City soap opera has it all

THERE appears little, if anything, that can distract the billionaires of Manchester City from their avowed intent of dominating the world of football for years to come.

Record financial losses of nearly £200 million?

That barely represents an indent into the billions possessed by their oil-rich arab owners.

Carlos Tevez, the £1m a month forward who refuses to return to Manchester?

Carlos who?

A home fixture against an in-form and previously unbeaten Newcastle team?

The resulting 3-1 victory might more easily have been a four or five-goal margin such was City’s superiority.

And this, remember, merely represents a one-week snap shot into the soap opera over which Roberto Mancini presides at Eastlands.

To that mix, and in keeping with the soap opera theme, now comes a vital Champions League visit to a hostile atmosphere in Napoli and, for yet another controversial City figure Mario Balotelli, there is even a back story involving the Mafia that would do a Hollywood script writer proud.

Over the summer, bizarre reports surfaced in Balotelli’s native Italy that claimed the forward, most recently in the news for setting fire to his own home after an indoor firework show, had been taken on a “tour” of a rundown, drug-afflicted neighbourhood of Naples by two known Mafia “godfathers.”

There were reports of Balotelli facing police questions, although Mancini moved swiftly to quash suggestions that he may face such an interrogation in Naples this week.

And the City manager, a regular visitor to Naples in his years as player and manager in Serie A, insists Balotelli and the rest of his squad have the wherewithal to cope with any distractions they may face in the group game.

“I played 20 years in Naples and six years as a manager and I have never had a problem. I think that Mario now is in a good way, I don’t think he will have a problem,” said Mancini.

“In Naples, as a player for Sampdoria in the year we won Serie A, we started our run to the championship with a 4-2 win against a Naples team that included Maradona and I scored two and [Gianluca] Vialli scored the other two.

“So I have good memories of Naples. It is one of my favourite Italian grounds. It is very good to play there because the stadium is big, the pitch is good and the atmosphere is good.

“Our focus should only be to play football not the occasion. If we concentrate only on the game then I think we can do well. In the home game with Napoli we left a lot of space for them to counter-attack us and Napoli are fantastic at that.

“We learned a lot from that game. It was our first game in the Champions League and we were nervous.

“It is important to me personally going back to Italy because it is a very big game for Manchester City. When we played Juventus last season in the Europa League it wasn’t so important.

“My wife and my mother are from near Naples. And I like it because all the supporters are very close to the team so it is important but we can only win if we play good football.”

Playing good football describes precisely what City are doing at present, certainly domestically where their 11 wins and one draw represent the best ever start to a season in Premier League history.

Balotelli won the opening penalty, converted by himself, after handball by Ryan Taylor who then managed to make the error which allowed Micah Richards to convert Samir Nasri’s cross and, with City holding a 2-0 half-time lead, the game was all but over.

Sergio Aguero added a second-half penalty, following a Hatem Ben Arfa trip on Richards, before a meaningless late consolation for Dan Gosling irritated the City manager by costing his team a clean sheet. No matter, with 42 goals from their opening 12 games, conceding the odd goal hardly seems to matter.

“At this moment we are playing well, scoring a lot of goals but I don’t think that we can score all these goals for a year or we can win all the games,” said Mancini.

“We don’t get carried away. We have been working hard for almost a year and we have improved as a team and the players now have confidence for every game.

“They know they are good players — otherwise you can’t win. When you have good players there’s more chance to win but good players are not important if you are not a team. With only players you can’t win — with good players and a team you can win.”

Mancini hopes his team proves that in Naples tomorrow.

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