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Roberto Mancini: I helped change the dynamics of the Manchester derby

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Inter Milan boss Roberto Mancini has tipped former club Manchester City for English Premier League glory this season, adding he deserved some credit for the 2013-14 champions competing on equal terms with Manchester United after years of having lived in the shadow of Manchester’s red side.

Talking to www.sc.qa during his visit to Qatar last week to promote Inter’s friendly against French champions Paris Saint-Germain on December 30, Mancini said he is proud Manuel Pellegrini’s side are joint leaders of the Premier League as they prepare to host Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool when the league resumes this Saturday following the international break.

“Manchester City are the best team so far this season and have a good chance to win the title,” said Mancini, who turns 51 next week, and who claimed the FA Cup and the Premier League title during his four-year stint as manager at the Etihad Stadium between 2009 and 2013.

“I am proud that the team, whose core I built, is doing well this year. But the Premier League is such a difficult championship in which you need to work really hard to win each and every game. City will face competition from Manchester United and Arsenal as it is now clear that Chelsea will find it difficult to finish in the top four.”

Mancini, who has taken Inter to the top of the Serie A standings this season after taking over last November, said his legacy would be that of a person who changed football history in Manchester as a manager and during coaching and playing stints in Italy.

The former Italy forward – who guided Inter to their first on field Serie A success since 1989 in 2006-07 and featured as a player in Sampdoria’s first ever Serie A winning side (1990-91) and Lazio’s first Scudetto winning side in nearly three decades (1999-2000) – likened the challenges he has faced in his illustrious career to those in front of Qatar as the country makes progress in its preparations to host the first ever World Cup in the Middle East.

“I helped to change the dynamics of the Manchester derby and it was very difficult to do that,” said Mancini, who coached the Etihad Stadium based club to the 2011-12 Premier League title, their first league win since 1968.

“United were a top club for many years and to achieve the status of equality was very tough. We bought a lot of good players who worked very hard and gave the club their first title win in a long time. I like to take up difficult challenges and work hard towards achieving my goals. I also changed the history of Inter Milan as manager in 2006-07 and of Sampdoria and Lazio as a player. Similarly, Qatar’s challenge of hosting the first World Cup in the region is not an easy one. But Qatar can stage a successful World Cup in 2022 by working hard.”

Mancini, who was appointed Inter boss for his second stint last November, expressed his satisfaction about the rapidly advancing preparations after being briefed about Qatar’s progress towards hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup™.

He added: “I am pleased that Qatar are hosting the tournament. It is a country with a different culture and I am happy on behalf of the people of Italy. Qatar are also in the process of building some incredible stadiums, which will finish completion over the next few years. That is very important.”

Mancini said the immediate target of his club – currently joint leaders of the Serie A with Fiorentina – is qualifying for next year’s UEFA Champions League: “Right now we are top of the standings but it is a long, tough and competitive season. We need to work really hard to stay in the top position. Our target for the season is to clinch a Champions League berth. It is very important to play in the Champions League.”

However, the going was not easy after finishing eighth last season, and the Inter Milan boss stressed that his young team needed to continue improving. 

“It is very difficult to turn around the fortunes when you take over in mid season,” he said. “But this year things are different. It is much better when you work with the team from pre-season. We got some good new signings this season [Geoffrey Kondogbia, Miranda, Felipe Melo, Ivan Perisic and Stevan Jovetic on loan from Manchester City]. We are a young team, with only two or three experienced players. We need to improve a lot but I am happy with the players we have got. We are doing a good job so far and working well together.”

Mancini is hoping his side will continue on top of the table until the Serie A adjourns for the winter break, when he brings his club over to Doha for a week for the friendly against PSG and the winter training camp. “The game against PSG is not a mere friendly,” he said. “It will be a competitive affair between two top European clubs preparing for the second half of the season. I am happy that my side will be training in Doha’s magnificent facilities.”

The French side’s forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic was an important player for Mancini as he sealed a Serie A title win for Inter in 2008 on the last day of the season with two memorable goals. “I consider Zlatan one of the best players in the world,” said Mancini. “He has scored a lot of goals and some very important ones for us while he was at Inter. He deserves to win the Ballon D’or as he is one of the best strikers in the modern game.”

Mancini, a semifinalist in the 1990 World Cup played in front of home fans, also had some advice for the Qatar national team in 2022. “Playing in front of home fans can have its positives and negatives as well. In 1990, there was tremendous pressure on us to win and we lost the semifinal penalty shootout against Argentina in Naples despite dominating the tournament. We deserved to win in 1990 but the pressure did not help.”

The former forward​ also highlighted an Azzurri player who could follow in his footsteps. “There are a couple of young emerging players such as Fiorentina forward Frederico Bernardeschi,” said Mancini. “But they need two or three years to emerge as global stars.”