There is a well worn joke that three stars on the Manchester City crest stand for the number of decades that the club has been without a trophy. As annoying as it is for your average blue, the fact remains that the club has been starved of success for a long, long time.
Saturday’s FA Cup Final represents the first chance for City to win a major trophy since their appearance in the showpiece game against Tottenham Hotspur in 1981. That particular encounter went to a replay which became synonymous with a stunning Ricky Villa solo goal with Spurs running out 3-2 winners.
City have gone from laughing stock to wealthy stock over the past decade or so with supporters strapping in tight for an epic rollercoaster that has taken them from the depths of England’s third tier to the Champions League for the first time. Now the club is 90 minutes away from its first major trophy since the League Cup in 1976.
The players are fully aware of how much this means to the supporters, with Nigel De Jong summing it all up very well in a recent interview.
“The fans obviously really want to win a trophy.” he said.
“So do we. We know all about the history of this club, so we know how long it’s been. We are often reminded about it. Everyone knows what’s at stake.”
De Jong suffered the heartache of a World Cup Final defeat with Holland last summer and is determined not to lose out twice in less than 12 months. He has been at the heart of all things good this season alongside his ex-Hamburg team mate Vincent Kompany. Both have contributed greatly to a mean defence that sees Joe Hart just one cleansheet away from breaking the club for the most in one season.
The return to fitness of Carlos Tevez is a huge boost going into the game and gives Roberto Mancini plenty to think about as he decides whether to include the Argentine or opt for one of Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli. There are selection decisions to be made throughout the team with only Hart, Kompany, Joleon Lescott, De Jong, Yaya Toure and David Silva really guaranteed to start. Micah Richards has overcome his injury problems to compete with Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolorov for the two full back spots, while James Milner has looked good filling in for Gareth Barry. Adam Johnson’s performances have been quite lacklustre since his comeback from a three month layoff but he would still be a very good impact substitute to have.
One man who knows all about FA Cup Finals is Patrick Vieira having won four while at Arsenal. The veteran midfielder has brought great experience to the side and sees no reason why they can’t lift the trophy on Saturday evening.
“I remember the first time I played at Wembley in the FA Cup Final with Arsenal in 1998,” he said.
“It is still a fantastic stadium and always exciting the fans, the atmosphere it is a lovely day we always say to play the final is really good but only if you win it. I think in this competition we’ve been fantastic, we’ve had difficult games but we managed to win them all even if we had to play a replay. I think in the last few months we have been terrific, we have had a few players coming back from injuries and the squad is really strong.
“We just need to enjoy it and play with commitment, desire and togetherness and we can win.”
Even with Champions League qualfication secured, for many fans City nothing will have been truly achieved until they have picked up a trophy. The monkey has been on the back for far too long, as emphasised by the ticker banner at Old Trafford, and while defeat to Stoke wouldn’t necessarily be a disaster in the grand scheme of things it would certainly be more just a minor disappointment.
The semi final win over rivals United was a clear statement of intent from the playing group and a sign that the balance of power could be shifting in Manchester. However with the Red Devils set to claim their 19th league title this weekend, there is still plenty of work to be done.
Though what better way to start than with a trophy?