Mancini seeks to turn back clock and launch new era

 

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The Independent Online

The Manchester City players have had T-shirts prepared for this evening. They carry an image of the huge Old Trafford banner, which has ticked up their 35 years without a trophy, set to a big, fat zero.

That is just a minor insight into the emotional capital the club carries into this afternoon's FA Cup final against Stoke City, stalked to what might be the end of their barren era by a swaggering Manchester United, who fancy they will be celebrating a record 19th championship on the Ewood Park pitch even as Roberto Mancini walks his team out.

History is not the only burden City bear against a club who have not lost in four Wembley appearances. Carlos Tevez – the one commodity they have managed to wrestle from Old Trafford – remains a haunting presence and it is starting to weigh the club down. Tevez was in Mancini's provisional starting XI last night, subject to a final decision this morning, but the manager prepared for the final with an icy declaration that he does not want players whose hearts lie elsewhere. "When you start your job you should be happy, because the season is long and there could be a thousand problems," the Italian said. "I always say that, in my opinion, a player should stay here because he believes in the project and he's happy to stay at the club. If I'm not happy to stay I will leave this club. It's the same for the players."

By ominous coincidence, the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, was discussing the way that his own recalcitrant playmaker had been coaxed into the fold: "Initially he couldn't buy into it here. He found it difficult. But the last three months he's recognised and realised what we're all about." Pulis was talking about Jermaine Pennant, whose footballing renaissance in the Potteries reached its zenith in a semi-final performance against Bolton Wanderers which revealed that Stoke really can play the ball on the ground.

But though the parallels between the sides seem so minimal as Potters prepare to face petrodollar men – the £50m City will demand for Tevez's services is roughly the entire sum Peter Coates has invested since he reassumed control of Stoke in 2006 – a yearning for a trophy binds together two sides whose histories have been curiously interdependent over the years.

The petrodollars will fade to inconsequence come 3pm. Mancini will just have a set of players more desperate to wear shirts which read "zero" than any who have gone before them.

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