Balotelli comes of age as Mancini's gamble pays off

 

There was a kind of mocking to the very end. It was one thing to know that Sir Alex Ferguson was jigging around the Blackburn pitch celebrating a title while Roberto Mancini led his team out, but quite another to have the Wembley Stadium announcer select "We Are The Champions" to play just before kick-off.

No one can silence the deafening noise of City's arrival back amid the silverware, though. This club's journeys to Wembley will continue to the cries from the train of "There it is!" a mile out of Euston when the outline of the stadium looms into view – the shout went up yesterday, as before the semi- final – but this only seemed to be an alien environment when the players took to a podium bearing the word "Winners".

On an occasion which offered another platform for those who abhor the way City have accelerated their progress by spending to tell sourly why this isn't football as they know it, Mancini's players played as well as they were paid. Individually and collectively, here were the best in dangerous, talented and above all ambitious players that money can buy.

It was a day when Mario Balotelli showed no adverse reaction to the turf. The decision to field him was a gamble on his temperament holding up, and how Mancini must have shuddered when Robert Huth flashed out an elbow and floored Balotelli with a blow to the throat. But the striker climbed up and showed he can be a hazard of a different kind. In almost the next breath he delivered a piercing shot which sent Thomas Sorensen soaring to touch it over right-handed.

And though it is Yaya Touré's goal scored from a crowded area which will be consigned to City legend, two pivotal touches from Balotelli produced it: the ball he rolled under his studs sent DavidSilva into the danger area, and his blocked shot set up Touréto fire home.

"This trophy was important for him and can help him improve as a man and as a player," his manager said last night. "He has a big talent and he can't lose that big talent."

Touré, Nigel de Jong, Vincent Kompany, Micah Richards... there were so many commanding performances that Carlos Tevez, who didn't know until he reached the stadium that he would play, almost faded from the picture.

"We've laid down the first brick, now we can build a house on there," Kompany said last night, though it was the raw reactions of Richards and Balotelli which most revealed that this was not aboutthe money.

"You can't describe it," said Richards. "Look at the fans, they've been here since day one." While Balotelli, a player desperate to bring more of his Italian goals to England, exclaimed: "All my season I was shit; what can I say!"

The Poznan celebration wasn't much in evidence – supporting a side with a proclivity for untimely comedy moments doesn't make fanstoo comfortable turning their backs on matches. But none of those Stoke fans basking in the sunny end of Wembley could have complained if City had scored three.

The banner unfurled at the end depicted Manchester United's famous Stretford End ticker, which recorded 35 trophyless years for their neighbours, reduced to a big 0. The banner might actually be removed now, it was suggested to Mancini. "It was time,"he said.

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