x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Time for Manchester City to set the record straight

Thirty years have passed since Manchester City last made it to an FA Cup final.

Richard Jolly

English football correspondent

Manchester // Last year, it was Chelsea and Portsmouth. Before them, Everton, then Cardiff and Manchester United. Earlier in the 21st century, Liverpool, West Ham United, Arsenal, Millwall, Southampton and Aston Villa must be included.

Go back to the 1990s and the names of Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, Nottingham Forest, Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace are needed, too.

Rewind to the 1980s and the list also features Wimbledon, Coventry, Watford, Brighton and QPR.

Since Manchester City played in an FA Cup final, 23 other clubs have done. It is 30 years since City's eighth and, to date, last appearance in the showpiece occasion of the season. Too long.

No wonder then, that, Roberto Mancini said: "It is the time for City to win something."

The biggest step comes at Wembley today. City take on Manchester United and history alike for the prize of a meeting with either Bolton Wanderers or Stoke City next month. It is a salutary thought that, since Ricky Villa slalomed through their defence to help Tottenham win the FA Cup in 1981, 34 other clubs, now scattered across five divisions, have gone further in the knockout competitions. Oxford, Oldham, Luton, Leicester, Leeds, Tranmere, Wigan, Bolton, Blackburn and Birmingham been in League Cup finals in the intervening period while, in addition, Fulham have reached the last two of the Europa League.

They are extraordinary statistics that explain the desperation felt in the blue half of Manchester, the hunger for some tangible reward for their years of loyalty, the need to have something to crow about. Their drought has been rendered more painful by life in the shadow of United; should they achieve a second Treble, United will have won 38 pieces of silverware in Sir Alex Ferguson's reign alone.

Mancini has the experience to empathise with the City support. This is a man who is a serial winner - indeed, with six successes as a player and four more as a manager, he is the Coppa Italia's Ashley Cole and Arsene Wenger rolled into one - yet one who is accustomed to being an underdog. His has been a career spent at clubs who, temporarily or permanently, have been seen as the lesser light in their own backyard.

Sampdoria were Genoa's second club until he captained them to their first Serie A title in 1991.

"It was the same when I went to Lazio because Roma were better, and at Inter because AC Milan won everything," he shrugged. "This is my life."

This is City's, too: overshadowed by overbearing neighbours and the subjects of sniping from across the fence at the bordering Carrington training grounds.

It is City's misfortune that two of their greatest moments - their last league title in 1968 and an utterly improbable promotion in 1999 - came when the wider world was focused on United's prowess in becoming European champions.

This year, then, could complete a bittersweet hat-trick.

But the FA Cup would be a start. It would force United to remove the ticking reminder of a banner from the Stretford End of Old Trafford, where "35 years" needs no explanation to the red hordes who know City's last major honour came in 1976.

And two wins at Wembley would mean that, finally, City have something to celebrate more recently than Oxford, Wimbledon and Coventry.

 

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