IT IS no secret Roberto Mancini is hardly the most popular man in the Manchester City dressing room.
By STEVEN HOWARD
A headstrong, autocratic character, Mancini is firmly of the opinion that he is the boss and his word is law.
This is no bad thing in an era when professional footballers have become accustomed to getting their own way in everything.
Certainly, many people were right behind the City boss in his handling of the Carlos Tevez affair.
At the same time, Mancini possesses an inflexibility that tends to lead to confrontation with players he believes should be seen and not heard.
In this way, he has a side to him that is both aloof and cold.
Like Jose Mourinho, he could almost be accused of being a little in love with himself. That he can do no wrong.
But he would appear to have made an error with his handling of City’s England keeper Joe Hart.
Hart is a bright, engaging and honest young man with no personal agenda.
So when he was asked for his observations about City’s late collapse against Real Madrid in midweek, he gave them.
Hart said: “We can only blame ourselves. I know this is not what people want to hear, but we are not a team that should pat ourselves on the back for doing well.
“We should be a team that gets results. We were ahead twice and lost it. That’s our fault.”
It was a view supported by Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko.
Yet Mancini was quick to reprimand his goalkeeper, saying: “Joe Hart is goalkeeper and has his own job to do.
“I can criticise the team, not him. I am the judge, not Joe Hart.”
Mancini then went on to agree with everything Hart had said!
When Hart came off the Bernabeu pitch, he immediately had a microphone shoved in his face.
He had just been beaten by a last-minute Cristiano Ronaldo shot that he probably felt he might have stopped and was naturally disappointed.
Despite having little time to gather his thoughts, Hart still came up with a fair, honest assessment that in no way criticised individual players.
And yet he still incurred Mancini’s wrath.
It was a reaction from the City manager that will hardly improve the strained relationship between him and his squad.
What will have really irked Mancini is that his team had been just three minutes away from giving him a rare victory in his personal battle with Mourinho.
Mancini may have won three Serie A titles with Inter.
But, as Mourinho and others have long suggested, this was at a time when the latest scandal to paralyse Italian football had ruled Juventus out of the equation and severely handicapped AC Milan.
In all his time at Inter, Mancini never got beyond the Champions League quarter-finals. Mourinho would then replace him at the San Siro and complete the Treble. Last season, despite enormous sums spent at the Etihad, City crashed out at the group stage.
On Tuesday in Madrid, they threw away a 2-1 lead to allow Mourinho off the hook and make qualification from an ultra-tough Group D that much harder.
No wonder Mancini was in a bad mood.
Even more so because it suggested City had learned little from their Champions League experience last season. And yet rather than castigate Hart, he might have looked at his own role in City’s latest European setback.
Mancini is seemingly unhappy with Joleon Lescott, despite the effectiveness of the England defender’s partnership with Vincent Kompany last season.
And as a result the manager has fluctuated between a three and four-man defence. The result has been 11 goals shipped in six games.
Lescott was dropped for the trip to Liverpool, where Kolo Toure had a nightmare. While Maicon, past his best but bought as a sop to Mancini, had a poor game at Stoke and was then run ragged by Ronaldo at the Bernabeu.
Judging by skipper Kompany’s display in Madrid, even the mighty Belgian has been affected by Mancini’s tinkering.
In the final analysis, Mancini’s criticism of Hart was probably more about himself than the England goalkeeper.