During what would be a doomed FA Cup final performance at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, Manchester City fans sang for their doomed manager, Roberto Mancini. The divisive Italian still had a place in the hearts of the club's supporters, even if he had fallen out of favor with City's relatively new front office regime (the transplanted Barcelona duo of Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain) and, most important, the club's chief executive, Khaldoon Al Mubarak. When Wigan's Ben Watson headed in a 90th-minute goal to give the undersupported, underfunded underdogs an FA Cup victory that pretty much justified all the "romance of the Cup" propaganda that goes along with the competition, the world (at least the football-watching world on Twitter) rejoiced.
Seemingly the only people cheering for "the people's club" (as City is known) were the people who had always been doing so — the fans who had been born or bred into fandom. Manchester City will finish second in the Premier League this season. They won the league last season, and finished third the season before that. Yet there is still a sense that, despite truly outrageous amounts of money spent by City's owners, outside of their core fan base this club isn't loved. Or perhaps better put, they are not admired.
This wasn't how things were supposed to go. There were blueprints in place to build Manchester City into a global football giant, equal in stature, if not quite historical significance, to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and their neighbors, Manchester United. After bombing out of the Champions League and losing the Premier League some time around Valentine's Day, the FA Cup was a last chance for City to put a silver lining on an underwhelming season. Considering how well-documented Manchester City's attention to detail is (they famously have 30-page color-coded documents about 15-year-old prospects), things had gone quite off the rails.
Former France national team manager Raymond Domenech believes in things that you and I do not. Using astrology to help pick his team, for one. But here's one thing Domenech believes that seems to be right on: Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Samir Nasri are not good enough for France. When Domenech was manager of the France national team, he resisted cries to include these young players, who were the core of France’s under-17 European Championship squad in 2004. And when the French players revolted and refused to practice at the last World Cup, it seemed a blessing in disguise that they were not there. Heading into Euro 2012, the feeling was that under new manager Laurent Blanc, Nasri, Ben Arfa, and Benzema were finally going to get a chance to strut their stuff. When the tournament ended for France with consecutive 2-0 defeats to Spain and Sweden, and a solitary goal between the trio of Benzema, Ben Arfa, and Nasri, the knives were out after yet another debacle, and it is now hard to escape the feeling that French football is in a state of terminal decline and the current crop of players won’t be the ones to stop it.
How They Got Here: Portugal pulled off the unlikely feat — or what seemed an unlikely feat before the tournament — of making it out of Group B, the Group of Death. After a fairly close loss to Germany, 1-0, Paulo Bento's side got a game-winning goal against Denmark from little-known Silvestre Varela and a world-beating performance from Cristiano Ronaldo in a 2-1 win against the Dutch.
The Czechs got their pants pulled down by Russia in one of the most one-sided losses of the tournament so far (4-1, on the opening day of Euro 2012). Since then, they've taken their chances very well (basically the key to winning tournament games). Their opening goal against Greece was like watching CCTV footage of a mugging.
That might sound a bit hysterical, but listen, all y'all, it's a (self) sabotage. What are these guys doing? Coming out of Christmas, the title was City's to lose. But if Sir Alex Ferguson has taught us anything (aside from how to creatively use a hairdryer) it's that your team needs to hit its stride right after the new year, when the finish line finally comes into view.