Roberto Mancini believes Carlos Tevez will not hit top form until next season, suggesting he expects the Argentine to still be at Manchester City.
Tevez has helped to reignite City's Premier League title bid since returning from a self-imposed exile in his homeland.
The Argentina international spent more than three months back in South America after suffering an infamous falling out with Mancini during a UEFA Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.
It appeared as though there would be no way back for him at the Etihad Stadium, with Mancini claiming he was 'finished' and Tevez reiterating his desire to secure a move elsewhere.
He has, however, been welcomed back into the fold over recent weeks and has fired City back into title contention with four goals in three games.
Mancini believes there is still more to come from his fiery frontman and feels he will be an ever greater force to be reckoned with in 2012/13.
He said: "It is difficult for him to play after six months.
"For this reason he played only the last two or three games.
"I think he can find his best form next season, after pre-season."
When asked if that meant Mancini wanted to keep Tevez, who is widely expected to leave in the summer, the Italian - not for the first time - was coy.
He said: "I think he has a contract with Manchester City, but I don't think in this moment it is important to talk about the future for everyone."
It has been suggested that City would already have the Premier League title wrapped up had they been able to call on Tevez's services for the entire season, but Mancini is reluctant to buy into that belief.
He said: "No, I don't think (about) this.
"It was a strange situation six months ago and I said to Carlo, a lot of times, apologise and it would be finished.
"Carlos didn't want to do this, he wanted to leave the club in December.
"But if we are here it is also because the other players were playing very well.
"(Sergio) Aguero scored a lot of goals, (Edin) Dzeko the same, (Mario) Balotelli, all the team played well.
"If not, it is impossible we would be here at this moment."