FA Cup Final: Has Roberto Mancini done enough to keep his job at Manchester City?
Manager knows second place in the league and a Cup win will guarantee nothing
Saturday 11 May 2013
To all the men who preceded him as manager of Manchester City, the question would have seemed absurd. Would winning the FA Cup and finishing second in the Premier League be enough to keep Roberto Mancini his job?
In 1969 and 1981, the last FA Cup finals that featured Manchester City before their takeover by Abu Dhabi, they finished 12th and 13th in the league and nobody at Maine Road asked Joe Mercer or John Bond if bringing the old trophy back would be "enough". Mancini, however, knows he will be judged differently.
"At Inter, I won seven trophies in four years and they still sacked me," he said. "This is football and I know football well enough to be able to understand this situation." He said it with a smile but Mancini knows that what fatally undermined him at Internazionale, a failure to make an impression on the Champions League, is what might damn him at City.
However, when it comes to domestic cups, Mancini has enjoyed almost unbroken success. He was 20 when he won his first Coppa Italia in a Sampdoria side that featured Graeme Souness, and he scored a penalty in the second leg against Milan.
As a player and a manager he would win the Coppa Italia a further nine times. In 2008, having secured the Serie A title with a dramatic win at Parma and then been denied the double by Roma in the cup final, he was relieved of his duties at San Siro.
Should Wigan Athletic win, it will be the biggest upset in an FA Cup final since 1973 when Bob Stokoe, wearing a strange combination of mac, trilby and a red tracksuit, ran on to the pitch to celebrate Sunderland's extraordinary victory over the great machine Don Revie had constructed at Leeds United.
Asked if he could think of a more uneven final he had been involved in, Mancini settled on the 1994 Coppa Italia that saw his Sampdoria side take on Ancona, who were mid-table in Serie B. It was played over two legs, which rather reduced the chances of an upset. Sampdoria won 6-1.
Given the dreadful, deflating nature of Wigan's defeat by Swansea City that pushed them to the very edge of relegation, and Roberto Martinez's chronic lack of central defenders, there are some who might imagine a similar scoreline at Wembley this evening.
The FA Cup is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the "Matthews Final". Since then the Cup has been won three times by clubs outside the top flight but only twice by teams that have struggled against relegation – Everton in 1995 and Ipswich in 1978. No relegated club has ever won it.
Nevertheless, had Martinez's side won at the Etihad Stadium last month, as they should have done, Wigan might travel to Wembley in better spirits. "Usually, when we play Wigan, they play to win," said Mancini.
"They have always played well against us and for this reason I think they will be dangerous. They are not a team that relies on counter-attack. That is the difference between them and other, similar teams. If we want to beat Wigan, I repeat, we have to play very, very well.
"I like Roberto [Martinez] because he likes good football and because his players are fighting relegation, this should be the best moment of their lives. Roberto probably deserves a bigger club, with all the respect we have for Wigan. His chairman, Dave Whelan, is a fantastic man. I support Wigan in their fight against relegation – and Sunderland because Paolo Di Canio is there. I think Martinez deserves to manage a top team."
The FA Cup is full of ritual and superstition. When Portsmouth won the trophy five years ago, Harry Redknapp wore the same clothes for every round, although you like to think his wife Sandra washed them in between.
"I am Italian and Italian people have a lot of superstitions," Mancini said. Among them are wearing the club scarf around his neck on the touchline, dabbing spilt wine behind his ears and an abhorrence of the colour purple, which in Italy signifies mourning.
"The last thing I say to the players will be the last thing I tell them before every game: 'Try to play football always. Don't lose your head for nothing. If you play football, you can always score in the last second.'"
He might need the charms to ward off the spectre of the Malaga manager, Manuel Pellegrini, who recently lunched with Manchester City's director of football, Txiki Begiristain.
Pellegrini, who has won nothing much since arriving in Spain in 2004, will be a hard sell and Mancini deserves his chance to become the first Manchester City manager since Jimmy Frizzell not to have to compete against Sir Alex Ferguson. Even Frizzell had only one Fergie-free month before the great man's arrival from the north began the long Manchester eclipse of City.
Mancini revealed he had written Ferguson a letter, which is rather classier than sending him a text. "But I don't think him going will make my job easier," he said. "At a big club like United you can change the manager and carry on. Sir Alex may have built this team but it is still a big club with a big history."
Asked for a memory of Ferguson, Mancini rather cheekily nominated City's 6-1 rout of United at Old Trafford in October 2011. "I don't think there could be another match like this," he said. "Six-one against United is a good memory for us. Three years ago, when I first played them, they were much better than us."
However, as Mancini acknowledged with a grin, his record against David Moyes is far worse than his record against Ferguson. Of their eight games, Moyes has won six and Mancini one.
"Yes, Everton, our problem is always Everton," he laughed. "As for David Moyes, I don't know. We will see next year."
Down but not out: Struggling finalists
* There have been five previous occasions where FA Cup finalists have been relegated in the same season:
1926: Manchester City City lost to Bolton at Wembley before being relegated a week later.
1969: Leicester City Dropped into the second tier weeks after losing 1-0 to Manchester City.
1983: Brighton & Hove Albion Lost to Manchester United in a replay, having been demoted.
1997: Middlesbrough Bryan Robson’s side went down and then lost 2-0 to Chelsea.
2010: Portsmouth Avram Grant’s team had relegation confirmed a month before a 1-0 Wembley defeat against Chelsea.
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