More than a result at stake for Mancini against Real Madrid
Bookmakers are hard, dispassionate people, despite their warm and cuddly PR campaigns. So when they install José Mourinho as favourite to become the next Manchester City manager, at odds as short as 11/8, Roberto Mancini would be forgiven for reaching for the rosary beads he keeps in his pocket.
Comparisons between the two will be inevitable, and suitably theatrical, tonight. Man City’s visit to the Bernabéu, the steep-sided stadium which enshrines the legend of Real Madrid, will generate the sort of electricity that defines a great Champions League occasion. It won’t feel like the opening game of the group stages.
The stakes are stark, extremely high and deeply personal. Mourinho’s allies in the Madrid media have created the perception of Mancini as a lucky manager, feather-bedded by Man City’s status as the world’s richest club. Mourinho’s enemies, who include a highly placed mole in the dressing room, believe he is about to be overwhelmed by his vanity.
Winning La Liga is all very well. But Mourinho was employed to win La Décima, Real’s tenth European Cup. Reaching the semi-finals in the last two seasons, while the club has undergone political turmoil, has given him a minimal amount of breathing room.
Should City intensify Madrid’s poor start to the season – four points from their opening four games – Mourinho’s attempts to put progress into perspective – “when I arrived we were 10th or 11th in the Champions League rankings” – will be doomed. Conversely, should City succumb, Mancini will be reminded of a trademark piece of propaganda by his Portuguese rival. Mourinho’s artful suggestion that City will one day win the Champions League, with or without Mancini, was a challenge to the Italian’s not-insubstantial ego and invited comparisons of their work at Inter Milan.
Mourinho’s final act as Inter manager was to take the European Cup back to the San Siro. Such success was beyond Mancini, whose Inter sides struggled in Europe, despite domestic dominance in an era during which Serie A was tainted by the Calciopoli scandal.
Given the tension between the two men, and Mourinho’s inclination to fight dirty when under pressure, it would be wise for Mancini to expect the unexpected tonight. It is, surely, unthinkable that Real will be as listless as they were in defeat against Sevilla at the weekend.
Mourinho, a manager of greater stature, wants to return to the Premier League, soon. The odds on Manchester derbies with him at City and Pep Guardiola at United are shortening by the day.
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Watch Man City live on BT Vision:
Real Madrid v Man City, 7.30pm, 18 September, ITV1
Man City v Arsenal, 3.30pm, 23 September, Sky Sports 1
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