When Roberto Mancini made his managerial entrance at Manchester City, his CV featured a cup record of some distinction in his homeland. Six Coppa Italia successes as a player and four more as a coach with three different clubs. This week, the Italian tactician puts his Premier League directive aside for the challenge of English football's equivalent in knockout competitions.
Today's trip to Middlesbrough in the FA Cup third round is followed by the Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester United on Wednesday. The derby date is eagerly awaited, but it would be folly for City to dismiss the danger on Teesside, despite a run of two wins in 10 for the hosts. Having won at Aston Villa in one of his five games as a Leicester City player in 2001, he is also aware of the prestige of the FA Cup.
"We have momentum on our side and I want us to maintain that in the FA Cup," said Mancini. "It is a big competition, one of the most famous domestic cups in the world and one loved by the fans. I want to win it." While Mancini may tinker with his team selection, he is conscious not to hinder the in-form Carlos Tevez by giving him a rest. "Confidence is a great thing with players and especially when it comes to goalscoring," said Mancini, a former striker himself. "He [Tevez] is playing with a smile on his face and eight goals in December is just an incredible effort.
"Carlos is not just putting the ball in the net though. His team ethic is fantastic. His movement and pace worries defenders and he is clever, too." As three games in a week prove too much for Craig Bellamy's knee, the Brazilian forward Robinho is in line to replace the Welshman. The Middlesbrough manager Gordon Strachan is a massive admirer of Bellamy, having worked with him at Coventry City. "Craig has progressed just how I thought," he said. "Even if he is having a bad day, his work rate is truly phenomenal. He was no problem. We are all different when we are on the pitch; we all have to find the devil inside us to drive us on to win. He has got that."
Strachan had it too. Fiesty and formidable as a player, he proved Sir Alex Ferguson was wrong to let him leave Manchester United in 1989. He inspired Leeds to the league title three years later. The Scot, who cherishes an FA Cup winners' medal with United in 1985, will relish this tie, even if his counterpart Mancini has the greater resources and reputation. "You have to deal with it," added Strachan. "Like earlier in the season it was Tony Mowbray versus Arsene Wenger [when Celtic played Arsenal in the Champions League]. It's like he has a machine gun and you have a water pistol; it can happen.
"I am looking to rectify what has been a bad year for Middlesbrough and we must make 2010 a good year." firstname.lastname@example.org Middlesbrough v Man City, 7pm, Aljazeera Sport +5