It's time to bet like a man, Roberto! City must risk it… United would
23:36 GMT, 29 April 2012
Shergar and Richard Baerlein: it was love at first sight. The three-year-old bay colt won the Sandown Park Classic Trial by 10 lengths in April 1981 and the veteran racing correspondent of The Observer was smitten.
That week, Baerlein made a famous prediction. 'Shergar for The Derby,' he wrote. 'Now is the time to bet like men.'
Baerlein was good as his word. He backed Shergar at its opening price of 33-1 and at all prices down to even money. When the horse won The Derby by what remains a record distance – 10 lengths again – the bounty was enough to buy Baerlein and his wife, Laurette, a new house in Sussex: which he called Shergar.
Cautious: Roberto Mancini is playing down his side's chances against Manchester United
Monday night brings a derby of a different sort, but Baerlein's adage is no less true.
For Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, it is the moment for a high-stakes gamble. He must set out his team to be bold, to be brave, to run on the bridle, to set the pace. Do that, and the title is within his grasp.
For City, as Baerlein would say, it is time to bet like men.
Mancini gave an interview to France Football last week which comforted or disquieted in equal measure. 'If Manchester City do not win the league this season, we will win it next season,' he said. And it is a positive thought. Even if this campaign ends in disappointment, next year will be better.
The manager has a plan; he knows where he is going with this group of players. They will learn from their mistakes and come back stronger. This time next year, as Del Boy would say, we'll be millionaires.
And yet Mancini's optimism also demands the question: why wait What is wrong with getting ahead of schedule Why should City have to dream of a successful future The future is now. The future starts on Monday night, if City win and then finish the job. Even Sir Alex Ferguson concedes that.
Mancini appeared in a more bullish mood this weekend, sending a message to his players that this was City's 'one chance' to end a 44-year stretch without a title, but he must believe it, too.
The most unnerving aspect of Mancini's previous statement was that it hinted at caution, at walking when City are surely ready to run. And we have been here before. Against Arsenal earlier this month, against Tottenham Hotspur two years ago, wariness got the better of City.
Back in town: Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney returning to Manchester from Cardiff on Sunday
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It seems bizarre to accuse a man who marshalled a 6-1 victory at Old Trafford earlier in the season of being conservative, but Mancini's Italian nature often comes to the fore in these do-or-die games. The man who signed Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli appears reluctant to risk. And that is not what City need. They need a manager who will dare because, in the same situation, Manchester United would.
This game will be different because leading the league by three points, a draw will do United, so Ferguson will not take unnecessary chances. All the more reason for City to seize the initiative, to shock United as they did at Old Trafford. This United team conceded four goals at home to Everton last week; we know what Baerlein would have deduced from that, too.
In Mancini's first season, he faced a similar head-to-head duel with Tottenham for the fourth Champions League place. Tottenham needed a win to guarantee it, or a draw to keep their noses in front before a final trip to Burnley. City had to win to go into the last day ahead, and require only an away victory over West Ham United. When Tottenham got their first corner, Mancini pulled 11 men back to defend the box. It was not a good sign.
Despite having home advantage, City played as if they were the team ambling to a draw, slow and lacking in conviction. When Peter Crouch scored for Spurs after 82 minutes it was wholly deserved. Similarly, this season, a crucial game at Arsenal passed in a relative torpor. Another late goal settled it. Take away United's out-of-character stumble and City were finished on that day.
The fear is of another anti-climax, another near miss. And Mancini is right, there is always next year. Yet what if Baerlein had thought like that What if he had waited to see another equine wonder, or stemmed his enthusiasm with mealy-mouthed qualifications. Baerlein knew there was a time to bet like men and, for City, that time is now.
Give England base a fair Krak of the whip
Fabio Capello was widely criticised for basing England in Krakow, Poland, during the European Championship, when all of the national team's group matches will be played in Ukraine.
Yet the final score between the host countries, as far as team bases are concerned, is Poland 13, Ukraine 3 (including Ukraine, obviously). Can't all be wrong, can they
You know who…
So much for the idea that Pep Guardiola would have total control over transfer policy at Chelsea.
Marko Marin, a 23-year-old winger with 16 Germany caps, agreed to join from Werder Bremen this summer for 7million and we all know who bought him. Not Roberto Di Matteo, the caretaker manager who does not even know if he will be in a job beyond May 19; not Guardiola, either, particularly as Marin's Stamford Bridge medical pre-dated the announcement that he was quitting Barcelona.
While Guardiola decides whether he wants to move to London – although Chelsea would be mad to take him this summer, given the jaded tone of his most recent pronouncements – the real manager goes quietly about his business.
Despite the hirings and firings, Chelsea have had the same one since 2003, really.
Roman's choice: Chelsea have signed Marko Marin (left) from Werder Bremen
End three-card trickery
Clamour for a final amnesty for Champions League yellow cards is misguided. Had it been in place, or had there been no way for a player to miss the Final through a totting-up procedure, Chelsea could have cheerfully kicked Barcelona off the park on Tuesday.
There is a difference between permitting staunch defence and uncompromising brutality. For UEFA to give every clogger a free pass through the knockout stages would be a travesty.
The current system should not be abandoned, merely tweaked. Suspension could be the punishment after four yellow cards, not three, with the balancing proviso that back-to-back yellow cards would also result in a single game ban.
Alternatively, keep the limit at three, but allow clemency for good behaviour: a yellow card rescinded if a player goes three games without a caution (a game in this instance would have to mean at least 30 minutes of play, to prevent chicanery). That way, Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic would still be free to play in the final, as would Holger Badstuber of Bayern Munich.
Blow: Chelsea midfielder Ramires is just one who will miss the Champions League final against Bayern Munich
While there is always sympathy for suspended players, Raul Meireles has picked up a ruthless five yellow cards in 11 Champions League games for Chelsea and Ramires three in his last three; for Bayern Munich, David Alaba has been booked in three of the last four and Luiz Gustavo – a huge loss, every bit as great as Ramires – three in six.
It is hard to blame UEFA's rules for the actions of repeat offenders, but some do. 'UEFA make me mad,' said Bayern Munich president Franz Beckenbauer. 'It's insane for players to miss the final because of bookings, it is unfair.'
And when did Beckenbauer say this The moment his club were affected, of course. When it was Chelsea's problem, not a peep. Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was equally outspoken, once the suspension issue had impacted on his club.
Yet, strangely, on the subject of UEFA giving a Champions League final participant home advantage – rightly denounced as a disgrace by Kenny Dalglish from bitter experience in 1984 when Liverpool were forced to play AS Roma in Rome – Munich's hierarchy are saying nothing.
Can you imagine if the match was at Stamford Bridge
Right way is still the wrong way for Wolves
It requires some neck to take the high ground from bottom of the league, but Wolverhampton Wanderers chief executive Jez Moxey is doing his best.
Reviewing the catastrophic decision to sack Mick McCarthy without lining up a replacement, he said: 'People say we should have gone behind Mick's back and maybe that's the way some work in this business. But we're a loyal organisation and we like to do things properly and professionally.'
So, they are a loyal organisation, but they sacked their manager mid-season, owner Steve Morgan having already humiliated him by storming into the dressing room to berate the players after a defeat.
They do things properly, but after a chaotic search for a replacement, they gave it to Terry Connor, the old manager's assistant, as if that would make a difference.
And they are professional, but all this happened after the transfer window had closed, meaning any successor to McCarthy would have no opportunity to address the deficiencies of a failing squad.
No doubt Moxey will view Saturday's remarkable comeback at Swansea City as further evidence of this professionalism – rather than a group of players desperately attempting to put themselves in the shop window lest they get stuck with this proper and loyal bunch in the Championship, too.
England awaits: Roy Hodgson
Things An England Manager Could Have Been Doing Last Week Had The Football Association Got Its Finger Out And Bothered To Appoint One, Part Six.
He could have been studying the International Olympic Committee rulebook and discovering that, yes, there would be no problem with England playing an international fixture at Wembley on August 15.
The FA mistakenly thought that date was covered by the IOC's exclusion zone, meaning England will in all likelihood play a home fixture in Switzerland, instead.
Still, at least Roy Hodgson will know some decent eateries for the FA board members. So never mind.
Pulis must take the lead on Ramsey reaction
Anton Ferdinand's reception at Chelsea on Sunday was dispiriting but sadly expected; what happened to Aaron Ramsey at Stoke City, however, was genuinely shocking.
Here was a young player whose leg was broken by a rash tackle from Stoke's Ryan Shawcross. Whatever the take on that accident, whether Shawcross is judged wicked, reckless or entirely innocent of intent, Ramsey is most certainly without blame.
Yet he was booed by Stoke's fans as if he had somehow created a career-threatening injury, or invited violence.
As Arsene Wenger pointed out, there is a difference between standing behind Shawcross and targeting Ramsey, and it does not reflect well on Stoke manager Tony Pulis that he attempted some form of equivalency.
'I was more concerned about the Arsenal supporters booing Shawcross, so I didn't hear the ones on Ramsey,' he said, smugly, as if all chants are equal and breaking a man's leg, and having one's leg broken, are the same.
If Pulis will not put the narrow-mindedness of club loyalties aside, why should we expect more of supporters
McCoist knew what he was doing
When a Scottish Football Association panel imposed a transfer embargo on financially stricken Rangers, manager Ally McCoist instantly called for its members to be named. He knew what he was doing.
It is far harder to make a tough call if privacy is breached. Imagine if the identity of jury members were provided to the accused. Could you put a violent thug away for several years with confidence, if the rest of his gang knew where you lived
The names of the SFA panel leaked anyway and with a lunatic fringe of Rangers fans emboldened by the presumed support of their manager, its members have since received death threats. McCoist now claims he is disgusted by this behaviour. Not as disgusted as the SFA should be with McCoist.
Bad call: Ally McCoist called for the naming of the SFA panel that imposed a transfer embargo on Rangers
Scap this pointless ritual
Better late than never, the Premier League averted another unsavoury drama by cancelling the pre-match handshake between Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers, but not before some genius had suggested replacing it with a guard of honour from the visiting team.
The handshake is a glorified branding exercise, no more, and the misuse of pre-match rituals should be examined before next season, with the inevitable conclusion that they must now be scrapped entirely.
MPs still driving us to distraction
Formula One came out of the Bahrain crisis very badly, but the sport was right about grandstanding politicians. 'For somebody to try and make Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton determine foreign policy is wrong,' said Ross Brawn, the Mercedes team principal. Particularly as Button and Hamilton were plainly the only British drivers the opportunist MPs knew.
Their statements deploring participation in the event made no mention of Scottish-born Paul Di Resta, who was the highest placed British driver in Bahrain, finishing sixth for Force India. They probably thought he was Italian.
This trail of political posturing leads neatly to our old friends at the All-Party Parliamentary Football Group, who recently hosted a joint representation by the Football Association and Premier League on youth development: as if it's any of their business.
Brit of alright: Paul Di Resta finished sixth in his Force India car at the Bahrain Grand Prix
As Gareth Southgate, FA head of elite development, explained the elite player performance plan for academy footballers, proceedings were frequently interrupted by Jim Dowd (Labour, Lewisham West and Penge), who was talking to himself, banging the table and making bizarre sounds. Reports suggested he seemed rather well refreshed.
When Roger Godsiff (Labour, Birmingham Hall Green) asked a question, Dowd mimed firing a gun. A point raised by Chris Heaton-Harris (Conservative, Daventry) was met with a cry of, 'Who are you'
And, just to recap, these are the people who presume to pontificate on the governance of our national sport. Why football's authorities continue to waste their time with them, heaven only knows.
Pain in Spain
The two powerhouse clubs of La Liga, Real Madrid and Barcelona, came up short in their Champions League semi-finals, while Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid will contest the Europa League, having eliminated the likes of Celtic, Lazio and Valencia (Atletico) and Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon (Bilbao).
Is this the first evidence of Spain's now uncontested two-horse race weakening the wider competitive abilities of its elite pair