Eliaquim Mangala: I'll prove £32m is money well spent by Manchester City
Britain's costliest defender is relishing pressure of life in the big league
Sunday 17 August 2014
Typically for Manchester, a bout of low pressure greeted the first press engagement undertaken by Manchester City's latest new signing, Eliaquim Mangala. As the interview drew to a close it started raining, in keeping with the heavy showers that marked the Frenchman's first week as a City player. "It's normal," he said, smiling.
Mangala is obviously settling in, but then pressure is a word he is happy to use – albeit through an interpreter – in discussing his near £32 million move to the Premier League champions.
"What has struck me since I've started at Manchester City, focusing on the club rather than anything else, is that there is a real positive pressure about the place," he said. "There is a feeling that there are some really big targets this season. It means every training session is really intense, and you feel that pressure in a positive way, as you want to be preparing that way where every session is really important. The feeling and the atmosphere around the club is very positive."
There is also the weight of expectation that comes with being the most expensive defender in British football history, surpassing the £30m fee Manchester United paid for Rio Ferdinand in 2002.
"It is not something you are focused on," Mangala said. "When you are a kid you want to grow up to be a professional footballer. You have certain dreams, like playing in the Premier League, that would be great, or playing in the Champions' League. But you never think, 'One day I will be the most expensive defender in England'.
"You kind of deal it in this way; the price was not [set] by me and it's something you don't pay attention to. It is something the fans and press might talk about, but I remove myself from those thoughts, really. And if you can't live with that sort of pressure, if it does bring any pressure, football is not the job for you. You should be staying at home and doing another type of job."
That was never the plan for Mangala, who was born in France but as a young boy moved to Belgium. He played for a couple of local teams before joining the youth set-up at UR Namur, who currently play in Belgium's fourth division. From there, Mangala went to Standard Liège, where he was converted from a left-back to a central defender, making 100 appearances in three seasons before joining FC Porto. He made a slow start in Portugal, but over the past two seasons established himself, drawing admiring glances across Europe.
United and Chelsea were credited with an interest, but the 23-year-old – a long-standing target for City – chose the Etihad Stadium, rebutting a suggestion that surfaced during the World Cup that he would rather play and live in London.
"It was funny as it was a French TV programme, and right at the end it was a 50/50 question," Mangala explained.
"The guy said to me, 'Manchester or London?' It was a question about cities rather than football. I said I would prefer not to answer but he said I had to answer. It was nothing to do with football but because it was the capital and London is London.
"They [City] were the club that I had conversations with the coach and the sporting director. They were the only club I had conversations with at that level."
Mangala was part of France's squad in Brazil, without playing a game, while City were busy working on a protracted transfer that involved negotiating a third-party ownership agreement before finally concluding a five-year deal.
Despite the price tag, City are perhaps investing in potential rather than the complete article, given Mangala's age and relative lack of experience at the very highest level. They believe, though, that he will develop, probably alongside Vincent Kompany, into a top-class defender capable of eradicating any deficiencies they may still have in that department.
"It's a real bonus. You talk about Vincent, but there is also Martin Demichelis and the experience he's got," said Mangala, speaking at the season-launching City Live event.
"Recently he's just had a great World Cup, and has played at the highest level in Germany with Bayern Munich.
''As a young player it is a great opportunity to rub shoulders with these players, and for my progression and evolution as a player it is great to learn from these guys. I'm playing alongside them both."
Mangala may not be fit enough to feature this afternoon as City begin the defence of their title at Newcastle United, after only starting to train with his new club last Monday. But with the manager, Manuel Pellegrini developing a squad geared towards challenging successfully in Europe as well, his days will come.
"City are a club where you have to set your targets high," Mangala said, aware of what is expected. "Obviously the first target as current champions is to hold on to that title and not let that out of your grasp. Then of course the Champions' League, that would be fantastic to be able to win that.
"It has got to be a real target for us and I think the overall grand scheme and project, to use that word of Manchester City, has always been ultimately to try and win the Champions' League, so I think it has to remain a big target for us certainly.
"But when you are somewhere like City, every match you go into and every competition that you enter, you go in with a mind of going all the way and winning it."
Newcastle United v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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