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May 11, 2013

City make no case for Mancini defence

Change is the name of the game, and England's three leading clubs will be under new management next season.

The new FA Cup winners are also unlikely to have Roberto Martinez in charge. The next week will feature a series of last hurrahs, but the dampest of all will be Roberto Mancini's.

The Italian's Manchester City team showed why he is no longer being entrusted with the keys to a sheikh's fortune. His goodbye game against Norwich at the Etihad will be tinged with the haunting afterglow of this wholly deserved humiliation at the hands of Wigan.

"If we couldn't win, I am happy for Martinez to win this trophy," Mancini said. "We didn't run a lot to win this game."

While it was accepted that the passage of time would always get Sir Alex Ferguson at some point, Mancini's imminent departure would once have seemed the most surprising of all.

The idea of it was not coming with the blessing of many City fans. They recall him as the manager who brought silverware back to the club after 35 years, following his breaking of that trophy duck with a first league title in 44 years.

This embarrassment may change opinions.

Mancini was hardly expected to preside over a dynasty spanning two decades like Ferguson, but the manner of his impending ejection seems a little sudden -- even though it echoes his arrival.

Then, Mark Hughes was usurped by a behind-closed-doors deal done with the Italian in December 2009. Now, Mancini is set to be supplanted by a Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini, delivered by the same methods. "This is football," to use a regular Mancini refrain.

The logic seems sound enough. City have the greatest resources in the English game yet could not win the Premier League or FA Cup. They never looked like doing the latter against a team staring down the barrel of relegation.

For the moment, Mancini is pleading ignorance, but he was hardly convincing in a stormy postmatch grilling. City not issuing a statement to deny the talk that Pellegrini will replace him left him short of a credible defence.

"We have people in charge for the newspapers, and I don't know if it is true or not," Mancini said. "In football, everything can happen. In one or two weeks, you will know if it is true or not. I don't know why the club didn't stop this."

As their great rivals in red face the flux of regime change, City are abandoning stability. The so-far shadowy figures of Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano have bared their teeth for the first time. It seems the Etihad Campus will be run like a common-or-garden European superpower from now on.

In such a setup, impatience is a commodity traded at the expense of stability and sentiment. This is your City, whether you like it or not -- though after Wembley, you might now accept this is a results business. Red ridicule is going to continue for the summer too.

City fans initially made clear their continuing loyalty to Mancini with "He comes from Italy, to manage Man City," a well-meant, if ill-rhyming, anthem.

That continuing popularity is reminiscent of Claudio Ranieri's in his final days at Chelsea -- a dead man walking but smiling too and, in contrast to his compatriot Ranieri, with trophies to his name. Football irony dictates that Mancini, further enriched by a considerable compensation payment, is heavily tipped to replace Ranieri in the tax haven of Monaco.

At Wembley, the signs were soon of a troubled swan song to prove the Spanish axe men correct in their actions. An early Yaya Toure shot resulting from a Carlos Tevez free kick off the wall had keeper Joel Robles scrambling, but Wigan swiftly began dominating possession and causing problems.

The roots of Mancini's plight lie in his failings in the Champions League. Pellegrini's exploits with Villarreal and Malaga lead the reasons for his candidacy. City's power game has looked predictable against continental opposition too often, and Wigan's Spain-via-Lancashire tiki-taka game similarly picked the former champions apart as Callum McManaman's early effort delivered a warning shot of the Wigan danger that was sustained right up until Ben Watson's winner.

James McCarthy twinkled through midfield, and Shaun Maloney created angles for Arouna Kone to work with. Gareth Barry and Toure always looked flat-footed, while David Silva and Samir Nasri were negligible presences, with the Frenchman's eventual withdrawal for Milner coming as little surprise even though Silva had perhaps been even more ineffective.

McManaman was the clear man of the match. Should Wigan be relegated, he is set to be a leading name in the summer transfer morass. Mancini never found an answer to him and could not get a performance in any way approaching that of the Scouse firebrand from any of his players.

A twisting, turning first-half run took him past four defenders, and back again, only for him to eventually run out of space. A second-period burst caused Pablo Zabaleta to commit his second yellow card offence and become only the third player dismissed in an FA Cup final. When your most dependable player is so reckless, it becomes clear that ideas have been expended. It is time for a change after all.

"I am sure that we did a good job in these three years," Mancini said in defence of a trophy haul that has not been augmented this season, even if he counts the Community Shield. "I have four years' contract, not one. How many clubs did better than us this year? If it is true, I am stupid, but I am sure I work with serious people."

The artistic impression always lay with the Latics, yet good chances still fell to City. Tevez thought he had scored on the half-hour only for Robles' foot to deflect the ball over, defying geometry to do so. After the break, Sergio Aguero swept narrowly wide.

Wigan simply refused to accept the role of plucky losers. Watson's winner, confirmation of City's shame, followed minutes of mounting momentum. City remained listless and predictable, with an air of disinterested entitlement.

Their main achievement had been to suggest that the decision to axe Mancini would be the right one. They offered no evidence for unfair dismissal.

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