Man City told to take control of final destiny
Manchester City assistant manager David Platt has urged his players not to let the occasion get the better of them when they try to end a 35-year trophy drought by lifting the FA Cup.
Although in City's progression qualifying for the Champions League is of more significance, Platt feels beating Stoke today could have a greater impact within the dressing-room.
City are favourites and they also have a dressing-room packed full of experience at the highest level. However, as an FA Cup winner himself from his Arsenal days, Platt knows how draining the occasion with which City will be faced at Wembley can be.
"An FA Cup final grasps you," he said. "It's a tick-off. It becomes an achievement. It's a worldwide event that people look at and no matter how much you intend to put it to the back of your mind and control it, if you aren't careful, it can get hold of you. It's a tense occasion. There's not another bite of the cherry.
"You try to keep things on an even keel but players are aware of the extra media attention. They will see the fans on the drive to the final. They will hear the noise. But to give of your best, you have to control the occasion. You cannot allow it to get hold of you."
Platt feels that is unlikely in Roberto Mancini's case. The Italian may have his critics, but he has successfully guided City through some choppy waters this season. And Platt is sure his old friend's unflappable demeanour will stand him in good stead this afternoon.
"There has never been any doubt in his mind about where we were going," said Platt. "I have known him for 20 years now. He doesn't doubt things. Every single thing he does every day is to improve. He has always been very calm during the week but when matchday comes, there is a passion. And, whatever happens at Wembley, his thoughts will immediately turn to Tuesday night, whilst there is a mathematical chance of catching Arsenal in third, that is what he will be trying to do."
Mancini has previously indicated a desire to drag down the 35-year banner that hangs from the Stretford End at Old Trafford, home of rivals Manchester United, rubbing in that lengthy wait for silverware. Platt feels winning the cup this weekend would represent a U-turn in the culture of a club for whom failure has often been revelled in.
"The banner is just one thing really," said Platt. "It is just a by-product. After 35 years without a trophy, it, quite rightly, becomes a major issue for the supporters. But, looking at where we are, if we were to win, I hope it wouldn't be another 35 years before we won another. That would be the progress." For Yaya Toure, winning the cup with City would give him more pleasure than if he had achieved greater glory with one of England's traditional powerhouses.
At various times in his career, the huge Ivorian was linked with Arsenal and United. With both clubs, Toure could have expected to challenge for honours, and even become a Champions League winner, as he was with Barcelona in 2009. However, while today's clash with Stoke is on a substantially less grand scale to European football's showpiece, the depth of feeling is so much greater.
"It was a big decision to sign for City, but it was also very exciting," he said. "For this club, it was a dream to get to the Champions League, and a dream to win a trophy. But that dream is coming true and for me, that is more satisfying. If I'd helped Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United reach the Champions League final, for them it would just be normal. This club had won nothing, so to do this here, for the first time, after making so many new signings, was not easy. "
While City look to end 35 years of hurt, Stoke are bidding to lift the cup for the first time in their history and manager Tony Pulis believes their raucous fans can play a vital role in that quest.
Pulis said: "We have built a community club over the last five-and-a-half years that the supporters have really grasped and taken us forward. It has not been the players, it has not been the chairman or coaching staff, it has been the whole community that has done this.
"The FA Cup is about dreams. I have watched City a couple of times and they are a very good side with excellent players. They are an emerging force and we know what sort of task we're facing. But we are determined the players are relaxed and the supporters have a great day."
Pulis will have a lump in his throat when he leads the team out after watching the showpiece occasion as a child growing up in south Wales. He added: "It will be very special. The FA Cup has been a massive part of my life. It is such a special day."
Stoke have been scoring goals for fun in recent weeks and that is why Pulis is keen to have Matthew Etherington on board today. The winger is struggling to shake off a hamstring injury while defender Robert Huth is also doubtful with a knee problem. Huth limped off against Arsenal last weekend - the only blip in a win that did wonders for the team's self-belief ahead of the meeting with City.
Stoke have qualified for the Europa League next season as their opponents have already booked a place in the Champions League and Pulis is thrilled at the way they have opened teams up going into arguably the biggest game in the club's history. "We have been very free flowing in respect of scoring goals," said Pulis. "The lads are full of confidence."
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