James Lawton: Roberto Mancini will learn that winning teams are built not bought
Up until now Roberto Mancini has offered a passable version of the worn-down sophistication displayed by Marcello Mastroianni in the Fellini classic La Dolce Vita.
It is true the Roman TV star portrayed by the old heart-throb would not have been seen dead in the blue and white scarf draped over the kind of Mancini gear that costs telephone numbers on the Via Frattina, but he would have thoroughly approved of the shrugged, nicely tapered shoulders and the resigned worldly-wise frown after a 0-0 draw at somewhere like Molineux or the Britannia Stadium. There are, however, some signs that the sweet life of Manchester City may be beginning to take its toll.
He was certainly caught off guard in New York the other day when he was asked if the rest of the Premier League was beginning to quake at the number of ticks he has already placed against possibly the longest shopping list ever carried towards a new Premier League season. The smart answer would have been, "I don't know and I don't care. I have my job to do, and my budget, and I'm just going about my business of signing the players I need".
Instead he was suckered into one of those largely meaningless headlines which serve little purpose other than heaping pressure on your own shoulders – and more pressure is something Mancini needs about as much as a style lesson from big Sam Allardyce.
"I think so," was his response to the question of whether the likes of Carlos Ancelotti, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsène Wenger and Harry Redknapp were now running scared under the City shadow. He went on: "At the moment only we are in the market buying players, but that is because we want to improve and the other teams are big teams already. Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool ... they seem to have done like City do now. There isn't a difference."
Unfortunately for Mancini's potential peace of mind, as it happens there is – and rather a big one.
Of course the big clubs of England have spent big in the past, and at the peaks of their success oppressively so for all their rivals, but they have tended not to do it all at once. In fact, it is possible to ransack the records and find very few if any stories of sudden, massive funding translating into quick-fire success. Whether the Middle Eastern owners of City are better equipped to understand this, after the disappointment of their first runs at the project, and most embarrassingly the failure to sign Kaka and the success in landing Robinho, Mancini will surely find out quickly enough.
In the meantime, both he and the more trusting City fans would be wise to fasten their seat belts.
What the likeable and previously successful Mancini has to do is something that some very hard judges of the game have long held to be impossible. He has to make from his latest batch of signings, second-tier stars like Yaya Touré, David Silva, Jerome Boateng and Aleksandar Kolarov, with possible additions like James Milner, who still has everything to prove, and the luminous but currently injury-flawed Fernando Torres, an instant team of champions.
Precedents insist that this is not the way you make champions. You do it piece by piece, not job lot by job lot. You impose a way of thinking and playing and you do it in stages.
By force of circumstances, Mancini is obliged to take the shortest of cuts, even if it is true he can say he has had time to sift through the results of the first transfer spree, and plainly deemed certain players as some way short of being fit for purpose, either in terms of talent or psychology.
What should hardly need saying now is that no manager in English football has ever approached a new season carrying quite such a weight of expectation, and with so much of it detached from certain football realities.
There is no question that players like Touré, Silva, Boateng and Kolarov represent upgrading in key positions, and the likely impact of a healthy and stimulated Torres is self-evident. Yet the chemistry of a team, especially one so quickly formed, is always going to be volatile and against this fact the assumption that City are about to stride away from the rest of the pack is surely fanciful at best.
Ancelotti's Chelsea are plainly best equipped to put down the City arrivistes, especially if he is indeed granted an injection from the Abramovich reserves, but with Ferguson plainly hindered in the transfer market and no doubt anxious about quite how he reignites Wayne Rooney, and Wenger haunted by Cesc Fabregas's yearning to return to Barcelona, Mancini can be in no doubt that he is expected to exploit the new weaknesses at the top of the English game.
So yes, the summer of vulnerable, perhaps even tottering, giants is the one when City can finally return among the elite they terrified for a few enchanted years back in the late Sixties. It is a lifetime ago now but for ageing City supporters you can be sure it is still as though it was yesterday, and something to be yearned for in the simplicity of its purpose and the brilliance of its execution.
The best thing Mancini said in New York made a link with those greatest of the club's days. He declared: "Inter spent a lot of money in the 10 years before I arrived. I did not have a lot of money to spend. In two years we became a strong team but we arrived at that point because we worked hard and went through a lot of difficulty. It was not because of money and I hope here it will be the same."
You do not make headlines out of such sentiments, but Mancini is right to say it will always be the way you shape a football team, a real one conscious of who it is and what it is trying to achieve. Football men have always known that. The trick, now, is to convince the odd Middle Eastern billionaire.
Grand Prix fans get the sort of racing that they deserve
Eddie Jordan was the broadcasting star of the German Grand Prix, slashing through the evasions of almost everyone around him, and notably his colleague David Coulthard and the scarcely detached Michael Schumacher, and saying that the Ferrari fix was a scandalous flouting of Formula One rules.
Now the former team boss is saying that the rules should be scrapped and that team orders should determine the results of races, as they have long done in reality if not the letter of the law.
Jordan's volte face was not without a certain strained logic and of course it would avoid the farce perpetrated when Ferrari were fined $100,000 so risibly for deciding the race from the pit.
Pity, of course, about the abandonment of even the theoretical possibility of clean and open racing, settled by individual brilliance rather than corporate convenience, but it seems that no sport on earth has a more captive audience than the great army of petrolheads.
A stunning, depressing number of them yesterday argued that Felipe Massa, rather than fret over being ordered to throw the race, should get over himself and remember that Ferrari pay his wages. He should take everything they were inclined to dish out – which, when you think about it, would be to behave like the average Formula One fan.
Youngsters have had enough praise
England's Under-19s' coach Noel Blake's delight that his team have reached the last four of the European Championship leads him to believe they would do even better with a little more praise.
He declares: "I've had a bellyful in the last few days of people saying young English footballers aren't good enough and can't play the right way. We know we're lacking in depth, there's no question about that, but I don't think we praise our own players enough."
The feeling in some quarters, including here, is that the precise opposite is true. A whole "golden generation" has gone galloping off down the high road of history, shedding outrageous amounts of outlandish praise on the way. Young English footballers do not need praise. They need opportunity, including a dramatic improvement on their current Premier League representation of just 33 per cent, or much less than half of that enjoyed by their Spanish counterparts. There's the scandal.