James Lawton: With his embarrassment of riches, it is now Mancini's duty to attack on all fronts

 

Once again we have it, one of those earth-moving collisions between the pride of Manchester and north London. United against Arsenal should also be quite intriguing.

A little premature, you think? Maybe so but it is also true that when Manchester City appear at White Hart Lane tomorrow afternoon there could be something in the air largely absent since a young Malcolm Allison engaged in a public discussion with Sir Matt Busby.

It came when the elder statesman of Old Trafford injected into his after-dinner speech a formal greeting to the new gun in town. "Welcome, Mr Allison," said Busby to polite applause, "and here's hoping you give us a run for our money." Allison's response was predictably bold. "Don't worry, Baby, you'll have to run harder than you ever did before," he shouted across the room.

If the naturally more circumspect Roberto Mancini has yet to challenge Sir Alex Ferguson in quite such terms, maybe it will happen now. Or perhaps his players, if sufficiently unrestrained, will say it for him. Heaven knows, if he didn't have them before, he has them now. The criticism of Mancini has always been that he has caution in his bones. Yes, he ticked off his objectives but when would he take his men off the leash? Maybe when they made it to the Champions League – or picked up their first piece of silver in a mid-sized lifetime.

The doubts lingered, inevitably when United overran them in the Community Shield and a £200,000-a-week player like Yaya Touré and the virtuoso David Silva were required to stand in the wings and acknowledge that for a little while longer at least the status quo had been preserved. Yet if Mancini's resources have strengthened remarkably these last few weeks, it is also true that his default position has become virtually untenable.

Allison attacked because the instinct came from the deepest reaches of his nature. Mancini is now required to do the same, at least within reason, because anything else would be perverse. Allison noted that players of the quality of Mike Doyle, Glyn Pardoe and Alan Oakes had first to be persuaded of their own ability. In the case of Oakes, the giveaway was that he tended to sweat profusely before going out on to the field.

Mancini has no such obligation, not when he considers the nature of men like Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri, Silva and Touré, and weighs the impact they have already produced when given half an invitation.

Where we can be sure Mancini will have a stride on Allison is in the battlefields of Europe. However confident he becomes in the strength of his new attacking forces, he will be mindful enough of the possibilities of ambush when he faces such as Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal in the Champions League action. His great predecessor showed minimal caution when City swept brilliantly to the First Division title and drew Fenerbahce in the first round of the European Cup. Allison said that it was a case of next stop Mars. Europe, he said, was filled with cowards. City would sweep beyond them. Of course, they drew at Maine Road and lost in Istanbul.

No, there need be no lurking fears for tomorrow's City when they launch themselves on a new phase of their challenge – only the fear of fear itself. That was never a possibility for a team which contained Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee and nor should it be for the one which has made, Wembley aside, such an impressive start to the new campaign.

We certainly know what the best of Nasri means. It is attacking football of the richest texture, it is pace, bite and remarkable skill, and if he sometimes displayed a disappointing reluctance to take charge of a game in the absence of Cesc Fabregas, there is no question about the value of his individual impact.

It is Aguero, though, who represents City's best chance of announcing new dimensions at White Hart Lane – and a new appetite for playing the kind of football that should remove the last evidence of the psychological damage picked up by their fans over the years. The absurdly irritating Poznan procedure is not so much celebration as evidence of old scarring. Certainly, the demeanour and the play of Diego Maradona's son-in-law would suggest an overwhelming desire for everyone to turn their faces towards what is left of the sun.

Nothing, surely, has been more uplifting in this young season than Aguero's thrilling arrival at Eastlands. It seemed that he brought more than a brilliant facility to play superior football, to run into dangerous positions and inflict all of his skill, not just on behalf of himself but all of his team-mates.

There was also his ability to convey his own pleasure, its accessibility to all who saw it expressed so joyously, so utterly without a hint of ambiguity.

Some worried the other night that Mancini was more concerned with the two goals conceded than the three fashioned brilliantly at Bolton, but then maybe we should not forget that whatever else Mancini is, and might become, he is also an Italian football man.

It is too much to ask that such a man easily surrenders his grief over a sloppily conceded goal. This is not, after all, quite the same as spilling a cappuccino over the new Armani.

As it happens, it was not something that Malcolm Allison suffered lightly. That is why he slaved to make big Joe Corrigan such a fine goalkeeper and brought in the old stonemason Tony Book from the West Country and rhapsodised over the progress of a baby-faced young Scotsman named Willie Donnachie.

There was a time when such memories were a rebuke to the team that laboured in the shadow of Manchester United. But not now they have become just a few more points of inspiration.

Sad that England's midfield comes from South Pacific

England rugby union coach Martin Johnson searches for an upbeat note before today's World Cup rehearsal in Dublin. He talks about the "exciting battle" for midfield places which not so long ago were claimed by native sons like Jeremy Guscott, the most silky of centres, Will Carling and Will Greenwood.

Regrettably, it's not nearly so thrilling when you remember that, despite England having by some distance the biggest player population in the world, most of the current contenders were born in the South Pacific.

The front-runner is "Anglo-Samoan" Manu Tuilagi, followed by Auckland-born Shontayne Hape. Riki Flutey, who was also born in New Zealand, missed the cut.

The home challenge is led by Mike Tindall, who is 33, and Matt Banahan from Jersey.

Amid all the other vexatious debate about mismanagement at Twickenham, someone might profitably raise a question or two about player development.

There is always so much talk about the pressure to create the new elite...and so little evidence of it happening within thousands of miles of the home shore.

Shaky Murray could learn a little from Iron man

Andy Murray's reaction to the earthquake ripples that reached New York earlier this week was rather more excitable than Mike Tyson's to the one which managed to rearrange the furniture of his Tokyo hotel room some years ago.

Tyson was merely half-awake when his trainer rushed to check on his well-being. "What the f... was that?" asked the reigning world champion. Upon being told, he yawned and he went back to sleep.

Murray tweeted his alarm and his concern for more or less everyone on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Ready-made compassion was, of course, never one of Iron Mike's more striking characteristics.

A careworn sparring partner once greeted Tyson with "morning, champ", only to be told that he was about to have his head torn off.

Maybe in here there is some middle ground which might just serve the talented, caring but so far unfulfilled Murray quite well.

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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