Everyone wants to see Manchester City lose, says Roberto Mancini
Roberto Mancini is not going quietly. The Manchester City manager hosted quite possibly his last pre-match press conference in this season's Champions League yesterday but used it to launch retaliatory strikes against Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, two arch critics of his club's spending whose words, he claimed, are borne of fear about the force City are about to become.
Rummenigge's latest diatribe against City has persuaded Mancini to seek him out in Manchester this evening, though it was De Laurentiis's malicious inference that City's owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan might use his petrodollars to fix the match between Villarreal and Napoli, on which City's progression to the knockout stage depends, which has clearly agitated him most. "I can't think about this stupid situation," said Mancini, whose side must beat Bayern to stand any chance of progressing. "De Laurentiis has to respect Villarreal first because Villarreal are a serious club and every team who plays in the Champions League plays to win. Fortunately Sheikh Mansour is not Italian. He is a very good man."
City have higher priorities than these petty battles. Their most fundamental is the pursuit of a new chief executive, but suggestions that David Potts, the Bolton-born chief executive of Tesco's Asian business, is the man to take over are wide of the mark. Potts' decision to stand down from the retailers has led to rumours but City will not be hiring him.
Attempts to sell Carlos Tevez also continue, with City reporting no contact from Milan late last night despite the Italian club's vice-president Adriano Galliani's claims he had emailed a loan offer. City will simply not release Tevez on loan.
But it was the Napoli issue that preoccupied Mancini yesterday. Film producer De Laurentiis's slanderous inference of match-fixing – "I can feel strange things going on, Princes and Sheikhs getting agitated. Sometimes you can guess what might be happening..." he said after his club had beaten City – has clearly reinforced the manager's impression that everyone wants to see the City nouveaux dumped out. "Bayern do, too," Mancini said.
His tone was only mildly softer on the subject of Rummenigge, with whom Mancini would have collided during the German's three-year period with Internazionale, before 1987, and who demands that City be removed from the Champions League if they fail to comply with Uefa's financial fair play regime. "I don't understand Rummenigge's behaviour against Manchester City," Mancini said. "For six months he talks against us every time for financial fair play and he continues to say he hopes Napoli go through to the second stage. I don't know what's different with us. I don't understand what's happening with Rummenigge. People like [him] know football. Tomorrow I will ask him."
It is City's misfortune to have encountered two strong clubs who view defeating them as something of a moral quest in their inaugural Champions League campaign which has seen them struggle to adapt. Bayern posted a £1.1m profit last month in the same week that City disclosed losses of £197m and would cherish dumping Mancini into the Europa League. The Germans arrived in Manchester well behind schedule and buffeted by an influenza bug which deprives them of Arjen Robben and Toni Kroos, with Thomas Müller and Mario Gomez both concerns. And though coach Jupp Heynckes was far more diplomatic about City's wealth – "It's just about two teams fighting against each other on a sporting level," he said, shaking his head when Rummenigge's comments cropped up – he will be desperate to kill off the prospect of encountering a City side acclimatised to Europe in the knockout stage.
Mancini would have found it easier to brush off the slights had his side looked worth the money in Europe and he seems short of a convincing explanation. Two weeks ago he claimed City simply did not have a team to win the Champions League because Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern and Milan were all better and more experienced. Yet there was less resignation yesterday when it was suggested that it was his own side's mistakes, rather than the strength of Group A, which has left them with a mere 30 per cent chance of progressing. "A team like us cannot lose two games out of five," he said. "We have players with experience in the Champions League, but not a group and for that reason we have made mistakes." Vincent Kompany was the resigned one. "For me the only reason we have not qualified yet is because we are in the toughest group," he said.
Mancini, who insists Kolo Touré did not make the anti-City comments which the French magazine So Foot last night declared it had on tape, knows that Franck Ribéry – a player with eight goals this season who destroyed Micah Richards in Munich – will view tonight with relish. Richards is absent with groin trouble though Pablo Zabaleta looked equally ineffectual in his stead in Napoli. Jérôme Boateng, whose less-than-integral role at City saw him leave for Bayern, does not feel Mancini has taken the club on by leaps and bounds. "I would not necessarily say they are that different," he insisted.
But as Mancini has said all along, everything could change if City can sneak through tonight. He is fascinated by the "strange" things this tournament can do and none would be greater than Villarreal putting five straight defeats behind them tonight to record their first point of a dismal European campaign.
By the spring, City will be older, wiser. They may have another creative midfielder – they have been lacking one in this campaign – and a world-class centre-half is also on Mancini's wish list, even though, with Milan's Thiago Silva and Barcelona's Gerard Pique probably out of reach, it is hard to see where one will come from. "I think every team is worried about Manchester City because Manchester City in the future could become one of the top clubs in the world," Mancini reflected. "If we go through it will be a big problem for the other teams. It is a big if. But never say never."
Gareth Barry v Thomas Müller
This could be a decisive tussle. If Müller – a precociously intelligent mover for a 22-year-old – manages to pick up the ball in threatening positions, it will occupy Barry and prevent him from playing a more constructive role. Roberto Mancini may regret not selecting Nigel de Jong, City's master of destruction. But if the hosts keep the ball, Müller may be dragged back into midfield, leaving the forwards isolated.
David Silva v Jérôme Boateng
Creative inspiration Silva has been arguably the best player in England this season and comes up against former team-mate Boateng. With the roaming nature of the Spaniard's game, the Bayern full-back will have to draw on his prior knowledge on how far to follow him.
Pablo Zabaleta v Franck Ribéry
The French winger was one of the authors of City's downfall in Munich in September. Tonight he is likely to face Argentine Zabaleta: a worthy and reliable squad player but one who struggles against pace, and is liable to get booked. Ribéry could conceivably tease him all evening at the Etihad.