If Carlos Tevez expected his return to Manchester would see him greeted like a returning prodigal, he was given the strongest indication that he still does not feature in his manager's plans.
Roberto Mancini was said to be "hurt and angry" by comments that the Argentine felt he had been "treated like a dog" by the Manchester City manager, who said he had no plans to talk about him for the next three months.
Since a returning Tevez would be the subject of fierce questioning, it suggests the 28-year-old will spend his time in the same way he did in the weeks immediately after his alleged refusal to warm up against Bayern Munich in September – training by himself.
Mancini has been given full authority by the club's owners to deal with all football matters as he sees fit. The absence of genuine contrition in Tevez's interview with Fox Sports that so infuriated Mancini suggests he has seriously misjudged his manager.
"I will answer this question [about Tevez]) only once and no more," said Mancini as he prepared to face Porto tonight without Tevez, who is not part of City's Europa League squad. "I totally disagree with what Carlos says because I have never treated him badly.
"Maybe it is the opposite and I have treated him too well. Always. I don't want to talk any more. This is the last question I will answer on him for the next three months."
Only the second most controversial footballer in Mancini's squad was on the plane that landed in Portugal yesterday to face a side who have lost just one of their last 55 league matches.
Mario Balotelli, a man whose antics Mancini has taken to describing with a smile and a resigned shrug of the shoulders, like a father talking about an errant child, was at the airport while Tevez was back in the city that he denigrates as possessing only two restaurants, knowing he will have to eat considerably more helpings of humble pie even to be considered for selection.
This is Balotelli's first match since he was banned for four matches for stamping on Tottenham's Scott Parker. It is also his first taste of the Europa League since a chest-high challenge on Dynamo Kiev's Goran Popov that was primarily responsible for City's elimination from the competition last season and which triggered unrestrained fury in his manager. Nevertheless, his talent is unquestioned and the sweeping arcs of the Estadio do Dragao may be the perfect inspiration. "If we are to win the Europa League and the Premier League, it is important to have all our players," said Mancini. "Mario is one of them. We will have three strikers available against Porto [Balotelli, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko] and that is a good thing for me and for this game.
"If his head is OK in the next two months, he will be an important player. It is difficult to define Mario. We know he is a fantastic player. He is young and sometimes he will make mistakes but, if he can keep his composure for the next three months, he will be an important player for us."
The Europa League is a relatively minor competition but it is one Mancini's side is likely to take rather more seriously than Manchester United, whose manager has already spoken of the danger of a Thursday-Sunday playing schedule derailing his drive for the club's 20th league title. Sir Alex Ferguson can pick and choose his trophies, City can't.
"We want to win the Europa League because it is a long time since City won a European trophy," said Mancini, whose failure to make an impact in Europe was his only stumbling block at Internazionale. "Last season we won the FA Cup after a long time and winning a trophy in Europe would be a big step for the club."
A far more delicate decision than fielding Balotelli is whether Mancini risks the Touré brothers, after the stunning disappointment of losing the final of the African Cup of Nations, a competition for which their country, Ivory Coast, were overwhelming favourites.
Sunday's final, in which Kolo missed a penalty and Yaya was substituted, saw the crushing of hopes of another nation's golden generation. And as the brothers flew directly to Portugal from Abidjan, their physical condition as much as their mental state would be open to a very big question.Reuse content