ERUDITE, respectful, collected and exuding calm, the suave Spanish-speaking guy in the sharp suit is able to count on legions of admirers at the Etihad Stadium.
This Charming Man, as the banner reads, in homage to the classic song from The Smiths. But in the city of the birth of the iconic Eighties band, it was Aitor Karanka who took a bow on Saturday, not Manuel Pellegrini.
His audience was provided by the 5,500 ecstatic Teessiders present, who drunk in the club’s most intoxicating day since that heady campaign of 2005-06 when a small town in Europe reached the UEFA Cup final in Eindhoven.
For the impenetrable mask of Pellegrini, the epitome of cool, to slip was a stunning achievement in itself.
Usually so measured and composed, the Chilean and his coaching staff had to resort to panic measures midway through the second half.
With Boro leading and threatening more goals, it would not have been too surprising if substitutes Frank Lampard and Fernandininho had been literally thrown into the arena, instead of arriving by way of a conventional change.
While the City bench were suffering convulsions, Karanka provided a quiet word here and there and simple instruction to his players – all this on the kind of stage where he will hold court in the years to come. A case of when, not if.
The consummate professional that he is, Karanka alluded to moving on quickly and focusing on the next piece of business in his in-tray, namely Brentford in a televised Championship game on Saturday. But he still afforded himself a quiet moment or two of satisfaction at a job thoroughly well done and the best moment of his short managerial career so far.
Karanka, whose side progressed thanks to second-half goals from Patrick Bamford and substitute Kike, said: “I’m proud of the players, the crowd, the fans, the staff and the club.
“I’ve been a manager for just 14 months and we were very close to winning in Liverpool (in the Capital One Cup) but the penalty shoot-out ended our dreams.
“But (on Saturday) we beat one of the best squads in the world.”
Karanka’s counterpart Pellegrini summed up City’s second-half display in a word he has probably never previously had reason to use before: disorder.
This from a virtually full-strength City line-up as well.
For all the talk of the Premier League champions being leggy after only arriving back at Manchester Airport on Friday night after a seven-hour flight back from Abu Dhabi, where their billionaire owners reside, another point needed to be raised.
This was Middlesbrough’s third match in a week – and it is not every day that a Championship side has to handle the likes of David Silva and Sergio Aguero, who would get a game with any club side in the world.
Pellegrini, to his credit, did not offer fatigue as an excuse. It was not a day for citing jetlag as a mitigating factor in a defeat to a side from the division below which will not have gone down particularly well with the club’s pay-masters.
City fans with a sense of history probably suspected negotiating a way past Boro was never likely to be straight-forward.
The Teessiders had previously provided some dark days for City, an 8-1 defeat in Sven Goran Eriksson’s final game in charge in May 2008 figuring pretty highly.
There was also a 1-1 draw on the last day of the 2004-05 season, when Robbie Fowler missed a last-minute penalty when victory would have seen City qualify for Europe and not Boro.
And of course, Boro’s run of eight successive victories against the City from April 1988 to February 1997 included the north-easterners knocking them out of both domestic cup competitions in 1991-92.
Yet the signs in the first half, when City played well enough, were of a conventional victory, with the likes of Silva and Aguero looking as fresh as daisies.
But City found a goalkeeper in form in Tomas Mejias who, after being ridiculed for his early-season aberration at Leeds United, had a much more rewarding afternoon.
He impressively blocked efforts from James Milner, David Silva and Stevan Jovetic, but in the second half it was Willy Caballero who was much the busier.
The home goalkeeper’s hesitancy on 53 minutes played its part in Boro’s opener as he came off a distinct second-best in a challenge with Albert Adomah, with Fernando compounding the error by being sluggish to clear, and Bamford bundled home.
Tomlin and Adomah were then denied before the former produced a mesmerising piece of skill as a prelude to hitting a post.
City were all over the place, with Caballero turning away Jelle Vossen’s volley as Boro counter-attacked with quality befitting of the top flight, while at the other end the visitors’ defensive resolution was something to behold.
City were close to salvation in the 89th minute when Lampard’s shot deflected off boyhood Blue Adam Clayton and hit a post before Kike slotted a second goal deep in stoppage time.
City fans air an anthem “We’re not really here” – how they must have wished they were not.
Manchester City: Caballero; Zabaleta, Boyata, Kompany, Kolarov; Milner, Fernando (Dzeko 79); Navas (Lampard 67), Silva, Jovetic (Fernandinho 67); Aguero. Unused substitutes: Hart, Sagna, Clichy, Demechelis.
Middlesbrough: Mejias; Whitehead, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Leadbitter, Clayton; Bamford (Wildschut 95), Tomlin (Reach 79), Adomah; Vossen (Kike 86). Unused substitutes: Ripley, Husband, Omeruo, Woodgate.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).