Eliaquim Mangala is the most expensive defender in England at £32m, yet the former Porto centre back admits it may be a while before he gets a game. An unused substitute with France at the World Cup, the 23-year-old arrived at Manchester City a little short of match fitness, and even when he is ready he still faces the task of displacing Martín Demichelis or Vincent Kompany, two centre halves who did appear for their countries in Brazil.
City’s keynote signing of the summer is not the most physically imposing of stoppers either. Centre halves have slimmed down quite a bit since Bill Shankly invited local journalists into the Liverpool dressing room to be shown round Ron Yeats, but even so Mangala is willowy. At just under 6ft 2in his weight is a mere 11st 9lb, which makes him around the same as Sergio Agüero and lighter than Samir Nasri. Signed for his pace and mobility as much as his defensive awareness, Mangala realises the Premier League will be a particular challenge.
“Obviously it is a lot more physical style of football to what I have been used to,” he says. “In England there are more one-on-one battles with the strikers and duels in the air. The style in Portugal is a lot slower, it is a more intricate passing game with a more deliberate build-up to attacks.
“Here it is faster, I think, more physical and more intense. A game in England is 90 minutes of effort, you can tell that from watching on television. The other thing that stands out about the English league is that if you go away to someone low down, bottom of the league for example, you can’t take anything for granted. Each team can beat anyone else, and that is quite unusual. That aspect is different.”
It will be interesting to see how quickly Mangala adapts to the Premier League style, as well as whether the reputation he gained in Portugal for alertness and anticipation survives the transition to the more knockabout English game. José Mourinho obviously thought it would, since interest from Chelsea was one of the factors that pushed his price so high. In fact, Mangala was quoted in French newspapers over the summer saying he would prefer to live in London than Manchester. Where Mangala has ended up that is close to an arrestable offence, though it is a charge he does not attempt to deny.
“I did say that, I was put on the spot at the end of a French TV programme,” he explains. “The guy said to me ’Manchester or London?’. I did not want to answer the question but in the end I said London, because it was the capital. It was nothing to do with football.”
Perhaps understandably, Mangala is now keen to stress that he always wanted to come to City and is happy to be here now after some fairly protracted negotiations involving third-party ownership.
“When City expressed their interest, I had conversations straight away with the coach and the sporting director,” he says. “That didn’t happen with anyone else, they were the only club I talked to at that level. I did not become worried. I was in contact with the club all the time, they kept me informed on all the twists and turns, so I was never sweating too much. There were lots of other reasons: City were the champions, I had a chance to develop my career by playing alongside other quality players, and I felt straight away there is a real positive energy about the place. Now I have been involved in a few training sessions I feel even more certain I made the right choice.
“There are some really big targets to aim for this season and every session is intense. There is pressure on everyone to perform and to succeed, but you feel that pressure in a positive way. It feels like all the preparation is really important. Even though City have won the title twice in three seasons there is still potential at the club to do more. There’s just an incredibly positive atmosphere around the place.”
Mangala speaks generously of Kompany and Demichelis, and how much he is looking forward to learning from them, although City’s present centre-back pairing could have been bought three times over, with a few million to spare, for the size of the fee handed to Porto.
“The amount of money City paid was not down to me,” he says. “There was nothing I could do about that. Like everybody else I had certain dreams when I started out. I wanted to grow up to be a professional footballer, I wanted to play in the Champions League or to try playing in England, but I never thought: ‘one day I will be the most expensive English defender’. It’s not something you set out to achieve, and right now it’s something I am trying not to pay attention to too much. I know it’s something the fans and the press will talk about, but I’ve got to remove myself from those thoughts and concentrate on what I am being paid to do. You could say it’s an extra pressure, but if you can’t live with that sort of pressure football is probably not the job for you. You should be staying at home and doing something else.”
Coolness under pressure is what City supporters can look forward to seeing when Mangala, twice a champion in Portugal, is ready for action. Until then they can only be encouraged by his attitude to the challenges ahead.
Asked about his ambitions for the season, City’s new signing proves far from shy, or behind the door as they say in his new parish. “What do we want to win? Basically, everything,” he says. “Obviously the first target for current champions is to hold on to the title and not let that out of your grasp, and it would be fantastic to win the Champions League, but at a club like City you can go into every match and every competition with the mindset of going all the way and winning it. I’m very happy to be a part of that.”