Is Mancini's legacy in danger of slipping away at Inter?
We saw Roberto Mancini's famous, picture-perfect smile just twice last Sunday afternoon: once when his Internazionale team conceded a penalty, when the teenager Isaac Donkor was penalised and subsequently shown a second yellow card, and then again shortly after when Domenico Berardi converted from the award to seal Sassuolo's first-ever win over the Nerazzurri.
A wry, rueful grin seems like about all you're likely to get from Mancini at the moment; there really is not that much for him to chuckle about. Before this week's Coppa Italia quarter-final visit to Napoli, whose Rafa Benitez of course knows plenty about experiencing misery in Mancini's current chair, the coach again preached patience.
"I knew there would be difficulties," he said in his prematch news conference on Tuesday. "I never thought we'd win every game." On the other hand, he probably never thought he'd be picking up the pieces of a defeat at Sassuolo -- a team, remember, that Inter have beaten 7-0 twice since they were promoted in 2013. It was an error-ridden display bookended by top scorer Mauro Icardi rowing with fans after the game, before returning from the changing room to apologise to those who remained. "Caos Inter," read the headline in La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Mancini's second spell in charge of Inter has only really just started, but already there is the feeling that he doesn't have the situation fully under control. There is enough goodwill from his glorious first spell in charge, as well as an understanding of the mess he inherited from the ousted Walter Mazzarri, that he is under no immediate threat, despite an underwhelming return of 10 points from 10 Serie A games.
Yet the hope of sneaking in to snatch third place, and Champions League qualification, in an open field already seems like a vain one. Inter currently languish in 13th position, eight points adrift of fifth-placed Sampdoria in the final European place and just eight clear of third-bottom Chievo. The gap to the top (and Juventus) is 23 points, having been just 12 when Mancini arrived mid-November, though that was always anecdotal. If you had the feeling that it might get worse at Inter before it got better, that was certainly the case in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's game at the Mapei.
The reconstruction is already well underway, with five signings made in the winter window if one includes Granada defender Jeison Murillo, who will not join until July. The most recent, Davide Santon, is already familiar with Mancini, having been a young hopeful during his first tenure. The other three, Xherdan Shaqiri, Lukas Podolski and Marcelo Brozovic, all played a part at Sassuolo.
The XI fielded at the Mapei looked good on paper but were disjointed in practice. Shaqiri made limited inroads on his first Serie A start, while Podolski gave the sort of anonymous performance in his preferred centre-forward role that is all too familiar to Arsenal fans before he was replaced by Icardi in the second half.
That their defence was disjointed was to be expected, with absentees including Juan Jesus, Danilo D'Ambrosio and Yuto Nagatomo. Andrea Ranocchia's most dogged rearguard action of the afternoon was his repeated attempt to drag a seething Icardi away from the visiting fans. Nemanja Vidic, meanwhile, is a shadow of his formidable former self; incidentally, Mancini and the ex-Manchester United player rowed after the game, according to La Gazzetta.
That combustible side of Mancini's nature, frequently in evidence during his playing career but strangely undetected by an English audience for a large part of his time at Manchester City, makes you wonder how long he can guard his sangfroid or whether he can do so long enough to really turn things around, because it will take a while.
He says he knew he was taking on an entirely different job from the one he assented to back in 2004; intellectually speaking, we believe him. Yet whether he can really have grasped quite how much he had to do until now is debatable. Mancini appreciates owner Erick Thohir's efforts to give him something to work with in the window but resources are still limited. There is an eye firmly on Financial Fair Play, with the decision to give a contract extension to Mazzarri before the start of the season a costly one that will stymie their ambitions for a while yet.
There must be a sense of déjà vu for Mancini, although at least he went back into the Inter job with his eyes open. He had felt short-changed by changing conditions at Galatasaray after president Unal Aysal sold him the dream of rising to join Europe's elite, accomplishing a status that had hitherto eluded both coach and club.
The phrase "by mutual consent" is always viewed with suspicion when it comes to describing a coach's departure. In the case of Mancini's June 2014 exit from Istanbul, it was perhaps more apt than usual. Aysal, he thought, had backed off from the original plan, with the club feeling the pinch from shelling out on big salaries for Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder that arguably destabilised the strong collective built by predecessor Fatih Terim. "When I accepted the post, Galatasaray's aims were different," Mancini said in his leaving statement.
The club weren't heartbroken, either. Mancini was to receive a basic 3.5 million euro salary for his first year in charge of the club, a sum that would rise to 4.5 million for his second and third seasons in charge. Losing him represented a considerable economy.
After the years of plenty at City, Mancini is now having to reinvent himself ... but with what? The Coppa Italia is something to cling onto given that he's won six domestic cups with four separate clubs. Extending that golden touch in the Europa League could yet snare the improbable prize of a Champions League place.
Still, Mancini must have hoped for better from his career than his current spot. Cleaning up a questionable European record is how he would change perceptions of him from good to great, but one wonders if and when he will have the chance. In the meantime, his attempts to cement and build his legacy, at Inter and beyond, are looking more and more of a difficult task to achieve.
Andy Brassell is a freelance European football writer and broadcaster for the BBC, The Independent, ESPN, The Blizzard, Four Four Two, Talksport and others.