If this FA Cup final was to be the beginning of the end for Roberto Martinez and Roberto Mancini, one was leaving on a magic carpet while the other was being smuggled out of the back door.
Wigan Athletic manager Martinez apologised for his late arrival in Wembley’s media theatre – “sorry gents we’re not used to celebrating” – and declared he had watched movies with worse scripts than this truly remarkable tale.
History was written by Wigan when substitute Ben Watson glanced home Shaun Maloney’s corner just as the board was hoisted for three minutes’ stoppage time.
The entertaining and often mystifying team created by Spaniard Martinez had won their first major trophy in 81 years and put English football’s most romantic piece of silverware alongside all those won by their Rugby League counterparts.
For Manchester City, it was sheer misery.
In football parlance, City barely turned up – and for Mancini the irritation at events on and off the pitch was all too plain to see.
The Italian awoke to reports that City had concluded a deal to replace him with Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini and the non-performance of his team darkened both his mood and his chances of keeping his job.
After insisting the reports were incorrect, he wavered somewhat and turned on Manchester City officials for not killing speculation when it started six months ago.
Whether this was clever timing moments after an empty-handed season was confirmed remains to be seen.
For Wigan and Martinez there was little other than unbridled joy – at least until Tuesday when they travel to Arsenal in their latest attempt to avoid relegation to the Championship.
Martinez likes to sign off his match notes with the Spanish phrase “Sin Miedo” – Without Fear – and if 90 minutes summed up that philosophy then this was it.
Wigan were magnificent. Fearless, refusing to take a backward step.
Composed in possession and, for once, fiercely disciplined at the back. They were truly worthy winners.
There was symmetry too. Only those inhabiting a different planet would not know chairman Dave Whelan felt he had unfinished business with this competition and venue after breaking his leg playing for Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 FA Cup final against Wolves.
Whelan had his moment here, leading the team out, then watching as the winner was scored by Watson, only just back after a broken leg sustained at Liverpool in November that was expected to rule him out for the season.
He was the goal hero but Wigan had excellence everywhere. James McArthur overshadowed Yaya Toure in midfield but the real star of this show was Callum McManaman.
It was not so long McManaman was being vilified for his challenge on Newcastle United’s Massadio Haidara – but Martinez insisted this “diamond” was a special talent.
He is a diamond that is still rough around the edges but this was one of the stand-out FA Cup final performances.
McManaman took Gael Clichy to the cleaners with a display of wing play Manchester City’s left-back will never forget, and not in a good way.
He was almost unplayable at times and it was no surprise he was the victim of Pablo Zabaleta’s challenge that led to the Argentinian’s second yellow card and dismissal.
The backdrop to this final was conjecture about the future of the two managers – so what will they face?
Martinez once more skirted around speculation linking him with replacing David Moyes at Everton but this was a display of tactical excellence and sheer positivity that makes a manager’s stock rise.
He may yet take Wigan into the Championship but he has done something that means his name will never be forgotten there. He and his club chased an FA Cup dream and caught it at Wembley.
So much rests on Wigan’s last two games. If they stay up, with European football secured, Whelan will have a stronger hand to play with his manager once the season ends.
If they do not then Martinez may finally be persuaded away and, make no mistake, players such as McManaman, James McCarthy, McArthur and Shaun Maloney will attract potentially irresistible interest.
For Everton owner Bill Kenwright, as he searches for his next manager, Wigan’s victory means he could sell Martinez as a winner to any doubters. After all, he now has one more major trophy to his name than the departing David Moyes.
As Martinez said, these are discussions for another day. For now Wigan – a quirky, unpredictable team – deserve the highest praise.
For a side to play with such freedom of expression in a Wembley FA Cup final is a credit to themselves and their manager.
Mancini must now wait to see if reports of his demise are true but there has been no denial from City, which the Italian clearly feels there should have been. This lack of a denial may be for a very good reason.
City’s supporters clearly sympathise with Mancini. His name rang out constantly at Wembley, along with the odd unflattering reference to Pellegrini.
It is a sign of the demands City now make that he faces such questioning two years after winning the FA Cup to secure their first major trophy in 35 years and only 12 months after winning their first Premier League title in 44 years.
Mancini cannot, however, complain too loudly about football’s ruthless nature. After all, he was waiting in the wings to take over from Mark Hughes on the night he was sacked in December 2009.
All will be revealed but the mood music around Wembley struck a sombre note for Mancini – and Manchester City’s players did not make an eloquent case in support of their manager.
Wigan’s heroes mirrored the approach of manager Martinez. “Sin Miedo” from first whistle to last.
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