For all his achievements, there is a brittleness to Roberto Mancini's temperament that can hardly fail to communicate itself to the players in his charge. So often the soul of suave charm, the Italian responds to moments of adversity by letting his irascibility show, and he was at it again on Tuesday night.
His target was Joe Hart, who had been unwise enough to suggest in a post-match television interview that Manchester City should not have conceded three goals in the last quarter of an hour of their match against Real Madrid, particularly the pair, in the 87th and 90th minutes, that converted a 2-1 win into a 3-2 defeat.
"You can't go 2-1 up with five minutes to go and lose the game," Hart had told ITV in the immediate aftermath of the defeat. "We dug deep, got a lead twice, and we lost it, so we can only blame ourselves. It's hard to come off the field after losing 3-2 and be positive. I'm really sorry. We're not a team that should come here and pat ourselves on the back for doing well. We're a team that gets results."
Mancini's response was instant and astonishing in its ferocity. "I agree but I think Joe Hart should do his job," he said. "I can criticise the team, not Joe Hart. Joe Hart should stay as goalie. I am the judge, not Joe Hart."
Many observers would believe that Hart's words were exactly the sort of thing one would want to hear from a player after such a stunning reverse. City deserved credit for going ahead twice in such an environment, but it would not have been right for the players to congratulate themselves. The England goalkeeper's words seem to indicate the existence of a healthy degree of self-criticism inside the squad, and it seems bizarre that Mancini might think it appropriate not just to suppress such a tendency but to administer a public scolding to the man who spoke out.
Hart had not criticised an individual team-mate. He had not criticised the manager. He had simply expressed his dissatisfaction in an entirely proper way, incorporating a gracious apology to the supporters both in the ground and at home. Mancini's waspish reaction made you wonder if there was more to the exchange than met the eye.
The City manager may have realised the scale of the challenge facing his side in the minute before the hour mark, when, with the match still goalless, Real's players gave a hint of how the contest might turn out. First Cristiano Ronaldo chased a seemingly hopeless ball to the byline on the left of the Manchester City goal and, exploiting his remarkable technique, hit a cross that was just too high for Gonzalo Higuaín at the near post. Then Angel di María showed similar commitment as he sprinted in pursuit of what had looked like a lost cause on the opposite flank.
With such players at his disposal, you had to think, José Mourinho cannot be too concerned about the much-discussed crisis of morale at the Bernabéu. As the evening entered its decisive stage it was the consistently scintillating and relevant Di María who supplied the passes for Madrid's first two goals, scored by Marcelo and Karim Benzema, and Ronaldo whose last-minute run and shot confused Vincent Kompany and Hart into conceding the winner.
What Mancini would give to see his players producing such moments in which high skill combines with instinctive willpower. Of the 13 outfield players he used in the Bernabéu, only Yaya Touré looked on this occasion like a man who belonged at the very highest level of the Champions League, although David Silva received a marvellously affectionate ovation from the home crowd in recognition of his contribution to Spain's successful summer when he left the field in the 62nd minute, with the match still evenly balanced.
And, of course, there was Hart, who produced world-class saves to stop Ronaldo giving his team a two-goal lead in the first dozen minutes. He could do nothing about Real's first two goals – Mancini can shoulder whatever blame is going for those, with some questionable defensive selections and alignments – but he will want a conversation with Kompany about the way Ronaldo's shot was allowed to enter the net.
Perhaps Mancini was riled by the failure of his side to give him a win against Mourinho and to begin the reversal of his own unimpressive sequence of performances in the Champions League over the past five seasons. But on this occasion he chose the wrong target on which to vent his exasperation.