Pep Guardiola did not mince his words. Eliaquim Mangala had turned down a deadline day move to Crystal Palace and his manager, whilst supportive of his decision, was forthright.
If the defender wanted first team football, he would have to prove himself, warned the Catalan. Prove that he can be relied on, prove that he will not make errors and prove that the £42m Manchester City paid various parties for his services was not a colossal waste of money.
Mangala, now 26, vowed to do just that and it would appear that now, following injury to John Stones, he has his chance. With qualification secured, Tuesday night’s match is effectively a dead rubber, but the decision to put the Frenchman in front of the cameras ahead of the Champions League visit of Feyenoord can be seen as significant.
Eliaquim Mangala had turned down a deadline day move and now can prove his worth
They do not take their media duties lightly at City. Any requests for interviews have to be given the green light by Guardiola’s team – and that includes those made by the club website.
As part of the manager’s all-encompassing plan, football distractions are to be kept to a minimum and those put in front of the cameras have to be trusted not to say the wrong thing. It is a safe bet that Mangala is seen as a safe pair of hands. But can he replicate that on the pitch?
This feels like a last chance. Mangala is yet to show consistency in a blue shirt although he has often looked like it is about to click. A season-long loan at Valencia suggested that a summer move would follow. But Mangala was having none of it.
‘I said I want to stay, that was my decision,’ he told the Manchester Evening News. ‘I know we have so many good quality players, but to win titles we want a squad.’
While he is not wrong, that decision took many at the Etihad Stadium by surprise. When your agent is a certain Jorge Mendes, doors to moves elsewhere can be opened.
Aside from Palace, Sportsmail understands that there was interest from a number of Premier League clubs. It would have been easy to close this unhappy chapter and open a new one.
However, Mangala, while softly spoken, is a determined character. He is also committed. Over the summer, he took a personal trainer on his holiday to Miami where he was regularly put through vigorous routines under floodlights in sweltering temperatures at a tiny American Football stadium.
His conditioning is not in doubt, and neither is his drive. In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, Mangala spoke movingly about how his brother is his inspiration.
At the age of seven, Daniel went to retrieve a football as they played on the streets of Paris and was trapped by the automatic door to an underground car park. With his brain starved of oxygen, he was left paralysed and the family moved to Belgium, where specialist centres ensured he received the care he needed.
‘He gives me strength, psychologically, and when I am out there on the field I feel like I am doing it for him,’ Mangala said. He will need that inspiration for his latest challenge.
From the outside, City would appear to be a little short of options at the back following Stones’s injury. History would tell us that Vincent Kompany cannot be relied upon to go for long periods without succumbing to fitness issues that continue to plague him.
However, this is Guardiola – and his unconventional way of thinking may throw up a few surprises should Mangala struggle. Given how well he has morphed into a left back, it is easy to forget that Fabian Delph is a converted midfielder.
Spotting the ability to play in different positions is a trademark of City’s manager. For the 2009 Champions League final with Manchester United,
Yaya Toure was asked to play in defence. Barcelona won 2-0. Seeing the Ivorian take up that position again is unlikely, but what of Kyle Walker? Or even Fernandinho? Guardiola even mentioned that he felt Benjamin Mendy could make the switch following his recovery.
As we have seen before, there is method in the madness. Remember how we laughed last season when the manager pointed out that he was ‘not a coach for the tackles’?
So far this season, City have made 161 tackles. Only Bournemouth, with 153, have made fewer. Top of that table? Huddersfield Town.
We are not laughing now.
None of this will come as a surprise to Mangala. Two years ago he admitted that he lacked consistency. Now is his time to show it.