Roberto Mancini could not be more relaxed. We have just finished talking about Galatasaray’s Champions League meeting with Chelsea and he invites me to stay and watch him take training.
As we wander over, Didier Drogba, who will face his former side tomorrow for the first time since helping them become champions of Europe, is entrancing his colleagues with the skills that made him a Chelsea legend.
Despite having Drogba, Mancini admitted to me only moments earlier: “We don’t have a lot of chance even at home because Chelsea are better, one of the best teams in Europe. But for Galatasaray to just play Chelsea is an important moment and we need to do a good job.”
However, this does not mean Mancini feels inferior to Jose Mourinho. Mancini was sacked by Inter Milan in 2008 less than a fortnight after winning Serie A for the third time in a row. In came Mourinho, who within two seasons had outshone his predecessor by winning the Treble and making them European champions for the first time since 1965. Would Mancini accept this makes Mourinho’s record better?
“No,” answers Mancini emphatically. “Mourinho won the Champions League (right) because he took a good team. He took a team that, like Manchester City, I had built. A team that had a strong mentality. When I went to Inter, they played very bad football and we changed this.
“To win a Champions League you should be lucky. Champions League is a difficult competition but a strange one. Strange because you can win your group in October, November, December and, after maybe February [in the knock-out stages], everything can change.”
His own life has changed since he was sacked by Manchester City the day after last year’s FA Cup Final defeat by Wigan. After a few months back in Italy, he arrived in Istanbul in October and says: “After City I decided to stay at home for 10 months to recover from the rain in Manchester.” But, while he laughs at this familiar description of Manchester weather, he does not find remotely funny the equally widely held view that his successor, Manuel Pellegrini, has revolutionised City.
“This is what they say now but you know I changed [football] history in Manchester. I changed Manchester City history on the pitch. Those first two years in Manchester were very difficult. You needed to work hard. I took a team that didn’t win for a long time and, in three years, I changed their mentality. City became a winning team and started to win at home, win away. When we won the championship, we won all the games at home, only one draw against Sunderland. We won in Manchester against United easy, 6-1. We dominated all the games against Manchester United and they were not a small team. For two years, we were the best team in the Premier League. All these top players that are in City now I bought: Nasri, Yaya, Silva, Aguero, Dzeko.”
He also claims credit for bringing Fernandinho to the Etihad despite the Brazilian’s £30million arrival in July being two months after Mancini’s exit. The Italian says: “I bought him in January because I thought Fernandinho was a good player for us.”
But surely Pellegrini has removed the shackles Mancini imposed on the team? City have scored 69 goals in 26 games this term; at the same stage under Mancini last season they had 48 goals.
Legacy: Mancini is proud of what he achieved at Manchester City
Mancini’s response is an analogy from Formula One: “When I started, City had a small car, now they have a Ferrari. When you start your job, first of all you should balance your team. If you don’t have balance, you can’t win. If you can’t score a lot of goals, it’s important you don’t concede.
“After you buy players, improve your team, that is the moment you can play well. I’m very proud of what I did in Manchester.”
But that, suggests Mancini, is not the sentiment that City’s owners should feel about the way they sacked him. “I met all the people that work there just before the Cup final. We had dinner the day before the game at the hotel. And they said nothing. I know very well in football not every job can finish well, even when you win. But I always had a very good relationship with the chairman. I didn’t understand why this happened.”
Mancini claims City bosses had talked to Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti before he was sacked. “I learned afterwards they spoke in January, February, March, for all these months when I was still there.”
Mancini was not even allowed to bid goodbye to the players. “This [the sacking] was strange, no? I had another two games. I love the City supporters, they will stay in my heart all my life.”
Mancini does not accept he contributed to his downfall by being difficult with the players; he famously argued with Carlos Tevez on the touchline during a Champions League match and last year clashed with Mario Balotelli during training with the pair having to be pulled apart.
“I am not difficult,” he says. “It’s normal that maybe you can sometimes upset some players because they don’t play well. All the players earn a lot. They should work in their training 100 per cent. In a match they always should play 100 per cent. You can win or lose. If you don’t play well and the other team does, they deserve to win, that is normal.
“But every time you should leave your strength on the pitch. And if you don’t, I can be upset, I can be angry, sometimes shout. Not because we lost, because I want always the players to concentrate on their job. But, after it’s finished, I didn’t have any problem with the City players. They even text me sometimes.”
Although it is hard to believe that Tevez or another former City player, Emmanuel Adebayor, are texting Mancini, he says he had no real problems with either player. “I managed Emmanuel at a difficult moment. You remember when he came back from that situation [the shooting at the Togo team bus during the African Cup of Nations in 2010 when three people were killed]? That moment was really difficult for him. He is a good player and I had no communications problem. I did not find Emmanuel moody.”
The boss: Roberto Mancini instructs Javier Zanetti who would later win a treble with Jose MourinhoAs for Tevez, he says: “Only that moment in Munich [in September 2011 when the substitute refused to warm up].
A player like Carlo couldn’t do what he did in that match. This was another very strange situation because we had a good relationship. After six months, everything was finished. We didn’t have any problem. We have a good relationship now.”
Mancini also insists he had a good relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson.
The then United boss may have dismissed City as “noisy neighbours” but Mancini says: “He never said that to me because, in those three years, we played really well. He was always good. He is a gentleman. I often had a glass of wine with him after a match.” He adds, with a laugh: “He has the best wine.”
However, for all his anger about the City management, he has no doubts who will win the Premier League. “It will be a fight with Chelsea because now Chelsea has improved a lot but City will win.”