FA Cup semi-finals: Roberto Mancini needs success to revive Manchester City's momentum
Another Wembley win can be the launchpad for next season – and guarantee Italian’s job
For Roberto Mancini, it all comes back to the cup – the environment where it has always begun. After he took charge at Internazionale in 2004 and saw off Roma to clinch Italy's Coppa Italia, a weight seemed to lift from the Milan's famous black-and-blues. “It is as if a spell has been broken,” the club's owner Massimo Moratti declared. “Now we can look to higher ground in the future.” It was the same effect to the power of 10 at Manchester City, when Mancini managed to burst the oppressive mood of red domination and bring home the FA Cup in 2011 – the club's first major trophy in 35 years.
Except that for tomorrow's Cup semi-final against Chelsea the atmosphere is different. There is a darker edge. Two years ago Mancini was riding the crest of City's first wave at Wembley. This season he has been not so much waving but drowning under the challenge of maintaining his club's accelerated growth to a place among Europe's superpowers. They still seem a way off and since it will be for the club's Abu Dhabi owners to decide next month whether Mancini can get them through the gears for the onward journey, he conceded yesterday that another cup triumph – his 10th as a player or manager – would put a different complexion on the season. "Yeah, for sure," he said to that notion. "It won't be easy. But it will be important."
Even as Mancini prepares for a game which has Rafael Benitez in just as much need of a result – it is an epitaph for his Chelsea tenure that the Spaniard seeks – City are looking to where their caravan will move next. They could have badly done with the revenues of reaching the Champions League knockout stage – the pre-season goal that Mancini could not deliver – and the free weeks in the May calendar will see them travel to the United States for a lucrative post-season tour, to face Chelsea twice more. The Italian clearly does not delight in this prospect, but was diplomatic to a point.
"Usually I don't like this because when you finish the season, it is finished," Mancini said. "But for me going to New York is like going on holiday. We go to play two games because it is important for the club but I don't like to go [on tour] after the championship. The players need to go home for a week because after some of them [David Silva and Maicon] have Confederations Cup, World Cup qualifiers and international friendlies."
The significance of Wembley was written across his face, with hopes of Silva's fitness resting with a test tomorrow morning on the hamstring he strained in the 2-1 win at Old Trafford on Monday. Sergio Aguero will be thrown in even if his troubled knee is only 80 per cent right.
The faintest hope seems to be playing in the back of Mancini's mind that United might be reeled in in the Premier League. "If they lose against Stoke and we beat ... Wigan [on Wednesday] it is six points [assuming United also lose at West Ham on the same night]. It's possible," he said, his face brightening, before an alter-ego seemed to tell him the truth. "It's impossible. United don't have pressure. This championship is finished," he then said, claiming that brief optimism had all been a joke.
He peered into the summer, and the possibility of whether 32-year-old Gareth Barry – excellent in the Old Trafford win which has allowed a part of Mancini to dream – might get an extension to the contract which has a year to run. "I'm very happy with Gareth," he said. And he parted with a wide grin when talk of whether Carlos Tevez would be allowed out of the country to the US, while currently serving a 250-hour community service order for motoring offences, drifted into the notion of the Argentine sweeping the New York streets, Boy George style. "Why not!" Mancini said. But this weekend is more deadly serious than any of the big cup occasions that have left inflections across Mancini's great career. His job may depend on his players sweeping Chelsea aside to take a berth in the FA Cup final.
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