Ahead of Manchester City’s vital 4th Round FA Cup tie at Stoke, #ReadbutNeverRed catches up with City Manager, Roberto Mancini as he reflects on just over three years in Manchester…which all began with a 2-0 victory…over Stoke
Taking the easy route to success has never been an option for Roberto Mancini either as a player or as a manager.
As the boss of Manchester City – reputed to be the richest football club in the world – his critics might argue he couldn’t fail to be a success, with the seemingly limitless financial backing of Sheikh Mansour and Abu Dhabi’s millions upon millions of petro-dollars.
But for those who know their football history, those who have witnessed City’s unerring ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory decade after decade, taking the blue side of Manchester to the top of the English game was never going to be easy.
Speaking eloquently and frankly at the aptly titled ‘An Evening with Roberto Mancini’ at City’s Etihad Stadium, the 48 year old dubbed ‘Bobby Gold’ by the Italian media, delivered a fascinating insight into what makes him a serial winner.
“I can say that I was born in Italy and Italy is my life but I think that here is now probably the best moment of my life and my career. After thirty years in Italy I think that I needed English football because I think that the supporters live for their club, and I think that to win here with Manchester City is totally different. I am very proud of what we did in these three years and also for our supporters, because I think that they are incredible, incredible supporters.”
Looking at his career he tells his audience “I never chose an easy team that used to win every year. This is my life – Sampdoria, Lazio, Inter, Fiorentina.
“But I think to win with a team like Manchester City, like Sampdoria, I think you can stay in history for a long time. I think this is important because if you work for a team like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, these teams win every year. But if you win with a team and you can build a team that can win for many years, I think that is very important for a manager.”
Bobby Gold – later to become Bobby Manc – sure had the Midas touch wherever he went – hence the well earned nickname – and consequent CV that ultimately brought him to Manchester.
Three years on and his ‘love’ for the Club and the City is readily apparent.
“My feeling here is very, very good… I am really happy because I love Manchester City, I love the supporters, I want to win other trophies for them, because I think after many years they deserve to win trophy, trophy, trophy, every year if it’s possible. And because I think that they love the team.”
When pressed by James Cooper of Sky Sports News and host for the evening, on what he doesn’t like about Manchester, Mancini gives a warm smile: “Problems, yes, the snow, the weather,” a quip not lost on his audience as the wintry weather fluttered in the air on a bitterly cold North West night.
In a similarly icy climate, it had made perfect sense to select the out of work, ex- Inter Milan coach, when City’s owners decided that Mark Hughes, was not the man to keep their much vaunted ‘Project’ on course. Mancini was duly unveiled as the ‘new man’ on December 19, 2009.
“After four years I left Inter and I had this chance to come to England. I wanted to come to England because I wanted to try to see if it was possible to win the Premier League and also because I think it is the best championship.
“It was harder because I changed my life. It is different to live here, it is different to work here. I have a different philosophy.”
Mancini had a peerless track record of domestic trophy hoarding – three consecutive Scudetto titles, two Coppa Italia’s and a couple of SuperCoppa Italiana’s in just four years, blighted only by Inter’s shortcomings in the Champions League.
He was coming to City – a club starved of silverware with a new and ravenous appetite to have something worth polishing in the trophy cabinet.
The suave and somewhat unassuming, Mancini says: “I think that it is very difficult to start and to build a new team, a team that don’t win for many years. It’s really important in the first six months, 12 months, because you need to change a mentality but you can change this only if the results help you and the team.
“I tried to change a training session, mental training and shape and this is not easy because I am here in England, different country, different culture for the players. I was lucky – not the first six months which was difficult because I didn’t know the championship, I didn’t know the players, I didn’t build that team – but after the first year, we were really lucky because we won the FA Cup. I think that in that moment we changed our mentality.”
He weathered the jibes that he was ‘typically Italian’ and too defensive, “When you build a house you start from the basement, and for me it was the same. When I arrived here three years ago the squad conceded a lot of goals every game. If you continue to concede goals you can’t win. This is the first situation you should put in order.
“If you don’t concede a goal, maybe you have more chance to win. But to do this you need to work hard. The first six months were really hard for me, because for the players it was not easy. But we work hard, and when we started to not concede a goal every game the players were happy and we continued to work. I think this is the basement for a good team.”
He learnt and adapted to the English style, citing the FA Cup semi final win over Manchester United as the moment City ‘arrived’ under his tutelage.
When asked what he regards as his number one footballing achievement, there is no hesitation:
“For a foreign manager to come here and to win I think that it is an incredible moment. To win a Premier League against United, against Arsenal, against Chelsea, I think for me it is the best moment.
“For me this is one of the best moments of my life because the Premier League is a very difficult championship and we won with Manchester City and we work hard in the last two years, it’s this.”
You realise that, although well versed in the so-called ‘mind games’, there is an unshakeable self belief, an unsurpassable determination, burning deep within.
He goes back to that stupendous Sunday afternoon of May 13, 2012, as the seconds ticked down on what would have been the very worst example of ‘Typical City’, the first league title for 44 years slipping agonisingly away.
“I watch the time and we were 2-1 for QPR and we were 65 minutes. After one second I watch again and we were at 91 [minutes], and I thought I can’t believe this. We can’t lose this championship after we dominated.
“In that moment I hope that we can score a draw and we hope that maybe Sunderland can score one goal. But I was confident when we only have two minutes to play and it was 2-1, I was confident. I don’t know why, but maybe because I think that we deserve to win the last championship.”
And has he watched that momentous match back after delivering the Holy Grail of the Premier League title to the long suffering City fans?
“No, only the last five minutes. I didn’t watch the game, never… at this moment I saw only the last five minutes.” And how many times has he watched those last five minutes?
“Two times,” Mancini says with a beaming smile. His words are greeted with mirth and merriment from his mesmerised audience. But what of bridging the gap on Manchester United in the race for the Premier League this season?
“If we arrive at the derby four or five points [behind], we can win the title.
I think that our players think we can win the title, because another of the good things here in the Premier League is you should play to the last game, because two or three games can change everything.
“I think Manchester United is a good team and they have a good mentality because they won everything for 20 years. But I think we changed this two years ago, and if we continue to work hard we can win a lot of trophies in the next ten years, and I think they know this. “
The exit from the Champions League, at the group stage for a second consecutive season, is symptomatic of the only blot on his glittering managerial career.
“We made a mistake this year in the Champions League. I made mistakes in some games and we need to improve. Probably Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid were better than us at this moment, but not Ajax. We finished fourth in the group and this is not good for us.
“ The Champions League group is difficult. I don’t know when, but I think Manchester City will win the Champions League in the future.”
Listening to Mancini, the adoring audience become absorbed in his faith in both his and his player’s abilities, to the extent that they believe City WILL retain their Premier League title – never mind what the pundits and bookies are saying.
There’s a certain inevitability that the questions get round to two of Mancini’s highest profile charges – Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez.
So what does The Boss really think about the man from Palermo and what happened in their much publicised training ground confrontation?
“Every press conference the first question is always about Mario. How is Mario, Mario is ready, Mario can play, why Mario did this…
“Mario…Mario is a really good guy. He is young, and like all the young guys can make a mistake, like me, like you when you were young. But he is a really, really good person. I don’t know what is up in his head and sometimes he can do whatever he thinks.
“If I talk with him now, I say Mario please, think about the game, do this, do this, I think that in the last two years I have spoken to Mario I think 100 times, but I hope we will have a day that he can change because he is a good guy and he is a top, top player if he wants.”
Commenting on the well publicised spat at City’s Carrington training ground, Mancini says: “We did nothing…Only the paparazzi was there and they took 300 photos in one second. We played a game, I played a game in that moment, 5 v 5 and we were tired and Mario did a foul against Scott Sinclair.
“I was upset and I said Mario, this isn’t what you do usually in a game, you can’t do this and I asked him to say sorry to Scott.” Balotelli refused to apologise.
“ [Mario said]No, no, no, so I take his shirt and say get off, and I finish within 10 seconds but the newspapers say that we fight. It’s true. I don’t say a lie.”
So that’s cleared that one up!
And what of the now reformed Tevez?
“He is not a bad boy when Carlos plays, he plays 100%, he puts all his heart on the pitch. Sometimes it is better to have players like Carlos. I think Carlos made a mistake last year, I was upset which was normal.
“But now he has changed, also last year when he came back in January he changed his behaviour totally. I don’t have any problem, because I think we can make a mistake every day probably, everyone can do this. But I think it is important to understand.”
When asked about any City transfer activity this month, the forthright Mancini on show this particular evening, is more restrained in his response – understandably so.
“I think that to buy good players in the January market is difficult and maybe you can buy young players for the next year. It is not easy and every time Manchester City want to buy one player this player costs £30m and this is not correct. It is difficult to buy new players in January and also we went out of the Champions League.”
Having held court with his admiring audience, Roberto is asked to up the pace with some quick fire responses to a barrage of questions:
Best player you’ve played with?
Best player played against?
Best player you’ve signed as a manager?
Best manager you’ve played for?
Best goal you’ve seen? Aguero?
“It was not the best, because I saw better goals.”
Most memorable game?
“The 6-1 at Old Trafford will stay in our minds for 1000 years. I think it is difficult to win 6-1 at Old Trafford.”
Favourite English food?
“Fish and chips.”
Favourite thing about Manchester?
“There is not only one thing. I like Manchester, I like the people who live in Manchester because they have respect for me, they have respect for everyone. I can go to the city centre without a problem, I like Manchester.”
Who is your hero?
“The Pope – Giovanni Paulo.”
An Evening with Roberto Mancini was sponsored by Vita Students & hosted at the Etihad Stadium, prior to City’s 2-0 win over Fulham and Manchester United being held to a 1-1 draw by Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
City presently sit second in the Premier League table five points behind United with 15 games and 45 points still up for grabs.
#ReadbutNeverRed would like to thank Manchester City Football Club, in particular Chris Bailey, Head of Content and Vicky Kloss, Chief Communications Officer, for their co-operation in allowing access to Roberto Mancini and their sign off on the content of this article.