It was past midnight at a largely deserted Stadio San Paolo when the white-haired man in the brown jacket eased himself into a seat in the press-conference room and reminded us how the old guard like to see football's nouveaux riches suffer the occasional bloody nose.

Aurelio De Laurentiis, the film producer who has been busily restoring Napoli among the football establishment, had just watched Diego Maradona's old team put themselves on the brink of qualifying for the Champions League's knockout stages at the expense of the side enjoying the view from the top of the Premier League.

The 62-year-old paid £20.3m to buy Napoli in 2004 and has spent a fraction of the fortune that has come City's way via Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al‑Nahyan and the Abu Dhabi royal family. "If Mr Mansour would like to invest in Napoli he should invest as much as I did and maybe get a team to improve and grow," he said. "I just think he wanted a toy. He takes all the oil money and I think he has built the club for a personal whim. He says he doesn't want success immediately but if they don't win something quickly he could easily draw the curtains, go somewhere else and buy another toy."

It was a strange, unscheduled climax to a night that left City contemplating whether their Champions League adventure may soon be replaced with a return to the Thursday night, Sunday afternoon cycle of the Europa League.

De Laurentiis milked the moment for so long that even the Neapolitan journalists had begun to drift away before he was finally done. And there was a sense of weary familiarity, too, given this is the man who once described Lionel Messi as "a cretin" and told one of the previous managers, Edy Reja, that he was planning to sack him but "I won't beat you up because you're an old man". De Laurentiis was once asked whether the top Premier League clubs, City included, may appeal to Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi. "If they want to go to England then in the end they're going to go," he said, "but they need to understand this: the English live badly, eat badly and their women do not wash. For them, a bidet is a mystery."

City, therefore, will not concern themselves too much with the latest example of how their misfortune creates a malicious sense of pleasure elsewhere. Flight BA9221 into Manchester in the early hours was quiet and contemplative enough already. Mancini pointed out that "life would still go on" if they dropped into the Europa League but, for a club with City's ambitions, there is no getting away from the cold, hard truth it is a place they now look upon with almost snobbish disdain.

This, however, is where they will find themselves unless they beat Bayern Munich at home on 7 December and Napoli fail to do the same at Villarreal. Mancini's estimation that the odds are 70/30 in favour of Napoli looks about right. Bayern are already through but the four‑times winners have already promised they will take the tie seriously and, when it comes to schadenfreude, the German club have sniped so loudly and so often about City it is difficult to imagine they would not enjoy working the guillotine. "We are still going to try to win in Manchester," Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the chairman, said. "First of all, there are points for the five-year ranking at stake, and then there are €800,000 [£690,000] in prize money. We are not going to give anything away." As for Villarreal, they have not mustered a single point from their five ties.

At least City can cite mitigating circumstances. "We're in by far the hardest group," Vincent Kompany, the captain, said. "We were in pot three [of the draw] so we were never going to be protected."

Plus it is important not to lose sight of the fact this is their first season of dining at European football's top table. They have looked what they are at times: Champions League newbies, still coming to terms with the different challenges. "We have found it hard," James Milner said. "It's all a learning curve."

A frustrated Mancini talked of instructing his defenders to beware of the near-post runs that led to the first of Edinson Cavani's goals. He was clearly exasperated and there were similarities to the 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in September, when Micah Richards allowed Franck Ribéry to cut inside from the left before Mario Gomez's second goal.

"We spent four days telling the defence that Ribéry would do this," Mancini recollected. It was Richards's only start in five ties and City's regular Premier League right-back did not even get on the bench in Naples. Yet Pablo Zabaleta does not have the same mobility. The same applies to Aleksandar Kolarov, preferred to Gaël Clichy on the left.

A lot of the questions for Mancini concerned the selection of Mario Balotelli, who scored City's goal but missed other chances and vomited during the second half, having complained the previous evening of a fever. For any other player, this would scarcely have been an issue, and Balotelli was clearly not too bad considering that he left the team hotel at 11pm to meet his girlfriend in a local pizzeria. Yet the striker continues to perplex and bemuse in equal measure.

On the flight into Naples he had a full-blown tantrum because City no longer wanted him to do the pre-match press conference. The club simply feared he would say something incendiary but Balotelli wanted to do it and made his point volubly from an almost horizontal position, his seat reclined so far that the kitman Les Chapman's knees were folded up like a concertina in the next row.

To give him his due, Balotelli has nine goals in his past 10 City games. In short, there is still an awful lot more good than bad about what has happened at the Etihad Stadium so far this season. But Mansour and De Laurentiis may have common ground when it comes to the consolation prize on 7 December.

"The Europa League?" De Laurentiis once said, "I don't give a shit about this competition. Thanks to [Sepp] Blatter and [Michel] Platini it isn't worth anything."