Real Madrid fear Man City off the pitch not on it
Manchester City v Real Madrid, 7.45pm
21 November ~ The Spanish media have given plenty of attention to Manchester City in the build-up to their Champions League group game against Real Madrid tonight. However, there has been little worry about the damage Roberto Mancini's team might do to Madrid on the pitch, instead the focus has been on the fear that Sheikh Mansour's riches will be used to raid La Liga in the near future. The Abu Dhabi oil-fuelled transfer splurges which lifted the club to last season's Premier League title have been closely followed in Spain.
There was excitement but also trepidation when the draw placed "El City" ("El Manchester" was already taken) along with Madrid in this season's Group D. This mood turned to deep disappointment after the English champions' 3-2 defeat at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in September. Most pundits wondered how a team with such resources could play so defensively. Many pointed to Roberto Mancini's nationality as the only reason for this "cowardice", with Italian football generally seen in Spain as cynical, defensive and boring – everything that they say Spanish football is not.
Guillem Balague summed up the Spanish view in sports daily AS: "Such a squad, and so little! 'El City' should be obliged to play another way. That was the biggest disappointment. With his selection and tactics Mancini asked them to stay in their cave." Few remembered that Mancini's side were actually leading 2-1 after 87 minutes, with the following morning's match reports mostly celebrating yet another famous European comeback by Madrid. This was partly due to relief, as the game came soon after the revelation of Cristiano Ronaldo's enigmatic "sadness" and a public row between José Mourinho and Sergio Ramos, which had seen the defender dropped.
This week's return game also has a dramatic context. AS reported last weekend that Ronaldo's gloom had not been lifted by Madrid's paltry new contract offer and he will likely move next summer to either City or PSG. Then on Monday came photos in the English media of Mourinho's wife house-hunting in London.
Nobody thinks these stories are not carefully timed. It is widely assumed that City's new ex-Barcelona executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain would like to replace Mancini with either Mourinho or their former colleague Pep Guardiola as coach, and then sign Ronaldo, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fàbregas and Radamel Falcao to play alongside ex-La Liga stars David Silva and Sergio Agüero. That is what any Spanish fan would do.
City seem to be welcoming the attention, with Marca's photographers invited inside the training ground and shown a model of the club's proposed new training facility and youth academy. Tuesday's paper even had a photo of Mario Balotelli's camouflage coloured Bentley. Meanwhile the striker, and the rest of his current non-Spanish team-mates, remained well hidden from view. Dermot Corrigan
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