Roberto Mancini finished his last interview of Saturday evening at Wembley with a suggestion for the future. "Now we also need players who have played in the Champions League," he said, "like Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo."
He was joking, of course. It has been a long, emotional day for Manchester City who, having qualified for the Champions League on Tuesday, had now won their first notable trophy in 35 years. For all the vast amounts of money invested, the egos of their most famous players, their enigmatic owner and the various managers, directors and hangers-on, this was a day when it back to the simple things. Good players performing well and a team that was far superior on the big occasion.
City deserved their FA Cup. They beat Manchester United to get to the final, they completely out-played Stoke City on the day itself and the manner in which they celebrated the old trophy showed it clearly meant a great deal to them. But modern English football at the elite level is no longer about winning a trophy and then talking about it fondly for years. As Sir Alex Ferguson has said on so many occasions, the flush of victory disappears quickly and then the mind runs on to next season. All that changes is that the addiction to winning becomes all the greater.
So it was that Mancini came to be joking about signing three of the world's most famous footballers early on Saturday evening as the last coachloads of their fans left the stadium car park. For the winners this FA Cup is not intended to be an isolated event, immortalised in song, a commemorative DVD and an annual team reunion for the next 30 years as – with respect – it probably would have been had Stoke won.
For the ambitious, the FA Cup can only be a step along the way to the two trophies that really matter – and when it comes to ambition, City are world champions. Mancini said later that City needed to take as an example Tottenham who, having reached the heights of the Champions League quarter-finals, ran out of steam and will finish this season back where they started, outside the elite top four
Mancini wants City to push on and, having come this far, there would be no point doing otherwise. They are catching up on years of investment at clubs such as United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool and they have to build the kind of reputation that makes them a natural choice for the world's leading players. All that takes time, a commodity that is not afforded to Premier League managers at the top end.
That said, winning the knock-out domestic cup competitions have been an integral part of Mancini's managerial career up to now. In Italy he won the Supercoppa with Fiorentina, Lazio and twice with Internazionale before going on to win three titles with Inter, albeit after the Calciopoli affair had weakened the field. He has now won the main domestic cup in five of his last 10 seasons.
So what could the FA Cup do for Manchester City? It is 21 years since Ferguson won his first FA Cup with United, also his first trophy at the club, the beginning of a dynasty that is not over. Then, in those days before the Premier League and the Champions League, the competition meant more than it does in its diminished modern form where it must share the day with league games from Ewood Park and Bloomfield Road.
But let us not get too sentimental about the FA Cup: it has always come second to the league championship, even in its so-called golden age. That is why the winners of the league are called the champions of England and the FA Cup winners are just the FA Cup winners. In that respect, City's trophy is no less important than United's in 1990. Now, as then, there were no big teams missing from the competition and none who said they did not want to win it.
What is different for Mancini is, having won City's first trophy of this era, how the rest of the competition shapes up. Although United finished a woeful 13th in the old First Division in 1990, five points off the relegation places, Ferguson had only one considerable opponent when it came to conquering English football, the then-champions Liverpool. Mancini has to navigate a much trickier path through Arsenal, Chelsea and then United – and with Tottenham and Liverpool snapping at his heels – if he is to win a league title.
It is telling of the differences in English football from 1990 to the current day that in the 1989-1990 season United finished 31 points behind Liverpool. Yet the task of winning a league title for City, who trail this season's champions United by a much more modest 12 points with a game in hand, would seem to be just as daunting as that which faced United after their 1990 FA Cup.
It took United three seasons to win their first league title of the modern era after that initial Cup success. Mancini will not have that kind of time afforded to him but on Saturday you could see what he means when he says that this is a young team that needs time to grow. Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong, Yaya Touré and Mario Balotelli were all excellent. Even if the opposition were not up to much, they coped well with the pressure of the occasion.
It never looked like it would be Stoke's day. Jermaine Pennant gave Aleksandar Kolarov a hard time of it in the first half and Thomas Sorensen's save from Balotelli in the 24th minute kept his team in the game. But before Touré seized on a loose ball in the 74th minute to score the game's only goal it felt like a question of when City would score – they had squandered enough chances along the way.
The other consequence of winning a trophy is the authority it confers upon a manager. In a club that seems to exist at times on the tension between Mancini and his captain, Carlos Tevez, that gives the manager a bit more clout. He will undoubtedly need it for the road ahead, because if he is to be believed this is only the beginning.
Scorer: Manchester City Y Touré 74. Substitutes: Manchester City A Johnson (Barry, 73), Zabaleta (Tevez, 87), Vieira (Silva 90). Stoke City Whitehead (Etherington, 62), Carew (Delap, 80), Pugh (Whelan, 84). Booked: Manchester City None. Stoke Huth, Wilkinson. Man of the match De Jong. Match rating 6/10.
Attempts on target: Man City 14 Stoke 1.
Referee M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).
Attendance 88,643.Reuse content