Under-pressure manager Roberto Mancini longs for Italy as Manchester City crisis continues
Manager chooses to step out of the spotlight as he feels strain of European struggles
You imagine that Roberto Mancini would consider any managerial environment more habitable than Italy. It was soon after his Internazionale side had lost in the 2006 Champions League quarter-final to Villarreal that he and his players were confronted by a group of their own fans at Malpensa Airport, when returning from a league match at Ascoli. After some ironic clapping, Cristiano Zanetti, the midfielder, was hit across the back of the head. Mancini declared a few days later that he was being driven closer to leaving the country. "Nowadays in Italy you cannot return home feeling upset because you lost, without thinking up something else to do [in your career]," he said at the time.
The mob certainly aren't out for Mancini, yet the grass is greener for him in Italy, the Manchester City manager's assistant, David Platt, said yesterday when the Italian did not appear for his weekly press conference. "He has got a couple of things he needs to do. He is fine, why wouldn't he be?" Platt said, declaring after a testy five days for the manager that Mancini found it easier in Italy because those who chronicle his work simply "listen to quotes and go and write them. They accept that people want to read football, rather than your opinions".
The point about Mancini's most combustible week in England is that there are no purveyors of the opinion that he isn't good enough. The fire which Platt sought to put out yesterday really does seem to have been of the manager's own making.
A TV cameraman on the field of play on Wednesday didn't seem like a reason to explode – any more than a question, from a broadsheet journalist, on Monday about his own admission that seven or eight clubs had been interested in his services last summer.
We are talking about Roberto Mancini, the manager who opened his newspapers one day in 2008 to find leaked transcripts of a series of phone calls between himself and other Inter employees with Domenico Brescia – a 55-year-old tailor who served time in prison for conspiracy to commit murder and had Mafia connections. (There was nothing incriminating but Inter used them as a way of getting him out.)
Mancini has ignited many times in the course of matches and after. "He's always been like that. As a player he was completely like that," said Platt. "Monday to Friday he was fine but once he's on the training pitch if things don't go well for him he has this fire in him. He doesn't snap. He has this fire in him and that's what he believes in." But that didn't apply to last Monday.
His eruption in the relative calm of a pre-match press conference was unprecedented during his time in east Manchester and it is difficult not to conclude that there is a deeper frustration. The arrival of Txiki Begiristain does have the potential to clip his wings, though the new ex-Barcelona contingent at the club are doing all they can to prevent a sense they are colonising the place. Continual frustrations in Europe must be an agony, though Platt dismissed the suggestion. "No they're not. We'll talk about Real Madrid and the Champions League if you want, but then you don't come for the three days before we play Real Madrid…" City doesn't feel like a particularly happy place at the moment.
There is an immediate opportunity for the manager to grind any doubts about him and his mindset down into the dust. The club's gem, David Silva, is back in training and might possibly play a small role at the start of a crucial 28-day period – beginning with tomorrow's match with Tottenham Hotspur – which brings City up against Real Madrid, Chelsea, Everton, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United, with Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic in between. Platt said that he could "look at a league table and [conclude that] I've been involved in worst crises in my life". As Jermain Defoe's England Under-21 manager for three years from 2001, he was entitled to declare him to be one of the threats. "He has very early pictures in his mind, he always has done – where can I score? – no matter what angle."
Mancini also has Maicon, who has a chance to amend for the beating Gareth Bale inflicted on him at Inter two years ago, and Joleon Lescott both back in training and available. Platt said the Italian will view tomorrow with equanimity. "He's not cold, he's not manipulative, in any way, he doesn't look at strategy with [the media]," he said. "He didn't rant and rave [on Monday], even though that was the way people wanted him to say it. He was quite firm on something because that's what he believed. But it's gone the day after."
Expensive subs: Head-to-head
* Edin Dzeko and Emmanuel Adebayor have struggled for regular starts at their clubs this season. Dzeko, who cost Manchester City £25m and is on £100,000 per week, has started in just five of his 14 appearances for City this season, scoring six goals, while £5m striker Adebayor, also on £100,000 a week, has been brought off the bench five times for Spurs this season, and is yet to find the net.
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