Magic or mundane – the FA Cup 3rd round kicks in today with some managers and fans viewing it as an unwanted distraction from Premier league proceedings…others not so.
The overwhelming majority of those associated with Manchester City will be up for the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ rather than adopting the ‘Road to Hell’ approach as the oldest cup competition in the world gathers momentum.
For City, the FA Cup symbolised the ushering in of a new dawn, the promise of a glorious era, where sky blue reigned over opponents like the heavens above.
Grown men shed tears of happiness on May 14th 2011 as Yaya Toure’s goal swept away 35 seemingly endless years without a major trophy – Roberto Mancini’s men had won the FA Cup and boy did it feel gooooood!
So, please Paul Lambert, manager of Aston Villa FC, go stick your head where the sun don’t shine, when dismissing the unbridled joy that comes with winning the FA Cup.
Yes, of course anyone with two brain cells understands the economic necessity of retaining Premier League status, but if a team is so poor that it cannot accommodate a few extra fixtures – games that can genuinely excite a fan base and give a glimmer of hope of silverware – then it’s a poor poor show.
You only have to take one look at last season’s winners, Wigan Athletic, to see the reality. They won the cup against the heavily fancied Manchester City but were relegated three days later from the PL.
Nonetheless, Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan wouldn’t have swapped Cup Final success for PL survival. He may be an old romantic but as he puts it, ‘We made history and that will never change.’
If a manager blames FA Cup participation for failure in a 38-game PL campaign, then he needs to take a closer look at his own shortcomings.
It still rankles and mystifies in equal measure how City – admittedly a Mancini ‘led’ City in behind the scenes meltdown – contrived to lose 1-0 as extra time loomed large on May 11th 2013.
An apology of a performance against a Wigan side with absolutely nothing to lose, remains a stain on the club’s history – not just of recent times, but of all time.
On a personal level, I was so ‘traumatised’ I still cannot recall Pablo Zabaleta being shown the red card. I know it happened, I was there, but some psychological block precludes me from remembering it.
It’s only a matter of time before the men in white coats come to take me away!
The subsequent dismissal of ‘Bobby Manc’, the tales of division, player rebellion and discontent that later filtered out of the Etihad, still did not adequately explain the abominable way City played on the day.
Mancini, still lauded by many fans as the man who restored pride and glory to City – the perennial under-achievers – was already on the way out of the Etihad BEFORE the match kicked off.
It wasn’t as if the players, by winning the Cup, would inadvertently save the manager’s job – the manager that so many of them wanted to see gone.
Mancini was, and forever will be, a favourite of the fans for what he achieved in his three-and-a-half seasons at City. That fact notwithstanding, it was absolutely the right call to change City’s managerial direction. Roberto had a great past with the club, but clearly no future.
It’s now Manuel Pellegrini’s chance to throw his hat into the FA Cup ring, and he does so with grace, showing due respect to the old competition.
Clearly the Cup is third on Pellegrini’s list of priorities after the Premier League and Champions League (not necessarily in that order) but, nonetheless he wants to win it. There’s no doubting or detracting from Manuel’s mantra – he wants to win EVERYTHING!
Ewood Park will see a much changed City side from that which temporarily topped the PL on New Year’s Day, after a well deserved win in South Wales. That said, City have an extensive injury list with Aguero, Rodwell, Demichelis, Richards & Jovetic all absent. Hardly helpful.
David Silva is available after serving his one-match suspension and, without being disrespectful, a City ‘squad-rotated’ side containing the likes of Pantilimon, Boyata, Lescott, Clichy, Garcia, Dzeko and Lopes should still be able to get the job done, if selected.
Whatever the outcome, it’s hard to envisage a repeat of the outpouring of anger from frustrated City fans, as was the case when the team lost 2-0 to Rovers in the Cup QF in March 2007.
Howls of derision rained down on Stuart Pearce’s uninspiring team as a bank of 7,000 travelling fans screamed ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt…’ perhaps the most damning indictment any set of supporters can direct at their side.
The fact the FA Cup is a distant third in this season’s silverware chase speaks volumes, serving to illustrate City’s quantum upturn in fortunes since Sheikh Mansour’s intervention.
Nonetheless, Pellegrini is determined to cram as much as he can into City’s trophy room as quickly as he can. Carry on Manuel!
By David Walker