Why Man City should concentrate on the league

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It's been a great week for Man City. After 35 trophyless years, they've reached the FA Cup final – and Spurs being held by Arsenal strengthens their chance of finishing in the fourth Champions League slot. But which is more important: winning a cup or reaching the Champions League? regular Paul Wheatcroft knows which he'd prefer…

‘Daaa-da-da-da…The Champions!’ Never has a piece of schmaltzy mock-classical music sounded so enticing to a City fan. I want to hear it at a game. I want to have that funny chocolate-football design all over the ground. I want to be sponsored by Continental tyres even though I can never afford to put them on my car. I want six officials and I even want half-time analysis by Souness. Champions League: I can smell it.

Only a handful of games to go. Play our best team in the away games against Bolton, Blackburn and Everton; scuff wins against Spurs and Stoke; try and beat West Ham whilst still leaving them with some dignity – and that’s pretty much that.

There’s only one thing standing in the way: the bl**dy FA Cup Final.

You see, I don’t really care if we win the Cup or not. "Call yourself a City fan?," I hear you say. I’m no prawn sandwich muncher – I’ve been a season ticket holder since the mid-eighties, so I’ve been there most of the 35 years we’ve been trophyless. But the current fuss doesn’t impress me.

Cups are great: ask anyone who witnessed Dennis Tueart’s miraculous overhead kick which dispatched Supermac’s Newcastle in 1976, or the sadly departed Neil Young’s winner against Leicester in 1969. Yes, I get it, winning a cup is a great feat. Especially after 35 years. A cause for local civic pride: roll out the open-top buses, bunting and street parties replete with Watney’s Party 7 and sausages on sticks.

But what are we going to do once we’ve won it – assuming we do? A few T-shirt sellers on Wythenshawe market might make a few quid, but time moves on and by the time the Charity Shield is over, if we’re facing a new season having to go to Dukla Prague in the Preliminary Pre-qualification Round 1 of the Europa League – so what?

You see, whatever they do, Mancini’s current team is never going to emulate the feats of the legendary City team of Lee, Summerbee et al, because that team won other things. Then, the FA Cup wasn’t the Holy Grail it has now become to success-starved City fans; it was just one of several trophies that cemented the reputation of a great football team – a team built over many years, whose legacy and influence were also felt over many years. It’s something – I hate to say – that United fans apply instinctively to their own teams.

It seems to me that for many who support City the Cup is primarily important because it’s the best way we can end the carping of the Stretford End. These are the same people who’d presumably be happy if we went down, as long as we beat United in the same season. Grow up.

What are we going to do after the Cup is won (assuming we do, and remember Stoke have rolled us over many times recently)? Will our rumoured transfer targets – Wilshere, Kaka, Maicon etc – come because we won the FA Cup? No. Will it advance us as a club? No – not if we then go and take our eye off the ball and let Spurs into fourth slot, as we could easily do.

Look at the recent Liverpool game (or should I say debacle): Sky’s view on that was that Mancini had played a weakened team so we would stand a better chance in the Semi-Final. If that defeat made the difference between fourth and fifth I wouldn’t give a toss if the Cup were made of pure gold. We’d have blown our chances of becoming a football powerhouse on a sentimental whim. As Jim Bowen might have put it on 70s game show Bullseye: ‘Roberto: look what you could have won.’

"At least you've got your bus fare home..."

I want to finish fourth in the league and I would hope any right-minded City fans wants to do the same. Let’s build a team like United do – keep our best players and attract new ones on the back of CL qualification. That’s the only way we are ever going to give Fergie a truly meaningful challenge. If we think the world’s top players will sign for us on the back of an FA Cup win, with no meaningful European football, then we are sadly mistaken.

The best thing to come out of the semi-final was that Mancini hit upon a line up that could get us into the Champions League: an attack-minded 4-3-3, or 4-2-3-1 when we don’t have the ball. Now, message to Roberto: stick with a winning team, regardless of whether it’s league or Cup Final. And please, no more playing weakened teams in games we think we can win but end up losing (like Liverpool) – just for the sake of the one-off emotional high of winning the FA Cup. Spurs are breathing down our necks, and Harry’s been eating a lot of garlic recently.

Disagree? So does Mark's fellow City fan Mark Booth. Read his thoughts here...