Happy FA Cup Saturday.
Can you smell the magic in the air? Oh right.
Today’s final from Wembley Stadium (12:15 p.m, FOX) pits Manchester City vs. Wigan Athletic. Our pal Gus Johnson will be behind the mic.
Whatever “magic” the people inside the English FA running the Cup try to conjure is probably lost on American viewers. For Manchester City, last year’s Premier League champs, winning it would represent a consolation prize to a very meh season. Wigan, on the other hand, could win the FA Cup and still get relegated from the Premier League in the span of a eight days.
Smells like the recipe for magic right there! (Or expired meat pies.)
One of the storylines coming in was the David vs. Goliath aspect, since Wigan spends about $53 million on player wages compared to $313 million by City.
That’s been overshadowed since stories leaked out of England Friday that Manchester City is about to replace manager Roberto Mancini with Manuel Pellegrini, currently in charge of Malaga in Spain.
Meanwhile Wigan is 18th in the Premier League table, three points from safety with two games to play. The Latics’ draw to the final has been very manageable, only having run across one other fellow Premier League club on their way to Wembley.
In typical Wigan fashion, it’s semifinal win over Millwall last month — the high point in the club’s history — was overshadowed by pathetic Millwall fans fighting among themselves.
As nice as it would be for Wigan, which never gets any respect in England despite finding a way to hang around (like George Costanza in the basement of PlayNow Sports) in the Premier League going on seven seasons, winning the FA Cup would be secondary to staying up for another season in the top flight. Claiming the FA Cup might mean some kind of “magic,” but that doesn’t translate into the millions and millions dollars the Premier League’s TV contract is worth.
It means Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, a club icon as both a player and manager, must juggle the club’s highest-profile’s game on Saturday with a do-or-die match on Tuesday at the Emirates vs. Arsenal. It speaks to the diminished standing of the FA Cup if Martinez starts a second-choice or weakened lineup in order to save his top players for the Arsenal game.
The grim reality is placing 17th in the 20-team Premier League trumps the glory and magic of hoisting the world’s oldest knockout soccer trophy.
For Manchester City it’s been a season where Mancini’s signings, aside from Matija Nastasić, have underwhelmed. Vincent Kompany, David Silva and keeper Joe Hart, have regressed from last year’s title-winning form. Only Sergio Agüero has lived up to his billing up top, scoring 16 goals across all competitions, as the rest of City’s forwards have underwhelmed.
A second-place finish in the Premier League and placing last in their Champions League group are not the plans Sheikh Mansour had for his English soccer plaything this season and why Mancini will likely get the ax.
Figure City still gets its consolation prize with relative ease. Sorry Wigan.