FOX Soccer Exclusive
Will Wigan's run seal Mancini's future?
Not since Wimbledon toppled Liverpool by the same scoreline in 1988 has the competition seen a result like this. Arguably, this upset is greater: City, until two weeks ago, were the reigning Premier League champs and are widely considered one of the top clubs in the world. Until Saturday, Wigan’s greatest trick had been survival in the top-flight, their greatest honor the collection of something called the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Wigan’s entire player budget is less than the average cost of a single one for Manchester City. As mismatches go, they don’t get more lopsided.
And yet, the score does not lie. Wigan are this year’s FA Cup winners. They earned a berth in next year’s Europa League, and will march out at the start of next season to face Manchester United in the Community Shield. This is Wigan’s greatest moment – and perhaps one of Manchester City’s lowest.
City’s players were magnanimous in defeat. Vincent Kompany gamely offered that City would be back next year, and for many years afterwards. Roberto Mancini simply said that Wigan were good and that City were not. But there was no mistaking the deep disappointment from this team as they trudged up the 107 steps to collect the runner’s-up medal. There was also a sense that no one on the City touchline had any idea why things had gone so wrong.
Those into either psychology or metaphor might have seen in this game City’s entire season. City this season have been a team that is less than the sum of its parts. They seem either unmanageable or unmanaged. And perhaps some of the lethargy was due to a pre-game report about its future management: several papers reported on Friday night that Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini had agreed to take over the team next season.
Mancini tried to put a game face on the result and the news, and after the game, bluntly called the reports “rubbish.” But if he was auditioning for survival at the Etihad with this trophy game, it was a poor show indeed.
City were frankly pathetic, a team that looked like it didn’t care if it won or lost. For all their expense and glamor, it was Wigan who sparkled instead. Man of the match Callum McManaman kept driving down the right side and forcing an uncharacteristically clumsy City to collect three yellows and a red in an attempt to stop him.
City lacked any sort of extra step, and looked vastly unmotivated in midfield. Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure were largely invisible, and neither Sergio Aguero nor Carlos Tevez made much of an impact. When Pablo Zabaleta was sent off for a foolish tackle on a breaking McManaman, what little gas City had in the tank evaporated. When Wigan went forward, City lagged back. When Watson leapt to head home Shaun Maloney’s corner kick, he was unmarked. City played like ghosts of a great team. They were dispelled like mist in the morning sun.
The win is vindication for chairman Dave Whelan’s long and sometimes quixotic support of this club. He’s been criticized for sinking money into the club and for standing by his mercurial manager Roberto Martinez. Whelan, who broke his leg playing for Blackburn in the 1960 FA Cup final, has always placed special importance on this competition for this club. On Saturday, eyes red and barely able to speak, he spoke of waiting to get his hands on the trophy, and how much it meant to his players and his city.
“I thought, secretly, before the game that we would lose,” admitted Whelan afterwards. “But this is repayment for breaking my leg in 1960.”
Wigan still have a greater challenge yet to come. The Latics must win their final two league games, against Arsenal and Aston Villa, to have a shot at Premiership survival. This result will surely be a shot in the arm.
For City, it is a season bereft of hardware a year after they temporarily broke the stranglehold their neighbors have on English silverware. It is surely only a temporary setback. City have the money, the talent and the desire to put 2013 in the rear-view mirror, and they shall.
But for Wigan – who might well be back in the Championship after Tuesday night – this is a moment that will live on forever. They came to Wembley for the first time, and walked away winners.
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