Jose Mourinho, the Real Madrid manager, twisted the knife into Roberto Mancini last night, twice declaring that Manchester City can forget the idea of progressing from the Champions League group stage, even if they win their last two games.
During a press conference in which he refused to discuss his future at Real Madrid and purposely tilted a skirt at any English clubs who might seek him out, Mourinho said that City's Champions League campaign is over, after a failure which he could not easily explain. "I think it is normal if a big team doesn't win the competition because there are other teams with the same power, desire and responsibility and only one can win," Mourinho said.
"I don't think that it is normal when you are out of the competition at a very early stage. If Real Madrid wins a final, semi or quarter, that's football. When it's an early stage it's less easy to explain and understand. This season they [City] will be out. I think they can win tomorrow and at [Borussia] Dortmund – why not? But eight points is not enough and I think they will be out for a second successive time and that must be difficult for them."
Mourinho will become the youngest coach to clock up 100 Champions League matches tonight and only the fourth centurion, along with Arsène Wenger, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Sir Alex Ferguson. But he arrived in Manchester under the latest cloud of negativity from Spain, and his more effusive responses for English journalists, set against clipped responses to the Spaniards, said everything about where he wants to be.
"I never hide my feelings even if it makes some people not so happy," he said. "I've always said how much I like my time here and I always like to be back. In England you have difficult matches, difficult opponents and a difficult atmosphere – because the crowd is always behind the team. But I like that."
Asked by the Spanish contingent about the impression that he would rather be in England, he replied: "Basically I don't think it's interesting to talk about my career and future. We're here to talk about a Champions League game." Mourinho has been beaten to the coach of the year award by Pep Guardiola – despite his side finishing top of La Liga with the biggest points tally in the history of the competition. "The fact that I was not the best coach in La Liga last season [gave me] more impact," he insisted.
Mourinho's stinging analysis of City's prospects ought to deliver Mancini an added incentive tonight. "We need three points to make sure we depend on ourselves," Mourinho said. "We are in good condition to qualify. I say again City will be out of the competition. They have a team to compete against Real Madrid but eight points is not enough. So I think City will be the big team to go out."