• 'When I was a player we were mentally stronger'
• Manchester City face rivals United in Community Shield
Roberto Mancini believes that the increased physical strength, speed and stamina of modern footballers has been matched by a decline in their mental robustness. This conviction helps explain why Manchester City's Italian manager has retained patience and sympathy with his immensely gifted but sometimes errant young striker Mario Balotelli.
"When I was a player 15 or 20 years ago we were mentally stronger than they are now," said Mancini as he prepared to meet Manchester United in the Community Shield. "Why are they less strong?" mused the 46-year-old, who, in his gloriously creative attacking heyday, won trophies galore with Sampdoria. "We were hungry then, we had less money and we wanted to become top players. We were prepared to give up everything for this.
"We were serious. When I was young, 17 or 18, I made mistakes like all of you. But when you are 20 it is time that you change because a player's career is not long – 10 or 12 years. It is important that Mario [incidentally, aged 20] understands this.
"But I have more patience with players that are young. I understand Mario is homesick and I am patient with him although sometimes I am really disappointed with him but he needs experience and he understands that he needs to improve his behaviour.
"When I spoke to him last time he said: 'Boss, I want to be here.' I have known him since he was at Inter. Mario's a fantastic guy and I don't say that because I bought him or because I'm his manager, it's because he is a fantastic guy.
"He sometimes does incredible behaviour on the pitch, sometimes he doesn't think but, off the field, Mario is often very kind to people. He's fantastic. I trust him because I know him very well and off the pitch he's an incredible man. I also think Mario is one of the top players in the world."
Mancini will need Balotelli to be at his best this season when City strive for the title while also craving Champions League success. The dangerous diversion of competing on such double front explains why Sir Alex Ferguson regards Liverpool as Premier League dark horses. "It's a bonus for Liverpool that they don't have that distraction. It's difficult having those European nights and then you come home and have an early kick off on a Saturday which is absolutely ridiculous," Ferguson said.
"The Champions League is not easy. It's a fantastic league but it's the game after it that's difficult to prepare for because the Premier League is just as important. I always look at the fixtures right away and see whether we're home or away after the European games and what time we kick off.
"It's not fair, for every club. No team in Europe should have an early kick off on a Saturday after a Champions League game; it's ridiculous but Sky dominate that. Sky are running the game now. What do you do? Sacrifice the points?"
It remains awkward for a manager to bite the hand which has made English football excessively rich, but Ferguson believes there is a downside to the game's lucrative television deal with Sky. "France are the best at protecting their teams because they have Friday games," United's manager said.
"We played Lille and Lyon over the years and they always played their games on Friday before we met them. We can't do that because of the control of Sky and they are going to pick the best [Premier League] games aren't they? That's the problem."
Carlos Tevez is expected back by Manchester City for training on Monday as joins up with Roberto Mancini and has squad for the first time since the club won the FA Cup in May.
Tevez's future is still unclear with the Argentine still wanting to depart City, despite his proposed move to Corinthians earlier in the summer not happening due to the Brazilian club not providing the requisite finance.
Whether the 27-year-old will feature in City's opening Premier League at Eastlands against Swansea City on Monday-eek is doubtful as Tevez has not played since the Copa America last month.