Last Sunday evening in the North East, before Roberto Mancini boarded the team bus back to Manchester, there was a phone call to make. The one he always makes after a match; to one of the most exclusive mobile phone numbers in Abu Dhabi.
Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the chairman of Manchester City and one of the most powerful men among owner Sheik Mansour’s coterie of advisers, likes to be kept informed of City’s progress on match day. Mancini’s weekend phone calls have therefore become a ritual.
Mancini’s predecessor Mark Hughes was encouraged to do it, too. Occasionally he did. Often he didn’t. Mancini would appear to know the value of keeping those with the power as close as possible.
Much has been made this season of the Italian’s style of management. With his players – and with many other staff at the Barclays Premier League leaders – it’s arm’s length only. Few exceptions.
At a function just last week, one of City’s England internationals was asked what Mancini is really like and laughed, saying: “I don’t know. I have only spoken to him properly about five times.”
Last season in a hotel in Turin before a Europa League tie, Mancini was greeted in the bar by then chief executive Garry Cook with a bear hug so tight it’s a wonder his shirt buttons didn’t fly off. Mancini, arms clamped rigidly by his side, looked about as comfortable as a teenager being fussed by his grandmother on Christmas Day.
Crucially, though, the former Inter manager has managed to keep the man who hired him onside. It is his relationship with the erudite, personable Khaldoon that has sustained him at times when others at City have questioned his methods.
Mancini’s two-and-a-half seasons at the club can be characterised in several ways. Certainly by progress on the field. Also, though, by clashes of personality and conflict with players, medical staff and executives. Mancini the manager has not changed much from Mancini the player. But while there was at times an unease between Hughes – who visits with QPR on Sunday – and Khaldoon, Mancini and his chairman have rarely found themselves in serious conflict.
“Roberto can get upset with anyone about anything,” said one ally. “He can be combative. The one person you will hardly ever hear him criticise, though, is Khaldoon. Even after the defeat at Arsenal, Roberto was pretty calm.
“He never felt under pressure from Khaldoon, even then. But if Khaldoon had decided enough was enough, Roberto would have walked without any hard feelings.That tells you about the friendship.”
During Hughes’s time at City, his relationship with Khaldoon was decent enough. Khaldoon had not hired him, though.
Perhaps it was this that prompted the chairman to ask the Welshman if he needed someone to help him with his coaching. Perhaps this was why Hughes always found it so difficult to get answers about transfer funds. Mancini, though, was Khaldoon’s man from the start. It was the chairman who did all the Sheik’s bidding when he met Mancini in Milan weeks before Hughes’s sacking. And it is this quickly established bond that has subsequently allowed Mancini to work to a long-term strategy. It has meant he has not fretted about the absence of a new contract offer and dealt with issues he has encountered at the club so assertively.
Recent problems with Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli have been well documented. During the Tevez saga, Khaldoon’s endorsement of his manager’s tactics was regularly expressed by telephone.
Mancini also took a firm line with other difficult figures such as Khaldoon’s first marquee signing Robinho – kicked out on loan within a month of Mancini’s appointment – and Craig Bellamy and Emmanuel Adebayor. It is clear the manager felt confident enough from the outset to do what he felt was necessary. Ask those close to him why and the answer is always the same. Khaldoon. A year ago the two men came as close to falling out as they ever have. Fuelled by an ongoing clash of personalities with Cook, the Italian arrived in Abu Dhabi for an end-of-season board meeting in a lather about spending plans.
City were dragging their feet over the pursuit of Chile winger Alexis Sanchez and had suggested alternative targets their manager had no interest in.
Nevertheless, Mancini found himself listening to the finer points of Uefa’s financial fair-play rules, explained to him in no uncertain terms by Khaldoon and his team.
On Sunday at the Etihad, Mancini won’t have to make a phone call to Khaldoon. The City chairman will be in attendance and, in all likelihood, getting his hands on the Premier League trophy for the first time.
Less than four years after buying the club, the first stage of Khaldoon and the Sheik’s plan to stand astride European football will be complete. It is to Mancini’s enduring credit that he is still on board for the ride. – Daily Mail