Tevez's legs were still willing – but his heart clearly lies elsewhere

As City waved goodbye to a trophyless era, their captain was refusing to commit his future

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For a moment – and it was only a moment – Carlos Tevez beamed a big, toothy grin and the phoney war between him and his club dissolved away. The translator in the Wembley tunnel had just put to him the question of the Stretford End ticker, which proclaims City's 35 years without a trophy, when his eyes widened, the chewing gum was temporarily lodged in a corner of his mouth and you could see from the look on his face what words of Spanish were coming out. "We remember that flag very well and now we can take it down," he said.

It is like a slowly dying love affair, this Tevez business. There is the occasional moment of hope to seize upon – his cameo role in the wonderfully daft Christmas video of City players making their own cards was another – but in his mind it is over, perhaps in his heart, too, though that bit is hard to tell because he does not appear to be the one making his decisions. Instinct tells you to drill at the holes in the logic of his argument but the fact he still does not have a word of English, five years after arriving, speaks loudest that he is still just someone passing through, prepared to let others make the decisions and ship him on.

"I have to make sure everything is OK for my family, I'll have to speak to them [before deciding on my future]" he said. So, why leave for Italy or Spain rather than Argentina, where his daughters reside? "You are already talking as if I have left the club," he replied. "I don't know if I am going to leave or not, if I'm going to Spain or Italy or somewhere else." Maddening.

You see why City want to keep him. New strikers come with so few guarantees for Premier League success. Look at Edin Dzeko, the player City compiled a big fat dossier on, had watched endlessly in action and on training pitches in Germany and felt was more likely to acclimatise to Manchester than David Silva – but whose pace and touch seem so lacking.

But set against that what we also saw again on Saturday – the unedifying spectacle of two parties to an estranged relationship giving their sides. "I spoke to Carlos, he said 'why you say I want to leave?' I said, 'I didn't say this, never', " Mancini insisted. It certainly ran against the grain of the day .

This has been going on for a year now – remember, it was on 6 May last year that Mancini said "if a top player is not happy to stay here then it's better to go to another team. This is not just the case for Tevez but for all players" – and the longer it continues, the more it feeds the prejudice of those who like to say that Eastlands is a safe harbour for football's mercenaries. Wembley on Saturday was actually an opportunity for City to debunk the myth peddled sourly by those who say that the club's growth is empty and meaningless because it is jet-propelled by petrodollars (as if United, who paid the same price for Wayne Rooney that City did for Tevez, or any other foreign-owned club are any different). And City did debunk the myth, in many ways.

Their desire to roll up their rich past and take it with them on the journey was epitomised by the sight of Bernard Halford – or "Mr Halford" as those members of City's staff who have known good times and bad still call the long-standing club secretary – clambering up to place his hands on the trophy. (There's a wonderful scene in the City film Blue Moon Rising in which Halford shows us inside what laughably passes for a trophy room.)

The past is a big part of the new City, whose owners also like to think that the identity of the club can only include such a thing as a player with City characteristics – loyal, no-hassle winners.

Impeccable conduct is not necessarily a part of it. The raw emotion of Micah Richards, who has lived through City's good times and bad, saying "look at the fans, they've been there since fucking day one" contributed wonderfully to the sense that this is a club with soul and Mario Balotelli's admission that "my season was shit – can I say that?" is actually how he feels about things.

City players were all over the pitch, expressing what this win felt in myriad ways. And where was the captain? A few words of English would have equipped him so well for this seminal moment, but he was invisible. The legs were willing but the heart lies somewhere else.

* Viewing figures for Saturday's final peaked at 8.3m on ITV1, averaging 6.9m, the best for three years.