Blue Moon rising: FourFourTwo meets Mancini in summer 2010
Despite missing out on Champions League qualification to Tottenham the previous May, all the signs in summer 2010 pointed to a Premier League title challenge from Manchester City in the coming season. Steve Anglesey met City boss Roberto Mancini to see what made him tick... Portraits: Jill Jennings
Below the scarf, beneath the Armani, Roberto Mancini has a pipe-smoking sailor inked into the skin of his right leg. Now the debonair ex-altar boy is pondering a return to the tattoo parlour. Ã¢ÂÂThis one is the club badge of Sampdoria,Ã¢ÂÂ he says, pointing. Ã¢ÂÂIf I win the Premier League with Manchester City? I have another legÃ¢ÂÂ¦Ã¢ÂÂ
The managerÃ¢ÂÂs broad grin is intended to play down expectation at the start of this, Manchester CityÃ¢ÂÂs most keenly anticipated season in over 40 years. Yet on a pre-season lunchtime in west Manchester, as space is cleared in their training ground car park for whatever this summerÃ¢ÂÂs new signings might choose to drive, he canÃ¢ÂÂt disguise a palpable buzz in the air. You have to wonder whether it will grow louder over the next 10 months, ending with the buzz of the tattooistÃ¢ÂÂs needle.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs been a while since anyone in the higher echelons of Manchester City dared to mention the title. Since November 15 1990, in fact, when then-chairman Peter Swales welcomed Peter Reid as manager and told the press: Ã¢ÂÂWe were the last Manchester team to win it and weÃ¢ÂÂll be the next.Ã¢ÂÂ
Well, not quite. Yet 10 managers, four chairman, three relegations and 11 Manchester United titles later, here City are again Ã¢ÂÂ this time for real. When Swales made that promise 20 years ago, ReidÃ¢ÂÂs reaction was to laugh nervously and look heavenwards. Now Mancini is looking at the stars. Ã¢ÂÂIt is an incredible challenge,Ã¢ÂÂ he says. Ã¢ÂÂWe must change the history of Manchester City.Ã¢ÂÂ
Adds his goalkeeper Shay Given: Ã¢ÂÂWe want the silverware. When you talk to fans you can sense the excitement, but thereÃ¢ÂÂs also a bit of desperation to win something. I canÃ¢ÂÂt sit here and say, if we finish fourth weÃ¢ÂÂve had a good season. We do want to set our sights higher than that and win something. Worst-case scenario has got to be finishing in the top four.Ã¢ÂÂ He laughs. Ã¢ÂÂThe four trophies would be nice.nÃ¢ÂÂ
And what of CityÃ¢ÂÂs notoriously and justifiably fatalistic fans? The ones who used to sing what was once described to me by a former City manager as Ã¢ÂÂthe most depressing thing IÃ¢ÂÂve ever heardÃ¢ÂÂ? The chant went: Ã¢ÂÂWe never win at home and we never win away. We lost last week and weÃ¢ÂÂre going to lose today. We donÃ¢ÂÂt give a f**k, Ã¢ÂÂcause weÃ¢ÂÂre all pissed up. MCFC, OK.Ã¢ÂÂ
Rock photographer Kevin Cummins, whose book on the clubÃ¢ÂÂs final season at Maine Road is a classic, is among those pinching himself. Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂve just seen the new Sky billboards. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs Terry, Gerrard, Rooney and then thereÃ¢ÂÂs Adebayor. You do think to yourself, Ã¢ÂÂWhat are we doing up there?Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂ
No doubt all this will be dismissed at Old Trafford as typical Blue giddiness, a fervid affliction which has descended infrequently over the past two decades and always with similar results. Signs of a blue moon rising Ã¢ÂÂ Forward With Franny, Thaksin Shinawatra, FA Cup runs in 1993 and 2007, a UEFA Cup charge in 2009, last seasonÃ¢ÂÂs Carling Cup semi-final gut-punch Ã¢ÂÂ have consistently proved to be false dawns. United had the last laugh last season, days after City chief executive Gary Cook told American fans that the team would overcome their local rivals and reach Wembley. No doubt they will giggle again when they hear ManciniÃ¢ÂÂs new jacket, featured on these pages, is modelled on a design worn by manager Joe Mercer when City last captured the top-flight championship.
Yet while they ridicule the clubÃ¢ÂÂs lofty ambitions and write off as mercenaries the latest big names, United fans cannot as easily dismiss the biggest name of all, that of His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. While the Glazer family struggles to manage their debt Ã¢ÂÂ City fans have long mooted an Eastlands banner ticking up the overdraft, to match the infamous Old Trafford flag which tallies CityÃ¢ÂÂs trophyless years Ã¢ÂÂ the trillionaire from Abu DhabiÃ¢ÂÂs oil wealth continues to gush in and the noisy neighbours are turning up the volume.
In less than two years at City, Given says he has seen momentous changes. Ã¢ÂÂThereÃ¢ÂÂs twice as many at the press conferences; photographers hiding in the trees with long lenses. People are jealous of Manchester City now. There are managers up and down the country and supporters who wish they had the Sheikh at their club. He puts his money where their mouth is.
Ã¢ÂÂI was told before IÃ¢ÂÂd signed about the huge ambitions for the club. I didnÃ¢ÂÂt come down in the last shower of rain, so I had a pretty good idea, but the scope is incredible. Not just the playing staff, but the training ground Ã¢ÂÂ things at the stadium that people donÃ¢ÂÂt see. The whole infrastructure of the club; the medical set-up; the facilities. The Sheikh wants to challenge with the really big boys.Ã¢ÂÂ Ã¢ÂÂ¨
The 39-year-old Mansour was born seven months after one of the cases of endearing misfortune which have defined the phrase Ã¢ÂÂtypical CityÃ¢ÂÂ. Having won the title and the FA Cup in successive years, the swashbuckling team assembled by Mercer and Malcolm Allison then claimed the European Cup WinnersÃ¢ÂÂ Cup. Yet thanks to ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs momentous FA Cup final replay win against Leeds on the same night, the victory went untelevised and virtually unnoticed outside Manchester. The 1976 League Cup aside, it was CityÃ¢ÂÂs last major trophy.
In the intervening 38 years, as poets as diverse as Robert Lowell and Half Man Half BiscuitÃ¢ÂÂs Nigel Blackwell have observed in the past, the light at the end of the tunnel invariably proved to be that of an oncoming train. Having forced Mercer out, Allison blew a four-point title lead in 1972 by bringing in the gifted but divisive Rodney Marsh. John Bond took City to the 1981 FA Cup Final and bought Trevor Francis, but departed swiftly afterwards after being told to sell the brilliant striker to balance the books.
Howard Kendall took City into the top six in 1990, then declared his spell at Maine Road to have been Ã¢ÂÂan affairÃ¢ÂÂ and went back to his Ã¢ÂÂmarriageÃ¢ÂÂ at Everton. Paul Lake, the clubÃ¢ÂÂs most promising player in a generation and a probable future England captain, was forced into retirement in 1996 after an ankle ligament injury was mistreated. City missed out on Europe under Stuart Pearce in 2005 when Robbie Fowler missed a last-kick penalty in the final game of the season.
So it came as little surprise when Shinawatra Ã¢ÂÂ hailed as a billionaire saviour when he arrived in June 2007 with Sven-Goran Eriksson in tow, briefly taking the team to the top of the Premier League Ã¢ÂÂ proved to be a human rights abuser unable to return home to claim his frozen funds thanks to a pending prison sentence for corruption. Less than 12 months after treating fans to a pre-match Thai buffet outside the stadium, the disgraced Prime Minister instructed his advisors to get him out. By early August 2008, Shinawatra was negotiating with three separate Middle East consortiums and attempting to sell Stephen Ireland to Sunderland without the consent of new manager Mark Hughes. Says journalist David McDonnell, who covers the club for the Daily Mirror, Ã¢ÂÂThey were scouting around for bargains. He didnÃ¢ÂÂt have a pot to p**s in.Ã¢ÂÂ
Now, finally, Manchester City caught a break. Sheikh MansourÃ¢ÂÂs investors caught wind of the negotiations and concluded the deal within three weeks, stopping to sign Robinho for a British record ÃÂ£32.5million before finally assuming full control in mid-September. Without factoring in wages, this summerÃ¢ÂÂs early moves for Yaya Toure, David Silva and Jerome Boateng took his total investment in the club to over ÃÂ£460million in less than 24 months, easily eclipsing the ÃÂ£300m spent at Chelsea by Roman Abramovich in his first two years.
City are naturally defensive on the issue of their wealth, and the unspoken notion that Premier League success is merely a commodity Ã¢ÂÂ a rich manÃ¢ÂÂs plaything. Ã¢ÂÂWho are the richest club?Ã¢ÂÂ Mancini asks. Ã¢ÂÂThere are a lot of clubs who are very rich. The difference is that Manchester City, when Sheikh Mansour and [chairman] Khaldoon Al Mubarak arrived, must work very, very hard because they had to reduce the gap from the other teams. For this they had to invest money to buy new players.
Ã¢ÂÂLook, it is normal. We have to spend money. The teams we want to challenge now Ã¢ÂÂ United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Inter, Milan, Real Madrid Ã¢ÂÂ all spent in the past and will spend now.Ã¢ÂÂ
Asked whether a more level financial playing field might benefit the entire Premier League, Mancini concedes that it Ã¢ÂÂmight it be fair, but this is football. ItÃ¢ÂÂs right to make sure all the clubs must be OK financially. But there must be a situation where, if thereÃ¢ÂÂs an owner with a lot of money, heÃ¢ÂÂs allowed to spend it to win. We cannot close that gap if we do not do this.Ã¢ÂÂ
And City need to close it quickly Ã¢ÂÂ not just because of the weight of expectation the Mansour millions have brought, but because of UEFAÃ¢ÂÂs stated ambition to limit clubs to spending only 75 per cent of their turnover on wages, to be enforced within the next two years. With a vast payroll reportedly swollen to the tune of over ÃÂ£200,000 a week by Yaya Toure alone, McDonnell believes it is Ã¢ÂÂgoing to be very interesting to see how they can alter their finances to complyÃ¢ÂÂ.
City have benefitted from improved season-ticket sales, at increased prices, and larger sponsorship deals. They are mulling ambitious plans to increase the City Of Manchester StadiumÃ¢ÂÂs capacity to over 60,000 and build a new training ground, casino, shopping centre, hotel and even Ã¢ÂÂ¨a theme park on the post-industrial wasteland they own around Eastlands. But a City source says that is Ã¢ÂÂtwo or three years away, minimumÃ¢ÂÂ. Only recently, an absence of planning and licensing permission forced them to scale back a modest development of pop-up matchday bars and restaurants on the roads leading to the ground.
The focus now is firmly on a Champions League berth which would return at least ÃÂ£30 million, and upwards of ÃÂ£45m should City get past the group stages. Last December, in a messily-handled divorce, it was decided that Hughes was no longer the man to deliver. Ã¢ÂÂ¨Still highly regarded by players and staff, the Welshman was blamed for a cavalier playing style undermined by a defence which leaked like a sieve despite big-money hires Joleon Lescott (who, to be fair, had injuries) and Wayne Bridge (who, to be fair, had other distractions).
Ã¢ÂÂWe conceded too many goals, threw away too many leads, had too many draws,Ã¢ÂÂ says Given, still a huge Hughes fan. Ã¢ÂÂIt was very disappointing. We bought a few defenders last year and it does take time for them to settle, getting to sort your relationships on the pitch.
Ã¢ÂÂWe beat Chelsea home and away but slipped up against lesser teams. So weÃ¢ÂÂve got to approach every game like weÃ¢ÂÂre playing Chelsea or United. WeÃ¢ÂÂve got to treat every team like itÃ¢ÂÂs the best team in the league. Teams really turn it up when they play us now. WeÃ¢ÂÂve got to combat that. WeÃ¢ÂÂre a scalp now.Ã¢ÂÂ
Enter three-time Serie A winning manager Mancini, who belied his image of urbane chic by toughening up City on the field and on the Carrington training pitches. Ã¢ÂÂBehind the scarf he is quite a fiery character,Ã¢ÂÂ says McDonnell. Ã¢ÂÂYou can see that in the feud he had with Fabio Capello in Italy and the row he had on the touchline with David Moyes last year. The players all loved Mark Hughes, and they donÃ¢ÂÂt like ManciniÃ¢ÂÂs double training. But they do have a lot of respect for him.Ã¢ÂÂ
Adds Cummins: Ã¢ÂÂWhat he needs to do now is prove heÃ¢ÂÂs a winner. The perception is that last year he was intimidated by the stature of some clubs, even when they were awful.Ã¢ÂÂ That caution, typically Italian in the eyes of some fans, saw City surrender a healthy advantage in the Champions League race with stolid draws against weak Liverpool and Arsenal teams. Meanwhile Tottenham abandoned caution and seized the initiative with stirring wins against Arsenal, Chelsea and ultimately at City.
While stating flatly that the upside of missing out on the Champions League is Ã¢ÂÂnothingÃ¢ÂÂ, Mancini has no regrets. Ã¢ÂÂSpurs had been building a team for many years,Ã¢ÂÂ he says. Ã¢ÂÂTheir squad are strong, fantastic players. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve been in the Europa League. They were more experienced than us. But every time we played against them, and against Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, we played at the same level as them. This is important. We played at the same level and we became a team. Congratulations to Spurs, but this year it will be different.
Ã¢ÂÂWas I too cautious at the end of last season? I donÃ¢ÂÂt think so. When you win, you are a fantastic manager. When you lose you are Italian and too conservative.Ã¢ÂÂ
There is, of course, little conservative about CityÃ¢ÂÂs spending. Three buys of the highest quality Ã¢ÂÂ Toure, HamburgÃ¢ÂÂs Jerome Boateng and ValenciaÃ¢ÂÂs David Silva Ã¢ÂÂ have arrived for a combined ÃÂ£60m and more seem certain to follow as Mancini seeks to create a fluid, deep, interchangeable squad.
Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs a very exciting time,Ã¢ÂÂ says Given. Ã¢ÂÂThey are real coups. Boateng looks pretty assured: he can play in the middle and on both flanks. Toure just looks immense. HeÃ¢ÂÂll bring a real presence to the team. Silva is in the mould of a Modric. He can drift into little gaps and holes, he can see through balls and that killer pass. We missed that last season. Stephen Ireland can do it too but he had injury problems last season and it hurt us down the stretch.Ã¢ÂÂ
Says Mancini: Ã¢ÂÂThe new signings have this in common Ã¢ÂÂ they all can pay in different positions. Boateng can play in every position in the defensive line, Yaya can play behind the defence, can play right midfield or left midfield, can play behind the striker. And Silva can play every position in the midfield and behind the striker. If we buy more players like this it gives me more chance to move positions when players get injured or tired. Or change what happens on the field, from 4-4-2 to 4-3-1-2.
Ã¢ÂÂI try to buy players who are an investment; who are young; who can play for the club for many years. And, when Manchester City decides to sell them, they will have a good resale value. ItÃ¢ÂÂs important to have individual leaders. ItÃ¢ÂÂs not just that we have a good player with a good personality off the pitch, but a big personality on the pitch is important now.Ã¢ÂÂ
Mancini is quick to dispel the idea that players are identified by Abu Dhabi, as occurred during the clubÃ¢ÂÂs pursuits of Robinho and Kaka. Ã¢ÂÂIt is me,Ã¢ÂÂ he says. Ã¢ÂÂThis is my job. I know the European players very well and I identify who we should buy. Clearly I speak with Brian Marwood, who I work very closely with, and the owner. But itÃ¢ÂÂs important that IÃ¢ÂÂm the one who identifies the players and explains why he will be important.Ã¢ÂÂ
Mancini knows that for all his good fortune, he has a fight on his hands. Though he speaks in the highest possible terms of Ã¢ÂÂfantastic manÃ¢ÂÂ Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez and kung-fu enthusiast Nigel De Jong, City may still lack a real leader Ã¢ÂÂ hence their doomed pursuit of John Terry last summer Ã¢ÂÂ and what Given calls a Ã¢ÂÂTerry Butcher, Tony Adams typeÃ¢ÂÂ.
The manager worries that late arrivals from the World Cup will hamper a tough Premier League opening. He knows the Europa League, in which City will play 17 games if they are to win it, will take a heavy toll, though the increased playing opportunities may bring increased harmony to the dressing room.
But he also knows this is the season when Manchester City could rewrite history. Ã¢ÂÂWe have the investment to make a fantastic club,Ã¢ÂÂ he says. Ã¢ÂÂI think the fans will have a very happy season.Ã¢ÂÂ
For years, Manchester City have been the loser hero in a Judd Apatow comedy. If Steve Carrell was The 40-Year-Old Virgin, they are The 34-Year-Old Trophy Virgins. But in the final reel, the loveable schlub gets the girl. As Mancini says, Ã¢ÂÂAfter many years, this is the time.Ã¢ÂÂ
Roberto Mancini: Quick Qs
WhatÃ¢ÂÂs with the new hair?
First time in 10 years IÃ¢ÂÂve cut it. ItÃ¢ÂÂs a lot colder.
They said you were going to be fired if you didnÃ¢ÂÂt reach the Champions League. Will you get fired if you donÃ¢ÂÂt do it this season?
I didnÃ¢ÂÂt get fired. IÃ¢ÂÂm still here. I have a three-year contract and I will stay for three years. So I must win this year or next year. I can win the Europa League or the FA Cup. We hope to win the league or get in the Champions League.
WhatÃ¢ÂÂs the biggest lesson youÃ¢ÂÂve learned as a coach?
You must always work 100 per cent, but itÃ¢ÂÂs most important to work harder when you win. When you lose, itÃ¢ÂÂs easy to go back and correct your mistakes. When you win, you think Ã¢ÂÂeverythingÃ¢ÂÂs OKÃ¢ÂÂ. When you do that, you lose.
In recent years, City have had a great record of bringing players through from the academy Ã¢ÂÂ the likes of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stephen Ireland, Micah Richards, Nedum Onouha. With big-name players arriving, how will the kids break through now?
I played in Serie A when I was 16 so I know itÃ¢ÂÂs very important to have players coming in from the academy. In five months here I brought five young players into the first team, so they will get a chance. We will have a squad of 24, 25 and then the young players, so they can play too.
Did you know anything at all about Manchester City when you got here?
Yes, at first because Trevor Francis talked about them at Sampdoria. But in Italy, they know Manchester CityÃ¢ÂÂs history. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs always talk of Manchester United, because theyÃ¢ÂÂve won everything, but we knew City too.
You worked under future City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson at Sampdoria and you were his assistant coach at Lazio tooÃ¢ÂÂ¦
I must say thank you to Sven, and to Vujadin Boskov, because I was a player who always wanted to ask, Ã¢ÂÂWhy are we doing this work?Ã¢ÂÂ and they would explain I was born with Ã¢ÂÂ¨a football at my feet and football in my brain. Ã¢ÂÂ¨I had a vision of how I wanted a team to play football and they helped me to develop this.
Now youÃ¢ÂÂve brought in another Sampdoria connection, David Platt, as first-team coach...
We played together for two years and talked many, many times after that. He is a friend of mine. David is an important man in England: he was England captain, Arsenal captain. He managed the under-21s. It means something.
Is David as thin as he was at Sampdoria?
Yes! Yes! [Look of resignation] No. I think he must try and get into good shape!