Astute Mancini inspires Man City
When quizzed about the possibility of The Stone Roses reforming, bass player Mani once infamously remarked that it would happen "the day after Manchester City win the European Cup."
The message behind fanatical Manchester United supporter Mani's words was clear - one event was as unlikely to come to pass as the other.
So as Mani played his part in the announcement of that supposedly impossible Stone Roses reunion on Tuesday, City were not winning the tournament now known as the Champions League but they were finally making their first serious impact.
And manager Roberto Mancini's wild, spinning, punching celebration after Sergio Aguero's winner with almost the final kick of the game was worthy of claiming the trophy, even if the match and City's overall performance was not.
With the sweeping close-range finish from Pablo Zabaleta's cross two seconds after the end of the minimum three minutes of stoppage time, Aguero transformed frustration and potential failure into the possibility that City's road may yet lead into the knockout phase.
Aguero's last-minute winner sparked wild celebrations for City's players and staff. Photo - PA
This 2-1 victory was as much Mancini's as Manchester City's, built on something that has provided a dramatic back story to this club's predictably turbulent introduction to the Champions League - namely substitutions.
The sky fell in on Mancini when City lost to Bayern Munich, with Edin Dzeko showing his displeasure after being taken off and his request for Carlos Tevez to warm up as substitute still rumbling on today with "did he didn't he?" ramifications about whether the Argentine was actually ready and willing to play.
In such circumstances Mancini could be forgiven for treating each change as if it had a lighted fuse attached, but he did not shy away from such decisions at Etihad Stadium and fortune favoured his bravery.
With City a goal down to Cani's early strike, Mancini's discontent at Villarreal's counter-attacking capabilities led him to consider a tactical change that would require the removal of Adam Johnson six minutes before the interval.
Mancini could have taken the easy way out and waited another few minutes until half-time, but it was to his credit that he was willing to take the risk despite recent history.
Humiliating for the player and awkward for a manager who knew this move had the potential to backfire, Mancini still backed his instincts to fill midfield more and put Yaya Toure closer to Dzeko, whose performance was so poor he could have been substituted at any stage without complaint.
Johnson, understandably, was unhappy and departed in a head-shaking huff which later drew sympathy from Mancini who understood the pain he felt at being taken off so prematurely.
And yet within minutes it had the desired effect. Gareth Barry, on for Johnson, helped Aleksandar Kolarov force Carlos Marchena into the own goal that gave City the lift they needed before half-time.
Even greater irony was reserved for the decisive substitution. Mancini summoned an Argentine, this time in the shape of Aguero, to warm up then win the game for City.
Aguero obliged with relish on all counts, proving his recovery from a groin injury with a lively cameo and the goal that may just prove the catalyst to make Manchester City's Champions League come alive.
City still lie third behind Bayern and the dangerous Napoli, with a trip to Naples looming, but the change in mood from the moment Aguero struck was stark. Suddenly there was a feeling City might actually make their way out of the tournament's time-honoured "Group Of Death" when obituaries may have been prepared if they had only gained a point.
Mancini and his players still have much to do because so much of this was unconvincing and played out in a subdued atmosphere, with barely 100 Villarreal fans having enough faith to follow their team to Manchester.
City may be at the Premier League summit and collecting an array of gifted and expensive players, but it is clear they are still having trouble juggling the two priorities and a new team is effectively learning on the job in the Champions League.
Despite the lavish individual talent City do not, at least not yet, look like a side capable of troubling the heavy weaponry in Europe's elite.
Mancini's introduction of Aguero proved an inspired decision. Photo - Getty
Yaya Toure has won the Champions League with Barcelona and David Silva has rich experience in the tournament, but here they are part of a team short on street wisdom at this level.
Silva, so magical in domestic competition, was shut down by Villarreal as they denied him the time and space to move between midfield and attack in the fashion that has illuminated the Premier League this season.
And Dzeko, who started the season so potently, appears to have mislaid his confidence and once more looks like the player who struggled to justify his expensive acquisition last season.
City, however, got the job done and in a manner mirroring so many of the efforts of the men Mani lends his support to at Old Trafford - late and after a performance that laboured for so long until it somehow produced a win.
The reaction of Mancini, his staff, players and the City fans still present - some had given up before Aguero's goal - indicated just how important it might be. They may not win the Champions League, indeed they may still fail to reach the knockout phase, but City's minimum requirement is to at least the competition something to remember them by.
It remains to be seen if City can maintain serious pursuit of the Premier League and chase the Champions League without one target suffering, with even Mancini himself expressing concerns, but at least the manager's substitutions and Aguero's desire to come off the bench and make a difference has given them the chance to try.