Roberto Mancini arrived wearing a David Platt mask - an excellent, well-judged stunt of his own creation and a deft way of brushing off the fact that he had felt the need to swerve any public questions since barking the order "finish" at an unsuspecting TV cameraman, after Manchester City's latest Champions League fright night, against Ajax 11 days ago.
“I’m happy. We are happy,” Mancini said, launching himself back into a fray which may become very lively before next week is out, with Jose Mourinho in town and Champions League elimination at Real Madrid’s hands a distinct possibility. It’s certainly hard to discuss anyone without giving off rumours at City these days and even acknowledging the imperious quality of Zlatan Ibrahimovich felt mildly risky. “A player you'd like in your team?” Mancini was asked, tongue only slightly in cheek. "Him, [Luis] Suarez and Mario," he replied, the notion of him being interested in the Liverpool player being one he had already firmly rejected.
Mario Balotelli squalls are so frequent as to be a non-event, by now. Mancini was willing to disclose that the striker had been told last Saturday morning that he would not be in the squad to face Tottenham because his approach to training had been poor in midweek. "It is his attitude in training, I'm talking about," the manager explained. “If you want to play well you have to work hard."
Mancini also said, after Joe Hart’s concession of a very stoppable shot to Ibrahimovich, for England in midweek, that a lack of competition was not a problem for the goalkeeper, whom he would drop if he had to. Costel Pantilimon was good enough to step up, Mancini asserted. "Costel is a good keeper and if Joe [does] not play [well] for five, six games [in succession], I can change the keeper,” he said. “This is normal, for me; for every manager. But I trust totally in Joe. I'm sure that also sometime he can make a mistake. This is the keeper’s life - I can't change this. For me Joe is the best keeper in England absolutely.”
Hart, it should not be forgotten, is the player Mancini saw all the potential in when others were saying that Shay Given was the future, after Mark Hughes left the club. “Two years ago, when he was young, a lot of people wanted Shay as the goalie but I decided this. I thought Joe could become one of the top keeper in the world."
Of the Suarez transfer story, Mancini said: "It's not true this. We've got a good team and we don't need to buy players in January. We can't buy Suarez at this time because we have four strikers. I don't know [why you ask this].” If Mourinho, whose brooding presence as Internazionale manager-in-waiting Mancini felt acutely before taking leave of San Siro in 2008, leaves Manchester empty-handed on Wednesday night, Mancini will stick to that happy script. If not, who knows. He is a man of many masks.