News Matches
European Championship

'Mancini is a serious winner' - How Italy's manager 'made Man City what they are today'

09:00 BST 01/07/2021
Roberto Mancini GFX
The Azzurri coach delivered the Etihad Stadium outfit's first trophy in over three decades, and ex-City starlet Abdul Razak hailed his man-management

There are plenty of people who were glad see the back of Roberto Mancini when he was sacked by Manchester City in 2013.

Despite the now-Italy manager having ended the club’s 35-year wait for silverware, just as he had promised, by winning the FA Cup before delivering a first league title in 44 years 12 months later, he was axed the following season amid suggestions of a toxic environment of unhappy players, some of whom were threatening to leave if Mancini did not.

Around the same time, Abdul Razak was a teenager breaking into the first team at the Etihad Stadium, and he has entirely different memories of Mancini.

He remembers a coach that believed in his ability, developed his talents and helped him to become an Ivory Coast international.

Perhaps, then, it should not come as a surprise that the 56-year-old has galvanised the Azzurri since taking over in 2018, with their performances at Euro 2020 some of the most impressive of any team so far ahead of Friday's quarter-final meeting with Belgium.

“He was like a father to me,” Razak tells Goal. “He was always looking after me and was actually very good.

"He saw my potential, he found something in me, but I wanted to play as soon as possible.

“I was really giving everything in training for him and he really believed in me. That was how I got my chance - because of Roberto Mancini.”

After arriving in London as a youngster, Razak was a teenager at Crystal Palace when he was recommended to City, while he also had an offer to join Arsenal.

Close friend Kolo Toure convinced him to move to Manchester, where City was quickly changing following the takeover of Sheikh Mansour.

Mancini replaced Mark Hughes as first-team manager in 2009, and Razak says the Italian’s mentality helped City turn into one of the biggest sides in Europe.

“He gave the whole dressing room a vibe and a belief that we could do more,” the midfielder recalls. “It changed everything.

"That made City what it is today, that’s why we are talking about City today.

“In training, when he sees something he doesn’t like, he’s not happy. He’s a tough manager because he’s a serious winner.

“Maybe when I was younger I didn’t know it, but you learn from those experiences that it’s not easy for a manager. They have tough decisions to make sometimes, when you’ve got a squad of 25 top players, and you have to put people on the bench, it’s a tough one to call.

"He managed it well and he won the league, so there you go.”

Razak went on to make 10 appearances for City and earned a call-up for his country after he was recommended by team-mate Yaya Toure to coach Sabri Lamouchi.

He played at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, where the Elephants were knocked out by eventual winners Nigeria, while his debut against Russia in Moscow six months earlier was something that he will never forget.

“It was a dream for me to play for my country and then to put the shirt on was ‘wow’,” he says. “I used to watch Didier Drogba as a child and I could never imagine that one day I would be on the same pitch or the same dressing room as him.

“The first time I met Drogba I said to him: ‘I watched you when I was young and I can’t believe I’m standing in front of you now’ and he said: 'It’s me, that’s life, that’s football,' and he was laughing. He was giving me advice and saying just be yourself.

“I remember he had given me a pass but I didn’t score, I hit the post on my debut, and after the game he said: “My boy, I give you a pass and you don’t want to score?!”

Mancini’s departure from City after the 2013 FA Cup final defeat also saw Razak end his time at the Etihad Stadium, with successor Manuel Pellegrini making it clear he needed to deliver silverware quickly and that the midfielder did not fit into his plans.

After loan spells at Portsmouth, Brighton and Charlton Athletic under Mancini, Razak was sold to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, whose squad was full of superstars under the ownership of local billionaire Suleyman Kerimov.

But Galacticos such as Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto’o left just as he joined, and Razak soon moved on.

“It was tough for me because I wasn’t playing much at City,” he adds. “When the new manager came in, there was pressure on him and he needed to keep winning straight away.

"I had the opportunity to go to Russia. Maybe it was the wrong move for me, but you never know in life, so I took that decision.

“When I went there, I didn’t meet Roberto Carlos and Eto’o was leaving for Chelsea. I thought he was going to stay and then he left before I got there.”

After brief spells at West Ham and Doncaster Rovers, Razak moved to Sweden and has spent the last six years with various clubs, including IFK Goteborg and, most recently, Orgryte.

Now 28, he is looking to move to back to England, with a League Two side having already showing some interest.

“The season [in Sweden] is different to England or Europe. It’s so cold they have to start the season in April,” he says. “The people are really nice and it’s a good league, but it’s not like in England. It’s a country that you can enjoy when it’s hot but when it’s cold it’s not so nice, you just have to survive.

“I want to go back to a normal season, where they’re starting in August. That’s my focus. If something comes up, it’s in my mind to go somewhere they start in August. Two-month pre-season and then I’m ready to go, I’m feeling good.”