There are 35 minutes remaining of an unforgiving Champions League clash at Munich's Allianz Arena on September 27, 2011. Roberto Mancini gestures for Carlos Tevez to warm up in anticipation of his arrival as a substitute but, incredibly, the striker refuses. Terse words are exchanged, team-mates try to intervene, but the fuse is lit on an explosive falling out that rumbles on unaddressed throughout much of Manchester City's season.
Fast forward 12 months and the story is rather different. Tevez is now a picture of contentment in Manchester. No longer AWOL on the golf courses of Buenos Aires, he professes to be settled in the rainy north-west of England. So much so that in one rather astonishing moment at the start of the season he even conducts an interview in English. Faltering, hesitant English, but English nonetheless.
If on that controversial night in Munich miscommunication was to blame - and the intervention of Tevez's interpreter in the immediate aftermath of defeat only served to inflame matters - then the sight of the kid from Fuerte Apache finally conversing in the local tongue is perhaps a symbolic one. The silent, misguided protester has become a fluent leader for his team once again, starting the new season in the kind of form that suggests he will be integral to any success City may enjoy in the next eight months.
The unlikely reinstatement of a player who Mancini once said was “finished” at City - a process that started last March but has come to full fruition of late - is reward for a growing maturity within Tevez, a process of growth that City hope has been mirrored by the club itself. Both saw their Champions League campaigns brought to a premature end last year, but both have returned improved, renewed and more experienced as they mount a new assault on the competition.
On Tuesday, Real Madrid - mentioned as a possible destination when Tevez become embroiled in his convoluted and at times bitter disciplinary process - represent the first challenge for City, and as they approach what is a blue riband game, City's football development executive Patrick Vieira is delighted that Tevez will alight from the visitors' coach after it rolls down the grand boulevard that brushes the edge of the Bernabeu.
“I believe that Carlos Tevez is one of the best players in Europe and even the world,” Vieira tells Eurosport-Yahoo!, “and to have him in the football club is fantastic and hopefully he can stay for years to come. I think the club and especially Roberto dealt with that situation really well because we won the league and Carlos is still here and it is fantastic.
“You need options [in Europe], but especially what you need are the quality players. There aren't many quality players like Carlos Tevez so it is will be good to have him in the team. I think if you look at the signings on deadline day, it is quite good and I believe we are strong to challenge any team in the Premier League and the Champions League.
"I am confident because we learned a lot from last year as a team and as a football club. Last year, playing against a team like Bayern Munich you can only learn and progress and I think the more you play in the Champions League, the more you will grow as a club and the more chance you will have of winning the competition. It is only our second participation in the Champions League but I think we learned a lot from last year.
“It is going to be tough, because I believe that Madrid are on the same level as Barcelona. They are one of the favourites to win the Champions League and it is going to be really difficult. But I believe we have got some players who can give them a hard time."
Madrid are not short of exceptional talent themselves given they boast a player in Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored 150 goals in 150 games since a world record £80 million move from Manchester United in 2009. However, the prolific forward recently shocked the club when publicly revealing he is unhappy at the Bernabeu.
Ronaldo's discontent runs parallel to a poor run of form that leaves Jose Mourinho's side a full eight points behind Barcelona after only four games played in La Liga. However, Vieira expects to face a focused and motivated Madrid side when the nine-times European Cup winners kick off their latest campaign.
"I think this is an internal problem, if I can call that a problem," says Vieira of Ronaldo's outburst. "Overall I don't think that it will affect their concentration for the Champions League. Will it play into Manchester City's hands? Not at all. Madrid, Jose Mourinho and Ronaldo will get their focus back and will want to win the first game because the first game is always important in the Champions League."
Having been forced to contend with Bayern Munich, Napoli and Villarreal in their maiden Champions League campaign last season, City have again been dealt an extraordinarily tough hand with Borussia Dortmund and Ajax joining them and Madrid in Group D. Though daunting, the group has an authentic, even slightly retro feel to it given all four sides are domestic champions - a rarity in this modern, bloated competition.
Vieira adds: "It is nice because that is what you want as a football club and as a player as well: you want to play against the best. For the fans, they are going to Madrid, to Amsterdam, to Dortmund. We are talking about three fantastic stadiums and some of the fans will never have been to that kind of stadium, so for them it should be fantastic.
"I think it is really difficult to set yourselves a limit. When you are a big club you just want to go there and win the competition. But there is not only one - there are 10, 15, 20 other big clubs who want to win it. So you just have to go and believe in the team and express yourself and sometimes you have to accept that you can get beat by a better team. Overall I think we are good enough to challenge all the other teams who were are going to face."
City came up short last season, their Champions League struggles resulting in a switch to the Europa League where they were defeated in the last 16 by Sporting. But for Vieira, the experience was all part of an evolutionary process that will make Mancini's men more polished European performers.
"It was good because when you are not qualified for the Champions League, the Europa League is a fantastic stage to shine at a high level," he says. "You try to win it and when you look at the teams in the competition you think they are as good as any other competition. I think it will bring you a fantastic experience as a football club when you want to go up, and that is the stage you have to go to. That is how you build your confidence and how you grow up as a team."
But it is not only City who have matured since that night in Munich nearly a year ago. Tevez now looks a reformed character and with the Argentinian in tow, the club have raised expectations of what a second Champions League campaign may bring.
Patrick is an ambassador for Western Union's new PASS initiative, turning every pass in this season's UEFA Europa League into funding for one day's education for young people around the world. He said: “Football was my ticket to success, but for the vast majority of young people education is the key that allows them to become whatever they want to be. That’s why I’m supporting this campaign. It will benefit students, teachers and schools across the world, particularly in places that need it most, like Senegal where I was born."
- Champions League
- Carlos Tevez
- Patrick Vieira