While some teams snort with derision at the League Cup, usually placing it way down the list of priorities, this year City took the tournament seriously even before the two-legged clash with their near-neighbours. With Mark Hughes in charge for much of the competition, strong teams were fielded throughout and with good reason. Although it may not be the most glamorous of silverware, lifting the trophy next month would have been a valuable first step in creating an atmosphere of success around Eastlands. Mancini, a cup king in Italy with 10 Coppa Italia victories to his name as a player and coach will be fully aware of what a cup victory can do for a team looking to build a dynasty. If he needs reaffirmation, a simple glance at the career of the man occupying Mancio’s old job at Inter Milan should suffice.
Jose Mourinho led his Chelsea side to Carling Cup victory in his first year at Stamford Bridge and followed it up with the London club’s first League title win in 50 years, and many around the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ point to the 3-2 victory over Liverpool in 2005 as providing the spur needed to take Chelsea over the line. That vintage of Chelsea team were further down the road to glory than Mancini’s City find themselves today, after Claudio Ranieri’s team-building skills laid the foundations for the Portuguese’s early success. Hughes was in a similar building phase before his dismissal and now Mancini is tasked with carrying on and moving to the next level, he should not ignore either cup competition next season should the FA Cup go elsewhere. Taking City to victory at Wembley would be a defining moment in the Blues’ revolution and all avenues should be fully explored.
The game itself was a thrilling affair in which both teams proved they would be worthy winners, but the difference in the end was Wayne Rooney, arguably the most in-form player in the country. City were unable to handle the burly Scouser, but they will not be the only team between now and the end of the season to say that if Rooney’s current form continues unabated. One crumb of comfort for City will be they are not going to face players of that calibre every week and have the perfect opportunity to banish this disappointment by hosting Portsmouth on Sunday, hoping to heap more misery on the Premier League’s crisis club. To guarantee victory over the South Coast side City’s own firebrand forward, Carlos Tevez, needs to be at the very top of his game.
The similarities between Tevez and Rooney are many – both possess an innate desire to win, a tireless work ethic and a devastating blend of steel and skill. But Rooney is currently playing at a level few players reach in their career, one Tevez has occasionally threatened to reach but has only ever done so in short bursts. While during his time at Old Trafford Tevez was sometimes the difference maker, usually from the bench, on the other side of Manchester he has the chance to be the focal point of the team – a role that would never have come his way at United because of the presence of Rooney. The form Rooney is displaying now is the form of a truly great player, one that deserves to be included in the same bracket as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Tevez, although in excellent form himself, is not quite there yet – much like his team.
For City to reach United’s standing on a consistent basis, they need the players and manager to carry them there. If Hughes was not the right man for the job, Mancini may well be. Some of the players signed since the Abu Dhabi United takeover will never be good enough to take the club to the upper plane. Some, however, have shown enough to indicate they will grow into that position, and Tevez is one of them. Gareth Barry, Shay Given, Nigel de Jong and Craig Bellamy have all been amongst the best performers in their position this season. It is only a few short steps from there to the very top of the game. Unfortunately, it is those steps that are the hardest to take.