Andre Villas-Boas would be well advised not to expand on his thesis about the "continuous persecution" of his Chelsea team when he meets Roberto Mancini at Stamford Bridge tonight.
The Chelsea manager believes that he would have been pilloried had his side's Champions League campaign evaporated like Manchester City's. "If [City] qualify [for the knockout stage] they qualify, and if they don't they don't. That's not the same as us," he said, 24 hours before the Premier League leaders went out, spitting contempt at the thought of how chroniclers of his club would hate having to "write about Chelsea finishing first."
The sense of Villas-Boas being under siege has been heightened by his banning the reserves from the first-team building at the club's Cobham training centre after a series of leaks found their way into the newspapers, including the instruction that players acknowledge the manager in their goal celebrations.
However, as Mancini strides towards a second anniversary at City which few predicted in the depths of the 2009-10 season, he can reflect that he has dodged a lot more bullets than the manager 13 years his junior. "It's not important," he said of Villas Boas's comments. "When you lose you receive criticism, this is normal. When you lose you have to work more. When you win the media will say you are a top team, when you lose you get criticised. This is our life."
The ammunition is still heading his way and can materialise at any time when you have hung your hat on a player like Mario Balotelli. The latest evidence that the 21-year-old should "look at himself in the mirror", as Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, suggested two weeks ago, comes with the news that he was out until around 1am on Sunday morning at Manchester's Zouk restaurant, in breach of a club curfew, ahead of yesterday's training session.
The City manager has experienced far more slings and arrows then Villas-Boas. He found the first six months in Manchester difficult, even by the standards of a rollercoaster managerial career at cash-strapped Fiorentina and Lazio and the interminably political Internazionale.
The loyalties of some of his new charges – Shay Given, Craig Bellamy and Roque Santa Cruz foremost amongst them – to outgoing manager Mark Hughes was a particularly difficult challenge and the press conference staged to introduce him made Villas-Boas's recent one look like a tea party. As the then chief executive Garry Cook fidgeted in his seat that night, Mancini was asked about perfidy and whether he had done any background checks on his new club's executives.
"It's normal for players to feel bad when their manager goes and I hope they will feel like that about me in many years' time when I go," he said. Looking back on that press conference now, Mancini will tell you that he understood barely a word of it.
City's Champions League elimination is a blow, even though City had budgeted to reach the first knockout stage and no more. Yet there have been far bigger battles to win – the same type of internal battles, in fact, that Villas-Boas finds at the top of his pile of problems – and Mancini has emerged from them intact.
For Villas-Boas, the challenge is to remove the divine right to a first-team place which Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba command. For Mancini the task was also to ease away the many players – Given, Bellamy, Robinho, Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips – who, to his mind, could take the club only a part of the way.
"When you arrive at a new team you need time," Mancini has now reflected. "It's difficult to change everything in two or three months, it's the same for all managers. It's impossible."
The outcome of his ventures in the the transfer market have shown the value of a football manager, not a proprietor, making the decisions.
Chelsea have Fernando Torres, while City went with Sergio Aguero; Chelsea bought David Luiz, while City are still not convinced that there is a world-class centre-half available anywhere meeting their criteria. This time last year, the club were imploring Carlos Tevez to stay after his first transfer request went in. Now, he is the one imploring them to let him go. There has been no £20m bid from Paris Saint-Germain, as reported yesterday, and in any case £30m is the minimum City will demand.
Two years ago, any kind of positive result for City would be acceptable from a night like tonight. Now, it is a different story. "We don't think we'll go and score six like at Old Trafford, because that was even a shock to us," Joleon Lescott said yesterday. "But we know if teams don't apply themselves right against us, we have the capacity to punish them." Yes, Mancini has seen off the persecutors.
Kick-off 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights Sky Sports 1 1am, tomorrow)
Neville brothers stick together
Phil Neville, the Everton captain, defended his brother Gary from Andre Villas-Boas' criticism. after the Chelsea manager lashed out at the former Manchester United defender, now a Sky pundit, branding his comments "stupid", "comic" and "ridiculous".
"I don't think he has been outspoken at all," the younger Neville said. "I think he is just being totally honest. He has been fantastic. He has impressed everybody. I work on Merseyside, where opinions were divided when he got the job. But I think he has won over a lot of people. That's the general feedback I am being told." Rory SmithReuse content