run-in but the apparently easier games immediately up ahead – Wigan, Burnley and Birmingham – are now fixtures City cannot afford to lose. Mancini might have Emmanuel Adebayor back for Wigan next Monday. But history suggests there should be no more touchline battles. Both of those occasions when he raged against Capello saw his own team run out losers.Reuse content