x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Nothing certain for Roberto Mancini

Roberto Mancini, the Italian manager, has talked the talk, now he needs to walk the walk and take Manchester City to their first trophy in 35 years in at the FA Cup final against Stoke City.

Now is the time for Roberto Mancini to deliver. He's talked the talk, now he needs to walk the walk and take Manchester City to their first trophy in 35 years in tomorrow's FA Cup final against Stoke City.

The investment made in City by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed demands trophies and their players are on a high after qualifying for the Champions League with a midweek win over Tottenham Hotspur, the team who beat them to a place last year. A top-four finish was the main aim for City this year so they have realised their goal.

At times I was not convinced they would do it and I still consider that Mancini employs a far too rigid formation, but expensive recruits such as David Silva and Carlos Tevez have shown their worth. Both are exceptional and they will need to be on top of their game at Wembley, assuming Tevez, who has just come back from injury, plays.

City are favourites to win their first FA Cup since 1969, but don't underestimate Stoke.

I watched them beat Arsenal last week and they are a very difficult side to play against. Tony Pulis makes all his players work their socks off for the team - and then some. They are a very direct side who never miss an opportunity to put the ball in the box. The balls usually come from their two wingers Matthew Etherington, who may be injured for the final, and Jermaine Pennant for the strikers Kenwyne Jones and Jon Walters.

They use Rory Delap's dangerous long throws like corners. With the greatest respect to Delap, that is the strongest part of his game.

Stoke have been criticised for being overly aggressive, but their combative approach is often effective at putting opponents off their stride.

This is the biggest game of their careers for Stoke's players. As they put five past Bolton Wanderers in the semi-final at Wembley last month, it is safe to say they won't be fazed by the stadium. They are eighth in the league - not 18th - and sit ahead of far bigger clubs, such as Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Sunderland. They held City 1-1 at home in the league and play them away on Tuesday. I think Stoke might beat City in the final.

I played in two cup finals in 1996 and 1999 and they were highlights of my career. You dream of playing in cup finals when you are a youngster and the FA Cup is the most famous cup competition in the world. The anticipation and build up before the game is like no other.

I remember the 1996 final for Manchester United against Liverpool. It was my first trophy in football and came as part of a double as we also won the league, but it was an awful, drab encounter between two good teams who were scared of losing. We cancelled each other out throughout and I didn't play well, none of us did.

Maybe it was the shock of seeing our rivals in their dreadful white suits before the game. The United lads were laughing at them and the fact that they were happy with their "Spice Boys" tag as if they were somehow cool, but Liverpool genuinely thought they looked the business. The suits were the idea of David James, their goalkeeper, who was an Armani model at the time.

We couldn't believe our eyes and couldn't face the shame of losing to men in horrendous suits. Thankfully, Eric Cantona got a late winner to win us the cup.

My second FA Cup final was far better; we beat my former club Newcastle 2-0 in 1999 as part of the treble. I was worried that I wasn't going to be picked because we were set to play Bayern Munich in the European Cup final a few days later and I was nervous when the manager [Sir Alex Ferguson] knocked on my hotel room door.

Some of my teammates were really disappointed not to be picked - that shows how much the FA Cup final means to players.

I was waiting for the manager to drop me, but felt enormous relief when he said, "You're starting today". Then came the bad news as he added, "and you'll play for 60 minutes, not a minute longer. I need you for Wednesday". I tried to remonstrate but got cut short with a stern, "No ifs or buts. 60 minutes".

So I played 60 minutes up front with Teddy Sheringham before being replaced by Dwight Yorke. We were 2-0 up when I left the field.

I wanted to stay on and score in an FA Cup final, but I guess the gaffer knew what he was doing.

Every player wants to play for 90 minutes, especially in a cup final. You want to go from the pitch to receive the trophy, not from the bench wearing a tracksuit, but I could live with that as I'm sure any substitutes on the winning side will be able to tomorrow.