herald

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Mancini all fired up as City embark on European journey

YOU could tell what the Champions League means to Roberto Mancini because he brought his dad along to watch Manchester City's final preparations for the tournament they were built to join.

Aldo Mancini is 75 and tonight's encounter with Napoli at the Etihad Stadium will be the first time he has watched Manchester City live.

He was meant to have come to Wembley to see their FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United in April but was too ill to make the journey.

"I love the English game," said the man who saw the young Roberto turn from an altar boy to a professional footballer. "At the moment, it is better than Italian football and not just because Roberto is here.

"This is the football that matters and at Manchester City they are building a fine squad. He is working with serious people. I don't expect him to come back to Italy soon."

He will, of course, return to Italy in November to face Napoli in their own impassioned San Paolo Stadium, where he scored arguably his greatest goal for Sampdoria on their way to winning the 1991 scudetto.

"It will be a special moment," Mancini Jnr said of City's debut in the Champions League. "Not just because my father will be there but also because Napoli were always an important team when I was a player."

When Mancini was a footballer, Napoli meant Diego Maradona, whose son-in-law, Sergio Aguero, is likely to lead City's attack in new lime-green boots, with the name of El Diego's grandson, Benjamin, stitched into them.



Stakes

As Aguero began training in the September sunshine, there was a feeling that the second phase of what their fallen chief executive, Garry Cook, called "the project" was about to begin. The stakes are suddenly higher.

They are part of a group that contains Bayern Munich and Villarreal, one Mancini describes as "where you can finish first or fourth".

However, it is a rule of thumb in the Champions League, and especially in World Cups, that teams who qualify from 'groups of death' tend to travel a long way, perhaps because they have been toughened up early on.

When Manchester United won the title in 1999, they fought their way through a group that contained Bayern and Barcelona. The last three English newcomers to the event -- Leeds, Newcastle and Tottenham -- each made it through the first stage.

"A lot of our players have experience of the Champions League so I don't think we will be under pressure," said Mancini. "It is also Napoli's first game in the Champions League but you wouldn't expect a team that has Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik just to play on the break. I expect them to play football, and good football as usual."

Napoli's last visit to England saw them swept away by a Steven Gerrard hat-trick in a Europa League game that gave Roy Hodgson his one real high point at Anfield.

Tonight, City may be without Gareth Barry and James Milner because of injury, while Mario Balotelli is suspended because of the chest-high tackle on Dynamo Kiev's Goran Popov that accompanied their exit from the Europa League last season.

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