Robert Mancini sacking: Debonair on the outside but raging inside - the sacked Manchester City manager always knew best

At a City meeting he stared at his feet and sulked for an hour and a half

Sentiment provided so many reasons for hoping that Roberto Mancini would make it through the storm at Manchester City. There were parts of him that the televised news conferences never reached and part of the privilege of this job was to be privy to them; observing Mancini holding court at Manchester’s San Carlo Cicchetti restaurant, for example, at the Christmas lunch for the city’s football correspondents, as he pressed upon us the merits of the gnocchi, prawns, Neapolitan pizza and Pinot Spumante, from his native Lombardy.

He is not a gregarious individual. We both arrived early for the Christmas occasion in 2011 and it was like getting blood out of a stone until David Platt bowled up and put him at ease. But his responses to the extraordinary volume of questions about Mario Balotelli certainly became an art form and his press conferences seemed to be more than those exercises in football club propaganda which we’re so familiar with these days.

Yet you didn’t need to look very hard to discern that the debonair exterior belied a very different kind of Mancini whom the Manchester City staff had to try to get down to work with. A chance conversation with one of the staff in the Etihad car park one April night last year provided the first hint that the battles Mancini was choosing to wage with so many of those within the club were something more than “Roberto being Roberto.” Mancini will “always challenge you” said that individual. That was “a positive thing”, he quickly added, though it didn’t sound like it. The public antipathy Mancini was displaying towards others within the club wasn’t on, even though the suggestion that night was that a mere “5 to 10 per cent” of the manager’s game needed to be improved.

All of that was before the arrival last August of Ferran Soriano as City’s chief executive; an individual who is something of a management theory anorak, has written a book on the subject and who happens to have a bit of a bee in his bonnet about executives keeping stuff behind closed doors. Soriano is the man who wouldn’t hire Jose Mourinho for Barcelona because of his barbed press conference gibes about his own club. “He generated media conflict almost permanently and it was a potential source of conflict within the club,” Soriano has said of Mourinho.

He also believes in the potential of individuals to change their management styles. At Barcelona, he encouraged his director of football Txiki Begiristain to coach the coach, Frank Rijkaard, in becoming more authoritarian. It worked for a while. But Mancini was never going to be so malleable.

Platt was an important part of the club’s attempts to create a bridge to Mancini and draw him into the fold – an enterprise over which there has been no small amount of agonising in the past few years. But it was a profoundly difficult task. The club’s executives felt they were getting somewhere with their planning, a year or so back when, during Garry Cook’s tenure as chief executive, they managed to get all of the executives key to their work in the transfer market together in one room. This little “player acquisition board meeting” felt like a breakthrough, except that Mancini refused to participate. He put his head down, stared at his feet and sulked for near an hour and a half. Platt tried to smooth things over, by all accounts, but that was the essence of Mancini.

It is difficult to equate the exterior and interior individual, though one individual who worked closely with him at City draws things back to the gilded cage Mancini has lived in since he was the 16-year-old enfant prodige sold by Genoa to Paolo Mantovani’s Sampdoria for the kind of sum in lira, that justified his early nickname “Mr Five Billion”.

“He’d operated in a different world to the rest of us,” the one-time colleague says.

It is why Mancini has never much taken to the notion that others might know best. And though as a Sampdoria player he demonstrated a rich capability to inculcate a team ethos – acting as captain, tactician, kit designer and organiser of the weekly team dinners at La Piedigrotta on the Genoese quayside – fitting into a hierarchy has been more difficult. That’s how it is when you think no one comes up to your standard.

The most instructive interview I undertook on the subject of the outgoing City manager was with Platt, before the 2011 FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester United. Platt related how, down on the bench, he was the first to hear Mancini’s frustrations with those players who lacked the peripheral vision he always displayed as a player blessed with incredible gifts.

“We’ll sometimes have a [goal chance] and [Mancini] will think: ‘Why hasn’t he passed there?’ ” Platt told me. “He’ll turn around on the bench and say: ‘He only has to knock it there.’ ” Platt would put himself in the player’s position sometimes. “I know that as a goalscorer my sole focus would narrow; that I wouldn’t see anybody else around me and I would just try and score the goal. But Roberto was the player who had all the vision and I think sometimes he still sees the game from his playing perspective. He sees it peripherally. To him, what [a player has just tried] is alien.”

Perhaps this explains why Mancini had such an abiding conviction that Mario Balotelli – crazy but with a little bit of that genius quality – was worth persisting with, but why he really found it so difficult to put an arm around Edin Dzeko’s shoulder and encourage that sensitive soul. Some at City have fretted often over how Dzeko could be helped to reach his potential, with a general resignation about the fact that Mancini wouldn’t manage it.

Everyone got the sharp end of his tongue in public by the end, even his Italian masseurs, though it always seemed to be Italians who had the answers. It was remarkable that City, equipped with as lavish an infrastructure as perhaps any in world football, would need to employ an Italian physiotherapist who has always liked players to try his donkey stew when Mancini felt they lacked something during the run-in to last season’s title.

Sergio Vigano, a guru who first looked after him in his early playing days at his northern base of Montferrat where he’d serve the stew and agnolotti pasta, was called in 40 days before the match against QPR which sealed last season’s title.

Mancini is also far too smart not to have seen what was coming last night. I understand that he signed an agreement last summer which gave Monaco an option on him. Don’t be surprised if he features there very soon, because the Riviera will suit him and there’ll be a chance to exert control. It will be the turn of others to drink his Pinot Spumante, hear about the gnocci and, if they happen to be an employee of the club where he turns up, get the rough edge of his tongue.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice