MANCHESTER CITY manager Roberto Mancini ignored the elephant in the room today as he avoided questions on the suspension of Carlos Tevez and denied that he has suffered a difficult week.
While Alex Ferguson this morning praised Mancini for his “strength of character” in dealing with Tevez, who the Italian has said refused to come on in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich, the subject was off limits at a City news conference.
The club took the unusual step of reading out a statement beforehand to say that any questions relating directly or indirectly to Tevez would spell the end of proceedings.
Mancini, who entered the room joking “Champions League final?” as he clocked the larger than usual press contingent, was happy to discuss the wonderful weather, his bike ride to work and tomorrow's Premier League trip to Blackburn Rovers.
The Italian's only real reference to a week where City have banned striker Tevez for up to two weeks pending an investigation into his conduct, was to deny that this had been the hardest week of his managerial career.
“No, no, absolutely no. Why is it difficult? Some situations can happen in football, in your job,” he said. “It's important that the past is finished.
“I don't have any complications. The only complication that we had two days ago is that we lost against Bayern Munich, only this. We started very well, we can do a fantastic season, I don't have this problem.
“It is normal that one player is not happy to leave the pitch in an important game or to stay on the bench, it's a normal situation for every manager.”
Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko's behaviour in that midweek game also angered Mancini as the striker threw off his shirt after being taken off in favour of defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong when they were two goals down with half an hour to go.
Dzeko has apologised for his actions and Mancini said the matter was closed.
“We didn't have any problem with Edin...it was finished yesterday morning, our focus is on Blackburn,” he said.
It has emerged that City players who witnessed Tevez’s dispute with Mancini, were unable to hear enough in Bayern's deafening stadium to support the manager's case that the player refused to enter the field of play.
Mancini is firmly resisting the idea of attempting to sack Tevez, as he does not want to give the player the satisfaction of earning the big move he has been agitating for.
The Italian – who believes unsettled Arsenal striker Robin van Persie could be a replacement for Tevez, though probably not until next summer – fears that the huge controversy
attendant on the Argentine's dismissal could destabilise the club and derail their trophy-chasing season. City would have to pursue Tevez through the courts for the recovery of the value of his transfer fee, a process Mancini fears could drag on to next summer.
But as Edin Dzeko last night apologised for the act of dissent which also infuriated the manager on Tuesday's extraordinary night in Munich, it was becoming increasingly evident that the club's seven-day inquisitorial investigation into events will find it difficult to prove Mancini's version of events – that Tevez refused to play.
In his apology last night, Dzeko said: “I know my reaction (to being taken off) was bad and I have spoken to the guys and to the coach as well. I have apologised for the reaction, and Roberto has accepted it and said everything is OK and that we have to be positive for the next game.
“I was unhappy because we were |2-0 down and I wanted to win the game. It was something special for me to go back to Germany. Things didn't |go well for us. That is why I was extra frustrated.”
It is understood that informal discussions at training yesterday established that some key witnesses cannot |definitively say they heard Tevez specifically refuse to play.
The feeling from those with experience in football disciplinary cases – and one shared by the Tevez camp – is that clear evidence of a player's refusal to enter the field of play in the heat of a 60,000-capacity Champions League tie will be extremely difficult to come by, for the club's investigative, legal and human resources teams.
Among the City substitutes, only Pablo Zabaleta speaks the same language as Tevez and he was also struggling to hear Mancini on the night in question. The relationship between those two players is not, incidentally, as strong as has been widely characterised.