The newest addition to the Manchester City branch of the Robin van Persie fan club is Pablo Zabaleta, who is willing to echo his manager's odd motivational tactic in claiming that Manchester United's £24m striker could be the crucial difference between the two clubs in this season's title race.
"We must wait for United to drop some points but they are very strong at the moment," City's Argentinian full-back says. "They have Van Persie on fire and Chicharito [Javier Hernández] coming on late in the game and scoring goals. Van Persie at the moment must be one of the best strikers in the world, so it didn't surprise me when Roberto Mancini said he would have liked to sign him.
"He was a massive signing for United, he's top scorer, and it is the strikers they have that are making a difference. The whole team has not always played well, and defensively they have some problems, so the reason they are seven points ahead must be what they have up front."
Zabaleta accepts that City did not quite manage to start this league season as strongly as they finished the last one, and though he feels they are now getting back to their best, there is little room for further error. They have just lost Yaya Touré to the Africa Cup of Nations – a player whose absence because of injury last season caused the team to wobble – and on Sunday they visit Arsenal knowing that, to keep the pressure on United, they must aim for three points from a fixture they last won in 1975.
"It's always very tough to beat Arsenal away, but records are there to be broken," Zabaleta says. "We have a chance if we push them high and play our football. It cannot possibly be as bad as last season when we lost 1-0 and thought we had lost the title. We were eight points behind United at the time, but there was much less of the season left. I didn't think we could turn it around, but we did. We have more matches left to make up the gap now, though if it goes to nine or 10 points it is going to be very difficult. We need to stay positive because the race still has a long way to go.
"You never know in the Premier League, every game is so tough. We expect United will drop some points at some stage, possibly when the Champions League starts up again, but we will need to keep winning to take advantage. Anything can still happen. The only thing we can do in this situation is to keep working and try to keep winning."
Like everyone else at the club, Zabaleta was disappointed that City's European involvement ended before Christmas, though, if the Premier League title is going to be another two-horse race, the extra rest could work in City's favour. "I think we will have a slight advantage, because when you play so many games it's difficult, and not playing in the Champions League means we will have more time to recover," he says. "In the last three or four months to the end of the season a good rest could be crucial. We are unhappy about being out of the Champions League, but it is something that we might be able to turn into a positive."
A wholly positive player, Zabaleta's consistency and brave, combative style have earned him many admirers in England and something approaching cult status at City. Unusually for an overseas player, he seems to embrace the physicality of English football rather than shrink from it.
"The Premier League is probably the most competitive league in the world," he suggests. "It's very physical, not just on the pitch but in terms of what a season takes out of you. Especially at Christmas and new year when you play so many games. This only happens in England. It's not for everybody, but I enjoy it. I love being in this country playing for this club.
"When I was in Spain, I watched English games all the time on television but it's only when you're actually playing here you realise how difficult it is in this league and how hard all the matches are."
Three years spent with Espanyol before joining City in 2008 means the 27-year-old defender is in a good position to make comparisons between the Spanish and English leagues. "La Liga is technically one of the best leagues, I don't think there's any doubt about that," he says.
"Barcelona and Real Madrid have all the best players, as you can tell from the Dream XI announced last week, but it's not just about Barça and Real. Other clubs have fantastic players, too. This season people have been surprised by Michu at Swansea, but I can't say I have. There are lots of players like him. Spain has so many quality players you would have to put La Liga ahead of the Premier League in that regard, yet I wouldn't say the whole league is as competitive as this one.
"Here you have so many games, the Capital One Cup, FA Cup, the teams play in Europe, and each season starts with around four or five teams who think they have a chance of winning the league."
It is a little-known fact outside of Manchester that Zabaleta scored one of his rare goals in the 3-2 victory over QPR that resulted in City being crowned champions last season. For some reason everyone remembers the later one, scored by his compatriot, Sergio Agüero. As a defender, Zabaleta is resigned to the striker getting all the glory.
"Sergio scored probably the most important goal in the past 50 years for this club, so every fan has the same dream in his heart," he says. "Not only in Manchester either. After that game we went to Argentina to play two World Cup qualification games and people had been talking for a week about that goal. So many people were Manchester City fans for that game because there were three Argentinian players in the squad and everything that happened was incredible.
"My goal ended up being forgotten, but it didn't matter. In Argentina the people have always loved to watch football, but now they watch more English football because we have a lot of key players in this league. Real and Barcelona are still the top teams and everybody talks about Messi or Higuaín and Di María. But City is a massive club now in Argentina and I can see shirts with Agüero and Tevez when I go back. In my home city, at least, you see more City shirts than United."