Roberto Mancini has made no pretence of the fact that there's a bit of the devil in him, where respect for managers is concerned. "Instead of reacting like a man and putting some effort into it all, instead of fighting, I used to go and train with a smug look on my face, like some kind of Mr-Know-it-All," he admitted years ago when, as a Sampdoria player, he played the rebel with the new boss, Eugenio Bersellini, whom he didn't like the look of. But as Aston Villa's Paul Lambert joins Mark Hughes, Arsène Wenger, Fabio Capello, David Moyes, Roberto Martinez and Sir Alex Ferguson among those to whom he has caused offence, the truth is Mancini really doesn't much care.
He always has been an anti-establishment man, ever since his footballing journey took him to Sampdoria, a club kicking against the elite, rather that Milan, whose letter offering the teenage Mancini a trial was fatefully lost in the post. Some continental managers arrive here intent on being a part of the union, getting cozy with the League Managers' Association (LMA) – with regular paeans of praise for Ferguson forming part of the lexicon. After Mancini had taken City to their first title in 44 years last season, he might have considered himself the front-runner for the association's manager of the year award. Who did it go to? Alan Pardew. Did Mancini lose sleep over that? No.
There are very often sparks when the City manager's side have lost and his unconcealed irritation, late on Tuesday night after a 4-2 defeat to Villa, with Lambert's discussion of Mancini's imaginary flourishing of cards conforms to a pattern. Lambert would not be so bold as to confront Ferguson at Old Trafford, he retorted. "I'm tired of some managers doing this. Maybe they do it because I'm Italian. It's better that they shut up."
This is the same Mancini, remember, who smashed a tennis racket over his head as an archly competitive youngster and who fist-fought with team-mate Trevor Francis in the Sampdoria dressing room, so we shouldn't be entirely surprised. We learned on the March night in 2010 when Mancini picked a scrap with David Moyes – of Glasgow – on the Eastlands touchline, that he had retained a fair chunk of his competitive playing spirit, despite those long hours watching his mentors Sven Goran Eriksson and Vujadin Bosko at Sampdoria's training ground. Both Mancini and Moyes were sent off after the skirmish which followed the Italian barging the Scotsman as he caught the ball in front of the dugouts, with City on their way to a 2-0 defeat.
There was a making up of sorts, though Moyes, not unreasonably, reminded us that he "wasn't the one waving imaginary yellow cards around trying to get people booked." That remark was significant, because Mancini's refereeing hand-signals are what so often riles other managers. Even the generally congenial Roberto Martinez fumed last season when Mancini started brandishing yellows at Wigan. "I've been here since 1995 – long enough to understand that trying to influence the referee is not accepted in the British game," the Spaniard said. Mancini apologised and half-promised to desist, though privately, he was astonished by the furore after that night in Lancashire and considers the gesture part of the game. It didn't cause trouble in Italy.
The notion of Ferguson feeling scandalised by another manager seeking subtle ways to influence officialdom will raise a surreptitious smile from most managers, in and outside of the union, but this was the starting point for the bust up which shattered the remarkable peace between the two, last April, on the night City's 1-0 Manchester derby win took them a big step towards the title. The two managers were nose to nose at one point that night in a row which looked like it had blown a gaping hole in the relationship. Mancini "was badgering the officials all game," Ferguson complained. Mancini's eyes lit up when he heard that one. "He doesn't talk with the fourth official?" he asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "The referee? Never?"
There's not even been a pretence of friendship with Capello. The two have been at it ever since Mancini's playing days coincided with Capello's as a coach, a trend which continued when they were both in management (Mancini at Fiorentina, then Lazio; Capello at Roma.) "We are from different generations," was Mancini's diplomatic encapsulation of that relationship.
The anger has generally emanated from north London, where Mancini's vexed relationship with Wenger is concerned. Wenger despises what he feels Sheikh Mansour's City stand for and the fact that half his old team has taken a shine to playing for them. Mancini didn't help by publicly expressing his admiration for Samir Nasri.
Hughes will never care much for Mancini, who took his job at Eastlands, but the Welshman has a real thing about the post-match handshake, which sparked things off when his Fulham side were in town. "Maybe I'm old fashioned but I didn't think he offered his hand with any sincerity today," Hughes complained that day.
Mancini thinks he knows who the judge is – the clue is in the prayer beads which were in his pocket when victory over Hughes' Queen's Park Rangers clinched the title for City. Maicon, who has followed him from Milan to Manchester, reflected yesterday that Mancini won't change. "It is the same man, the same passion, the same will to win, the same intensity as a manager," the defender said. "I've found the same kind of manager here."
maicon: coach right to get angry when standards slip
Maicon has revealed that Roberto Mancini is working hard to tighten Manchester City's defence after a slow start to the season.
"The manager doesn't like conceding goals and he's very passionate about that and he's already working on that," the Brazilian right-back said. "We will do even more work and our focus is on improving that and improving the team's results as soon as possible.
"I know that Roberto is very focused on this. He wants to improve and we have to improve quickly because we can't afford to have any more distance between us and the teams at the top of the league."
Mancini has always been a perfectionist, according to Maicon. "It is important. That is the way it should be, to see a passionate coach who demands high standards," he said.
"If he gets angry he reminds everybody of the standards required. There is a minimum requirement that is there. The players know they have to perform at that level.
"All winning managers are the same and they show this passion to the players because they really want to win and the players can feel that. Roberto is no different."
Maicon was speaking at the launch of City in the Community's latest Connell Award with Manchester Futsal Club.