Jonny Wilkinson scored 11 points with the boot for Toulon in their 16-15 defeat of Clermont-Auvergne in the Heineken Cup final.
Photograph: Julien Behal/PA On the day of rugby reckoning, an all-French final, the side that had not lost a single game in the Heineken Cup did just that, failing against Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon.
Clermont will be wondering how on earth they let slip a game they seized by the scruff after half-time.
Mathieu Bastareaud, who tackled his way to the man of the match award, will not care a jot how his team scrambledto victory.
For the record, two Englishmen scored the points that mattered: Wilkinson 11 from three penalties and a conversion, and Delon Armitage with a try.
For the first quarter of an hour there was thunder on the ground, a man-made alternative to any storm in the skies.
Rain that had been forecast but wisely kept its distance.
The tacklers advanced furiously and the ball-carriers were swept back.
The body has become the new object in the game that can be picked up and tossed around.
During this period of Rollerball, the two little figures of Wilkinson and Mogan Parra remained sufficiently intact to land a penalty each, but if it carried on like this, surely Jonny would be coming off piece by piece.
Mercifully for the shoulders of the Toulon captain, the game sprang the locks on its shackles even before the first quarter was out.
He had to make a tackle less juddering than the head-on variety when he raced back to stop Wesley Fofana, the centre who was on full alert now that there was a little bit less suffocation.
Clermont had others now hungry for the ball.
Sitiveni Sivivatu roamed away from the touchline and was slipped a pass that put him into a postage stamp of space.
The ex-All Black was stopped only by a tackle of athletic agility by Andrew Sheridan, the prop propelling himself horizontally at the wing.
Lee Byrne brought a different kind of threat from full-back, chasing and gathering his own kick, a glimpse of his speciality in the Wales grand slam campaign of 2005.
That was how the openness expressed itself, in snatches, flashes, echoes of days of greater freedom.
But nothing lasted; no runner could run clear of the scrambling tacklers.
Not until Rudi Wulf spilt the ball near the touchline on half-way and Clermont pounced, releasing Brock James.
The Australian is not the quickest in the universe but he found himself in a race, in pursuit of his own kick ahead, with Chris Masoe, more hulk than whippet.
James beat the No8 but not the dead-ball line.
Video review led to a 22 drop-out and the game turned around at half-time still at 3-3.
The deadlock lasted 90 seconds into the second half.
Again, Clermont swooped when they had a whiff of space but this time Toulon could not plug the gap opened up by Aur lien Rougerie in particular, the centre pulling in two defenders before releasing the ball to Napolioni Nalaga, the leading try-scorer in the Heineken Cup this season.
It was another straight race, Clermont player against a last defender and a line the touchline this time.
Toulon needed to score quickly as if to give themselves a point of restart in this second half.
Wilkinson obliged after a maul was hauled down.
Toulon were back, but only until the combination of James and Rougerie struck again.
More time passed than 90 seconds but not much when James dinked a little kick over the Toulon three-quarters and Rougerie barged past Wilkinson to regather and slip another fine pass to James.
Now there was nobody between the outside half and the line.
Parra added the conversion.
Toulon rang the changes, taking off Danie Rossouw, who had had a clumsy game, and replacing one ex-Springbok with another, Joe Van Niekerk.
The 38-year-old’s bastien Bruno left too, the old Toulon are not exactly in their first flush giving way to the less venerable.
The most influential change was to be Fr d ric Michalak, on at scrum-half, and kicking into space to give his team something to pursue in a positive direction.
James, retreating, gave away a penalty and Wilkinson reduced the gap to six points.
Clermont still seemed to be more comfortable with the ball in hand, but Toulon took a leaf from that opening chapter, when to have a body in hand was the name of the game.
Fofana set off on a run but was brought down by Bakkies Botha and Van Niekerk.
Sivivatu fumbled the pick-up and was stripped by Juan Mart n Fern ndez Lobbe.
The Argentine wing forward delivered a one-handed pass to Armitage who strolled over for Toulon’s first try in the knock-out stages.
Wilkinson converted, not the most difficult kick of his career, but at the end of his penultimate season, for a club that has revitalised his extraordinary career, this mattered.
He delivered and, remarkably, Toulon were in the lead by a point with 16 minutes left to play.
They held on, Bastareaud charging down a drop goal attempt by James, and Sivivatu throwing the last, the very last, try-scoring pass forward.
Jonny Wilkinson, king of the elder statesman, had his hands on the Heineken Cup
Sir Alex Ferguson: Says football will be club’s focus despite commercial growth Sky Bet Football Betting Retrieving latest Sky Bet odds Football Betting 10 Free Bet Sir Alex Ferguson insists football will remain the priority at Manchester United when David Moyes takes over at Old Trafford.
Ferguson’s exit as United boss has sparked concerns that United’s ever-growing commercial arm will become even more powerful.
With suggestions that Moyes will not have the power to resist their demands as Ferguson has been able to.
And with the Scot remaining on the club’s board, he is certain his successor will have no such problems.
“The priority is the football team,” Ferguson said.
“Without the football team they wouldn’t have all the sponsorships.
“Everyone knows that here.
“David will soon realise the enormity of this club,” Ferguson added.
“Although I think he does already, he has to fit into the global brand and number of sponsors we’ve got.
“I don’t think that is an issue.
He’s got a good squad of players and he’ll want to add to that himself.
“I’ve spoken to David a few times.
He will have his own ideas and I would imagine he will want to come in quite soon and speak to staff.” And, speaking ahead of his final game in charge of Manchester United on Sunday, Ferguson added: “People used to say to me ‘do you think this one will be a manager or manage United’ about players who are not even in the job now.
“Football is that kind of industry..
“When you’re assessing the job here you have to get somebody who has the longevity and the experience over a long time to manage this club.
“That is why David was above everyone else.
“I hope (he can be there for a long time).
“It’s the one club he could do that at.
We’ve shown great loyalty to our managers.”
Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho is sent off by Spanish referee Carlos Clos Gomez during his team’s defeat in the Copa del Rey final.
Photograph: Ballesteros/EPA Jos Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo were both sent off as Real Madrid lost a dramatic, bad-tempered Copa del Rey final to Atl tico Madrid the first time they had been beaten by their city rivals in 26 games, and in their own stadium too.
As a fractious game that had confrontations and 14 yellow cards ended, Atl tico’s players raced to the north end of this stadium to celebrate with their fans, who could hardly believe what had just unfolded before their eyes in extra time: Joao Miranda’s header and two superb saves from Thibault Courtois giving them the trophy.
Atl tico’s fans began an ironic chant of “Mourinho, stay!” The Madrid manager, though, was not there to hear them: he had long since departed, sent off after 77 minutes for remonstrating with the referee.
If, as is likely, he is given a two-game ban, he may have sat on the Bernab u bench for the last time.
His final season in Spain has ended in failure, without a trophy.
“This is the worst season of my life,” Mourinho said.
“A Super Cup, a semi-final, a runner-up.
For many coaches that would be a good year.
For me it is the worst.” There will be some Atl tico fans claiming this as the greatest victory in their history.
They had not beaten their city rivals since 1999 and that year they went down.
Since returning to the top flight, these two teams had faced each other 25 times.
Not once had Atl tico won; Real Madrid had won ten in a row.
Those victories had become increasingly easy too and it seemed like another case of Groundhog Day here when Ronaldo leapt above God n and, from a couple of yards in front of the penalty spot, headed Mesut zil’s corner for the opener after just 13 minutes.
One of the most significant criticisms that can be levelled at Mourinho in Madrid is that too often his teams have sat and tried to protect leads rather than seeking to augment them.
There was a certain logic to it on this occasion, given that both of these sides are better suited to playing on the break, and for 20 minutes there was not one chance.
But then Radamel Falcao received the ball in the middle of the pitch.
The Colombian held off the centre-back Ra l Albiol, who had come out to meet him, turned back swiftly, rolling Albiol out of the way, wriggled beyond Sami Khedira, evaded the recovering Albiol for a second time and played a perfect pass into the space that he himself had vacated ready for Diego Costa to occupy.
Dashing in from the right, Costa outran F bio Coentr o, controlled with his first touch and, with his second, thumped a superb 20-yard shot low and hard into the far corner.
The finish was almost as impressive as the assist.
It was the Brazilian’s eighth goal of the Cup this season, making him the tournament’s top scorer.
Suddenly, the game was alive.
Luka Modric shot wide and then zil struck a skidding effort off the post before half-time.
This was a different game now and it continued in a similar manner in the second half.
Filipe Luis had Atl tico’s best two chances, coming in from the left: the first was hit tamely; the second was a volley that flashed past the near post after Gabi’s deep cross from the other side.
The best opportunity came at the other end, though.
On the hour mark, Ronaldo chased down a ball on the left and surged past Joao Miranda to the byline.
Ronaldo’s pull back took a deflection and dropped to Karim Benzema, who hit the post, the ball again falling to a Madrid player.
This time it was zil, steadying himself and stepping inside seven yards out, only to find Juanfran diving across to block on the goalline.
Just eight minutes later it was happening again.
Ronaldo’s clever free-kick curled under the leaping wall and back off the post to Michael Essien, whose wild effort flew over from near the edge of the six-yard box.
Fortune was on Atl tico’s side, it seemed.
Could their run of defeats really be coming to an end? It was getting tense now, dirty too.
Ronaldo, fouled time and again, was growing increasingly angry.
Confrontations began occurring and, in the 78th minute, Mourinho came racing off his bench to remonstrate with the referee, Carlos Clos Gomez, following a challenge from Mario Su rez.
He refused to back down when the referee called for calm and was sent off, down the tunnel for perhaps the last time.
Do not talk to Tottenham Hotspur fans about the club’s capacity to fall short.
Whether it be down to meat-based Italian pasta dishes or the scarcely believable sucker punch from a cross-town rival, they have seen their goal in recent seasons wrested from them in cruel and faintly ridiculous fashion.
This time round, the battle for Champions League qualification has again come down to the wire and there is an apprehension underpinning the excitement at White Hart Lane, the fear that fate could deal them a new and devilish card.
If Andr Villas-Boas’s team beat Sunderland at home on Sunday, they would finish on 72 points, which would be a club high in the Premier League years.
It is a haul that, almost always, is sufficient for a top-four place.
Only once since the league was slimmed down to 20 clubs in 1995-96 has the team in fourth taken more than 72 points: Liverpool finished with 76 in 2007-08.
Villas-Boas brought up the statistic on Friday morning.
It is on his mind.
But 72 may very well not be enough.
Over at Arsenal, they know what they need to do and they intend to do it.
Win at Newcastle United and they would ensure qualification to Europe’s elite competition for the 16th season in succession.
Tottenham, as they were last season when Chelsea won the Champions League to relegate them to the Europa League, despite a fourth-placed finish, would be powerless, consumed by ifs and buts.
This is what Arsenal do.
They finish in the money places and, also, they finish above Tottenham.
They torment Tottenham.
Never in Ars ne Wenger’s 17-year tenure have Arsenal trailed in behind their neighbours.
The last time it happened was in 1994-95.
It was perilously close in 2005-06, when Tottenham entered the final day one point ahead of Arsenal in fourth.
But then the majority of their team woke up with gastroenteritis or, according to folklore, a stomach bug from a dodgy lasagne and they did not have the strength to win at West Ham.
Arsenal beat Wigan Athletic and laughed loudly.
Arsenal retain the hope of a third-placed finish, although they need Chelsea to slip up at home to Everton and there is the 130-1 shot, according to bookmakers, of an unprecedented play-off between the London clubs for the third and final automatic pass to the Champions League group phase.
That fixture would take place at Villa Park on Sunday 26 May and would be needed if Chelsea were to draw against Everton and Arsenal won by one at Newcastle, scoring two more goals than Chelsea in the process.
This would see the clubs inseparable on points, goal difference and goals scored.
But Sunday’s entertainment essentially boils down to Tottenham versus Arsenal; to the quest for each club to force themselves on to the right side of the finest of margins.
Every other major issue in the division has been resolved.
The spotlight on north London promises to be intense.
There was common ground between Wenger and Villas-Boas.
The former noted how Arsenal had already equalled their 70-point tally from last season, despite the various problems that they had encountered, chief among them the demoralising departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United, and he said that “I will keep fantastic memories of this team”.
Villas-Boas reflected a little wistfully on the clutch of recent draws and the 2-1 loss at Everton in December, when his team conceded twice in the last minute.
“The Everton defeat was the real mark on the season,” he said.
But he professed himself to be “extremely satisfied” with how his debut campaign had gone.
“We always look back with the sensation that we’ve done things properly,” Villas-Boas said.
“But it’s not up to me to judge.” The judgment will come on Sunday evening and, for Arsenal in particular, it is hard to escape the feeling that it will be black or white.
Even Wenger acknowledged that the financial consequences of missing out on the Champions League would be “big”, although he maintained that the sporting reasons would be the most painful.
As he prepared for the fixture against a Newcastle team still basking in the relief of avoiding relegation at Queens Park Rangers last Sunday, there was the narrowing of focus that has characterised the recent weeks for Arsenal.
Wenger positively brimmed with it.
At the beginning of March, after Arsenal lost the derby at White Hart Lane, they trailed Tottenham by seven points.
Villas-Boas claimed that Arsenal were “in a negative spiral and once you get into that negative spiral, it’s difficult to get out of it”.
The words ring hollow.
Arsenal have since been unbeaten, winning seven and drawing two in the league.
They even won at Bayern Munich immediately after the derby, even if it failed to prevent an away-goals exit from the Champions League.
“This team suffered for a very long time from a lack of confidence because you take the talisman away Robin van Persie and get new players in,” Wenger said.
“Then you lose the first big games and suddenly, we are faced with scepticism.
Balancing the team took a while but since this has been back we have been very efficient.
The Bayern Munich away game was very important.
You could feel after that we could do it.
“I had the feeling it could go to the last day and when we were seven points behind, we’d have been happy for that.
But we’ve fought back to be in a position where we can master our own fate.
We know how to behave to win.
Let’s just continue what we’ve done recently.” There were forward glances from both managers, inevitably, concerning personnel upgrades.
Villas-Boas spoke of his desire to appoint a technical director to oversee player transfers and he admitted that he had tried to sign the Barcelona striker David Villa last season when he was in charge at Chelsea.
Villa is a possible target for him again this summer.
Villas-Boas also said that with Jos Mourinho set to return to Chelsea and be afforded the money to make a huge impression on the market, the west London club would “absolutely be the team to beat” next season.
Tottenham, he suggested, had to try to keep pace.
It tends to feel more cerebral at Arsenal and Wenger’s reflections on Sir Alex Ferguson, the outgoing United manager, carried an unwitting subtext.
“He never looked like he refused to move forward and be open to new things,” Wenger said.
“You have to respect this progressive attitude.
We can all be a little bit restricted to our experience and what worked before.” Wenger has regularly stood accused of the above and his revelation that he was close to signing the free agent and France Under-21 striker Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre sounded like something from the tried and trusted.
It was difficult, though, to look too far beyond Sunday’s showdown, when the passions will rage and the drama swirl.
“It’s one of the biggest rivalries in football,” Villas-Boas said.
“The buzz that you feel around the club now and the pressure is extraordinary.”
As the musicians traipsed out of the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge early last Saturday evening carrying their instruments, it became obvious Manchester City’s post-FA Cup final party had been cancelled.
After their loss to Wigan at Wembley, City’s players were in no mood for celebration.
Just a mile or so north at their team base, the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, a small group of City players were slumped around tables in the plush residents’ bar.
The talk was, however, of a significant consolation prize.
Surely now, they asked aloud, their manager Roberto Mancini would be sacked.
End of the road: Roberto Mancini was relieved of his duties by Manchester City earlier this week Support: The majority of Manchester City fans were disappointed to see the back of Mancini Grab your coat: The Italian’s three-year spell at Eastlands ended in tumultuous fashion Professional players, who on the surface at least owed their Italian coach, were hoping fervently that he would be dismissed.
This story is more than an allegory of the selfish state of football.
It is more a reflection on one of the most peculiar and tempestuous managerial reigns in the recent history of English football.
Just days before the Cup final, one of City’s clutch of England internationals sat in the spacious home dressing room before their game against West Bromwich Albion and, as he laced up his boots, told colleagues Mancini was to be sacked that very night.
The player was wrong.
There was, indeed, a big announcement due, but it was across town at Manchester United.
Yet, the appetite of some City players to see Mancini’s head on a stake was apparent, and it grew.
Amid the flurry of newspaper stories following City’s miserable defeat at Wembley, it became clear Mancini was in deep trouble.
‘Can we put the champagne on ice yet?’ one player texted a journalist stationed outside their hotel just down the road from Euston Station.
When news of Mancini’s sacking duly came, there was yet more black humour from inside City’s dressing room.
‘It’s a shame we have a game against Reading on Tuesday,’ joked one player.
‘We could have gone out to celebrate.’ These were players who had won significant medals under Mancini, an FA Cup in 2011 and a League title in 2012.
They should have been grateful.
So, how exactly did the relationship between the man who brought the title to City for the first time in 44 years and some of his players become so toxic? The potent mix of testosterone and ego guarantees arguments in football dressing rooms.
The difference with City was that you would often find the manager slap bang in the middle.
Moments after conceding the last-minute goal that gave rivals United a 3-2 derby win at the Etihad Stadium last December, City goalkeeper Joe Hart found himself on the end of a tirade from Mancini that few present have forgotten.
Clashes: Samir Nasri (above) and Joe Hart were on the receiving end of tirades from the former City manager Most observers blamed a ducking Samir Nasri for City’s defensive wall buckling to hand United victory through a late Robin van Persie free-kick.
But Mancini was furious with his keeper.
‘You owe me everything,’ raged Mancini in front of his astonished squad.
‘I gave you a chance in this team and this is how you repay me.’ Earlier in Mancini’s three-and-a-half year reign, there had been warnings of what was to come, of a style of management alien to pampered and sheltered modern footballers.
At the time, the generally held view was that Mancini was establishing his control over malcontents such as Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Bellamy disliked Mancini so much he became embroiled in an internal club investigation into allegations he had encouraged Everton manager David Moyes as he clashed with Mancini on the touchline during a game in March 2010.
Fury: Mancini and David Moyes were involved in a touchline bust-up back in 2010 The inquiry found no hard evidence.
Interestingly, Bellamy’s teammates – as well as staff in the players’ tunnel – claimed they had heard nothing.
Adebayor, meanwhile, was so frustrated with his coach that he stormed into the dressing room and wiped out a tactics board with a karate kick after the goalless Manchester derby in November that same year.
Some onlookers suggested it was the most energy Adebayor had expended all season.
Nothing, however, eclipsed the ferocity of the confrontation between Tevez and Mancini just a month earlier.
No joy: The Italian and Carlos Tevez were involved in a number of altercations during their time together Former City slicker: Craig Bellamy and Mancini did not see eye-to-eye Hearing Tevez mutter something during half-time of a home game against Newcastle, Mancini turned on his team’s star player and told him: ‘If you don’t like it here then you can f*** off back to Argentina.’ Already irritated by Mancini’s double training sessions, Tevez jumped to his feet, tore off his pale blue City shirt and for a moment it looked as though the altercation could become physical.
‘Players dived in and pulled the two of them apart before it got out of hand,’ a source told Sportsmail.
‘Had it happened this season, they may have let Carlos get on with it.’ Mancini had established a pattern that was not to change.
His was not to be a regime that would encourage too much debate.
Over time, the Italian rooted out the players he didn’t like – Bellamy left for Cardiff, Adebayor moved to Tottenham, while Mancini showed strong management in offloading the owners’ favourite Robinho within months of arriving.
Life at City didn’t change much, though.
On the one hand, Mancini battled over transfers with executives Garry Cook and Brian Marwood, bringing assistant David Platt with him to make sure his employers didn’t say things in English he couldn’t understand.
Vacant: Mancini’s empty car parking space at City’s Carrington training ground on Friday ‘I should have full control at this club,’ he said with justification.
On the other hand, he began to lose the faith of a group of players he needed to meet the exacting standards of the Arab owners.
Prior to the 2011 FA Cup final, Belgium defender Vincent Kompany described Mancini as a ‘genius’.
Soon after, he was handed the club captaincy.
Fast forward to the start of this season.
With City struggling to impose themselves on the Premier League, Kompany took Mancini to one side after training and offered some suggestions.
‘Mancini didn’t like that,’ revealed Sportsmail’s source.
‘He thought Kompany was getting too carried away with his own importance.
He told him so, too.
Their relationship never recovered.’ Beyond repair: Vincent Kompany described Mancini as a ‘genius’ – but their relationship soon deteriorated With Kompany – one of the dressing room’s key figures – harbouring increasing misgivings about Mancini this season, perhaps it is no surprise the City coach did not survive.
With first Hart, then Kompany, whose own form was nosediving, on the wrong side of the divide, others were always likely to follow.
Certainly the clique of English players which formed around the under-fire Hart and out-of-favour defender Joleon Lescott spent much of this season bitching.
Their manager was aware of it and merely considered them weak.
The situation was becoming critical, though.
This was a group who had won the championship just months earlier and, while it is not unusual for stars with big egos to complain about a coach when they are not playing, this cartel of dissatisfied players was made up of individuals who were often at the core of the first XI.
Losing the faith: James Milner was said to have run out of patience with Mancini ‘When someone as stable as James Milner loses faith, you really are in trouble,’ reflected another well-placed source.
It would be wrong to suggest Mancini’s dressing room was united in opposition to him.
There were players, among them the Toure brothers and right back Pablo Zabaleta, who thought their coach was deserving of more support.
On the ball: Yaya Toure was pro-Mancini In English football, though, the dissidents usually speak the loudest and dissatisfaction can spread quickly.
More surprising is that by the time of his dismissal, foreign players – people who Mancini had brought to the club, such as David Silva and Sergio Aguero – were starting to question their futures.
Not all of this unrest can be laid at Mancini’s door and foreign players often review their situations on an annual basis.
Nevertheless, murmurings from Silva and Aguero have been growing louder and one of incoming manager Manuel Pellegrini’s first tasks will be to provide some reassurance.
That is something Mancini rarely did.
Always a strong, single-minded individual during his glittering career as a forward in Italy’s Serie A, he could never understand why modern players did not show the same mental fortitude.
Many of his players were crying out for indulgence but he wouldn’t have it.
Out-of-favour players did, on occasion, talk to their coach.
Mancini listened but declined to provide the comfort they sought.
In his eyes, they should have saved their energy for working their way into the team.
Mancini did spend time on Italian wild child Mario Balotelli.
As far as the forward was concerned, some players felt different rules applied.
It was even suggested this week that Balotelli was allowed, on occasion, to smoke in the dressing room at City’s training ground.
Row: But Mancini handed Balotelli a number of ‘second chances’ before he was eventually sold to AC Milan Nevertheless, on his appointment in the wake of Mark Hughes’s sacking in late 2009, one of Mancini’s long-time allies from Italy warned privately: ‘There will be no sentiment.
If you are not in his team, you may as well be dead.’ Of all the words spoken during Mancini’s time in England, few proved so pertinent.
Roberto Mancini used to tell the media – with whom he was popular – that he ‘loved’ his City players.
In the eyes of his dressing room foes, he loved himself rather more.
Certainly image was important to the urbane, stylish Mancini.
He dressed well but some players lampooned him.
They were aware he used a tanning salon and suspected he had his eyebrows shaped at Harvey Nichols.
Keeping up appearances: Image was important to Mancini with some players lampooning him for his fashion The sniping was a bit rich coming from a group who could spend more on clothes each year than most people spend on a car.
Every day, Mancini would cycle to training from his home in leafy Alderley Edge.
What few people knew, though, was that his faithful aide ‘Jose’ occasionally drove behind him in case Mancini grew tired.
‘Jose’ was Mancini’s eyes and ears at City, attending to his every need.
Towards the end, he would even pass messages to players Mancini didn’t want to talk to.
When Mancini wanted to browse the Jimmy Choo store in Amsterdam last September when City were on their European travels, ‘Jose’ accompanied him the 100 yards from his hotel.
On your bike: Mancini used to cycle to City’s Carrington training ground When Mancini wanted his tan deepening at a salon in Cheshire this year, ‘Jose’ went with him.
So loyal was ‘Jose’ that he would sometimes accompany Mancini’s wife, Federica, to her workouts at the plush David Lloyd health club in Cheadle.
During his reign, Mancini leant heavily on his old team-mate Platt, who put out fires where he could.
Others on the City staff, though, were not so loyal.
On a pre-season tour of America three summers ago, one member of the support staff Mancini had inherited told anyone who would listen that the ‘players hate him’.
Why Mancini didn’t root him out remains a mystery.
Remarkably, he remains in a job.
At least former kitman Stephen Aziz – who left the club this season – was brave enough to go public last Wednesday, describing Mancini as ‘vain and self-centred’ on Twitter.
Those posts have now been deleted.
To the City supporters and to the English football community as a whole, the dedicated, charismatic Mancini will always be remembered fondly.
One of the gang: Mancini celebrates winning last year’s Barclays Premier League title He won two major trophies.
He won 6-1 at Old Trafford.
He took City into the Champions League.
Away from the pressures of the training ground, he was terrific company, generous and loved by those he encountered in his favourite city centre Italian restaurant.
In many ways, he deserved better than to be deserted by players in whom he had invested so much hope.
Ultimately, though, this single-minded man was undone by the misguided belief that his players would change and that he didn’t have to.
That, perhaps, was his most damaging misjudgment.
His squad grew tired of his peculiar public pronouncements.
He never seemed to understand the damage he was doing.
According to those close to him, Mancini spoke out so freely and wildly because he didn’t like to lie.
He also didn’t read English newspapers and, by extension, didn’t care about what was in them.
Happier times: Mancini celebrates winning the FA Cup after City beat Stoke in 2011 His players did, though, and so did City’s board of directors.
At City, electronic press clippings land on the appropriate people’s laptops – here and in Abu Dhabi – by 3am.
Defender Micah Richards was bemused when he heard in October that he was expected to be back from a knee injury ‘in three weeks’.
He was at home on crutches after ligament surgery at the time and returned, as is normal, after four months.
Samir Nasri read that he was not trying hard enough and that his manager would like to ‘give him a punch’.
Kompany was criticised for playing in a Belgium game, even though his national FA’s medical department had already cleared it with doctors at City.
There were times this season when City’s players complained that they needed their coach to say less and do more.
After a numbing Premier League defeat by Southampton in February, for example, Mancini didn’t even come into the dressing room to lift sagging heads.Instead, he sent an aide to fetch his bag and hitched a lift on a private plane back to Italy.
At other times, they could have done with some space.
Life at City consisted of hard training sessions – Mancini cannot be criticised for that – and a schedule that would sometimes change at short notice.
While he was winning, as he was for much of his time in England, Mancini’s hard-line methods were tolerated.
‘Management by confrontation and division’ one observer called it.
But when results began to turn, Mancini spun around to find too few players willing to fight for him.
As they head for their summer break, City’s players will reflect on a season of missed opportunities.
Mancini’s dismissal, though, will not sadden all of them.
Looking back now, it is surprising that the Italian survived at the club for so long.
Jonathan Sexton kicked four conversions and two penalties during Leinster’s Amlin Challenge Cup final victory over Stade Fran ais.
Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Any good news for Leinster is suddenly good news for the Lions and there were plenty of happy faces in Dublin on Friday night.
A fly-half masterclass from Jonathan Sexton did much to ensure his province hoisted the Amlin Challenge Cup aloft, although his fellow Lions tourist Sean O’Brien did limp away prematurely with an apparent lower leg strain.
Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, can only cross his fingers and wait.
Even the absence of the injured Brian O’Driscoll and the quality of Stade’s captain, Sergio Parisse, could not derail Leinster, who had the game virtually won inside the first half with three tries, all of them converted by an assured Sexton, who finished with 14 points.
The 27-year-old is leaving for Racing M tro this summer but, like all his team-mates, was visibly determined to secure one last piece of European silverware for Joe Schmidt, who is about to take charge of Ireland.
Leinster are also contesting the RaboDirect Pro12 final next weekend and looked from the outset like a team determined to seize every conceivable opportunity going.
Only three minutes had elapsed when a clever move from a lineout worked Isa Nacewa through a sizeable hole and Sexton skilfully put the supporting Ian Madigan over for a converted try.
On a beautiful, sunny evening it was clearly Leinster’s intention to give the visitors a serious runaround and both Rob Kearney and Sexton looked in the mood to give Gatland a timely glimpse of their attacking prowess.
Their fellow Lions tourist Mike Ross, however, required a lengthy period of treatment to his left shoulder, an obvious concern for coaches and close relatives alike.
The brilliance of Parisse was also enough to cause the home supporters a flutter of temporary alarm, with the outstanding Italian No8 seemingly playing in at least three positions at once.
Only some determined Leinster defence kept the visitors at bay and, soon enough, Stade were back standing beneath their own posts again.
Andrew Conway leaped high to gather Isaac Boss’s well-judged kick and offloaded to the lurking Sean Cronin, who scurried over unopposed to make it 14-0 inside 20 minutes.
They had a third before the half-hour mark, another inch-perfect crossfield punt by Sexton being gathered by Nacewa and deftly slipped to Kearney, who dived flamboyantly into the left corner.
Sexton’s soaring conversion from the touchline further underlined Leinster’s growing confidence and encouraged more cries of “easy, easy” from the stands.
In this sort of mood there are few more effective attacking sides in Europe and it will be fascinating to see the effect Schmidt has on Ireland’s backline fluency when he takes over as the national head coach.
The Lions would love Sexton to have a similarly galvanising effect and the fly-half’s familiarity with Kearney and O’Driscoll, augmented by a bit of Welsh power and pace, will be among the key weapons at Gatland’s disposal in the forthcoming Test series against the Wallabies.
The second half was simply a matter of keeping Stade at arm’s length, a task made easier when Julien Dupuy was forced off and Paul Warwick, better known as a 10 or a 15, had to deputise at scrum-half.
Leinster did finally concede a try after 65 minutes when J r my Sinzelle located a rare gap in the home defence but two penalties from Sexton ensured disappointment for Parisse and his side, who have now lost all four of the European finals they have contested.
Leinster, who added a late Cian Healy try, have now won four European titles in five years and, even without O’Driscoll’s steely input, show few signs of easing up.
Stade Fran ais Porical (Vuidravuwalu, 55); Sinzelle, Doumayrou, Williams, Bonneval; Plisson, Dupuy (Warwick, h-t); De Malmanche, Sempere (Bonfils, 56), Slimani, LaValla (Van Zyl, 67), Mostert, Lyons, Rabadan, Parisse (capt).
Pens Porical 2.
Leinster R Kearney; Conway, McFadden (Goodman, 67), Madigan, Nacewa; Sexton, Boss; McGrath (Healy, 51), Cronin (Strauss, 51), Ross (Hagan, 59), Roux (Cullen, 59), Toner, Ruddock, O’Brien (Jennings, 57), Heaslip (capt).
Tries Madigan, Cronin, R Kearney, Healy.
Cons Sexton 4.
Pens Sexton 2.
Referee N Owens (Wales).
Loic Remy available for QPR against Liverpool at Anfield despite midweek arrest over rape allegations
QPR striker Loic Remy is available for Sunday’s Barclays Premier League clash with Liverpool at Anfield, the club have confirmed.
Remy has been bailed following his arrest on suspicion of rape after being one of three men held by Scotland Yard’s sex crime squad for an offence that is alleged to have taken place on May 6 in west London.
The 26-year-old France international, who joined relegated QPR from Marseille for 8million in January, denies the claim.
Scroll down for video January recruit: But Loic Remy was unable to prevent QPR slipping to relegation Rangers boss Harry Redknapp refused to discuss the matter at today’s press conference, but a club spokesman announced that Remy will be considered for the final match of the season on Sunday.
‘With regard to Loic Remy, the club can confirm he’s training today and will be available for selection against Liverpool, but the manager can’t take any questions on him,’ the spokesman said.
QPR were relegated from the Premier League on April 28 following their goalless draw at Reading, who will also spend next season attempting to win promotion from the npower Championship.
Redknapp envisages a busy summer ahead in the transfer window, claiming his current squad would be incapable of securing an immediate return to the top flight.
Allegations: But the France international is available for selection after being released on bail ‘We need to change things here to give ourselves a chance of trying to mount a challenge for next season because it won’t be easy,’ Redknapp said.
‘The hard work starts in the summer, trying to clear the decks, make some changes and get some fresh blood in.
‘We need a group who will be good enough to compete at the top of the Championship.
We certainly weren’t good enough to compete in the Premier League.
‘I’d like the changes to be extensive because the club needs changing.
The team that’s here hasn’t been good enough and would struggle to get out of the Championship next season.
Relegated: But Harry Redknapp is already looking ahead to next season in the Championship ‘We’ve been short of quality, it’s not been due to a lack of desire.
It some cases it may have been a little bit, but we just haven’t been good enough certain areas.’ Remy, defender Christopher Samba and keeper Julio Cesar top the list of players expected to depart in the summer and Redknapp ruled out another costly recruitment drive.
‘It won’t be a case of throwing money at it.
We want to bring lads in who will have the right attitude with the right abilities to get you out of the division,’ he said.
Departing? Chris Samba and Julio Cesar are likely to be sold over the summer ‘I’m confident we can mount a challenge next season, but it won’t be easy.
The Championship is full of big clubs, clubs bigger than QPR like Leeds United.
‘Almost every club in the Championship has been in the Premier League at some point, so it’s a tough league to get out of.’ Moroccan playmaker Adel Taarabt could miss Sunday’s final match of the season against Liverpool due to the death of his grandmother.
Harry Kane: Feels he has benefited greatly from loan spells Sky Bet Football Betting Retrieving latest Sky Bet odds Football Betting 10 Free Bet The 2012/13 campaign has almost reached a conclusion, with promotion pushes coming to a close and relegation battles either won or lost.
Here at Sky Sports , we continue to take you to the very heart of the Football League, with our Spotlight features intended to give you a greater insight into the clubs and players that keep us on the edge of our seats.
We are hoping to bring you the views and thoughts of a representative from each of the 72 teams over the course of the season, with those involved asked to give their take on the division they compete in, the club that pays their wages and those we should all be keeping an eye on.
Next in our hot seat is Harry Kane, with the promising forward taking time out to discuss loan spell benefits, top-four challenges and World Cup hopes with Chris Burton.
It was a remarkable end to the season for Leicester – a real mix of emotions after scoring late against Forest and then conceding late against Watford – what was it like to be involved in? It was a great experience.
The win against Forest was a great up and everyone was buzzing and looking forward to the play-offs with confidence, and unfortunately the Watford game was a huge low.
But you learn from that sort of stuff and as a young lad it was good to be involved – the Watford game still hurts, it was very cruel on the players and the fans.
“I have had a taste in the Premiership now and more Championship experience, which is what I want, as a player I want to develop and learn.” Harry Kane Quotes of the week And working under Nigel Pearson at Leicester was another useful experience – it’s important to experience different managers and different ideas isn’t it? Yeah, definitely.
Nigel Pearson is a good manager, I worked well under him and got on well with him.
It’s good to experience all different managers and different work ethics, tactics and ideas.
I really enjoyed my time at Leicester.
For you, looking at the season as a whole, how are you reflecting on things – highs and lows? There were a few highs and it was unfortunate the way it finished, but it’s an experience and you learn from that and take it forward in your career, you have to come back better for it.
You had the injury but ended strongly, so a bit of a mixed bag? The injury was unfortunate, it came at a bad time when I was just getting going at Norwich, but, again, that’s football.
You have to take that on the chin sometimes.
I worked hard to get back to fitness and I had a good strong end to the season.
You tasted Premier League football and got more Championship experience under your belt, so it’s been all positive on the learning front hasn’t it? Definitely.
As a young player coming up in the game, I think it’s vital that you get that experience and learn from players around you at different clubs.
I have had a taste in the Premiership now and more Championship experience, which is what I want, as a player I want to develop and learn.
Do you feel that you have returned to Tottenham a better player? That you’ve kicked on again after another productive loan spell? Yeah, I think I have.
You’re more confident and I’m still growing physically.
I have come back and been training at Spurs and I feel sharp and ready to go.
Might next season be similar – you’re only 19 and you need to get games don’t you? Exactly.
You want to be playing.
I’ll be going back to Spurs for pre-season and see what unfolds there.
I’m a Spurs player at the end of the day, so I’m looking to get into the Spurs side.
We will assess the situation in pre-season and go from there.
“I want to try and get more experience, more confidence and get more minutes under my belt, I’m young but I’m ambitious and hungry to play games.” Harry Kane Quotes of the week There could be Champions League qualifiers to look forward to at the end of the summer – still all to play for there? Definitely.
It’s all come down to the last game of the season and anything can happen – as I found out at Leicester.
Hopefully we can make it through to the Champions League qualifiers and get into the competition.
Spurs are a huge club and everything is geared to playing regularly in the Champions League.
Is next season just all about adding experience for you? Yeah, I think so.
I want to try and get more experience, more confidence and get more minutes under my belt, I’m young but I’m ambitious and hungry to play games.
And if you’re playing regularly, are the England U21s something you would be thinking about? Definitely.
It was good to be called up to the squad last year and if you are playing well, then scouts are always watching.
It would be a great opportunity for me to try and get into the U21s on a regular basis.
What’s the main focus for you this summer? I’m away with the England U20s at the World Cup.
We have got a training camp this week.
If I’m involved in that, I’ve got that to look forward to.
It’s a good squad with some talented players so we’ve got to believe that we can go on and do well.
Hopefully we can try and win that competition.
Finally, disappointed not to be heading to Wembley, but it’s an exciting time for you isn’t it and there is a lot to look forward to? Yeah, it is.
It still hurts and it’s still disappointing that we didn’t get to Wembley, but I have to look forward to next season now and the U20s World Cup.
Football is all about how you come back from low points and I’m looking forward to working hard over the summer and having a good pre-season at Spurs.
Try telling Jamie Carragher that nothing is riding on this fixture.
After 16 years and 737 appearances for Liverpool, a total bettered only by Ian Callaghan, the Bootle-born defender brings his outstanding career to a close against Harry Redknapp’s relegated side.
Anfield will pay homage and then worry about a defence without its dominant leader next season.
Carragher will probably still be throwing his body on the line in stoppage time.
The absence of Steven Gerrard, Luis Su rez and Daniel Agger did not disrupt Liverpool or Daniel Sturridge’s fine form at Fulham last weekend and, for QPR, Lo c R my is available.
Andy Hunter Venue Anfield, Sunday 4pm Tickets Sold out Last season Liverpool 1 QPR 0 Referee Martin Atkinson This season’s matches 23 Y 86, R 1, 3.78 cards per game Odds Liverpool 1-4 QPR 12-1 Draw 11-2 Liverpool v Queens Park Rangers: Probable starters in bold, contenders in light.
Illustration: Graphic Liverpool Subs from Gulacsi, Jones, Assaidi, Borini, Suso, Coady, Yesil, Skrtel, Wisdom, Ibe, Morgan, Jones, Ward, McLaughlin Doubtful Skrtel (illness) Injured Agger (back, Aug), Allen (shoulder, Aug), Flanagan (knee, Aug), Gerrard (shoulder, Aug), Kelly (knee, Aug), Sterling, (thigh, Aug) Suspended Su rez (fourth of 10) Form guide WDWDDD Disciplinary record Y53 R2 Leading scorer Su rez 23 Queens Park Rangers Subs from Cerny, Green, Diakit , Park, Taarabt, Mackie, Yun, Granero, Onuoha, Da Silva, Townsend, Bothroyd, Magri Doubtful J lio C sar (back), Samba (hamstring), Taarabt (personal reasons) Injured Campbell (metatarsal, Aug), Johnson (knee, Aug), Wright-Phillips (ankle, Aug) Suspended None Form guide LLDLLD Disciplinary record Y57 R3 Leading scorer R my 6 Match pointers Liverpool have scored in all 11 of their previous Premier League meetings with QPR If QPR do not win, they will be the first side to end a season with four Premier League victories Liverpool have kept 10 clean sheets in their past 15 league games at home QPR have scored just once in their past 455 minutes of top-flight football a Lo c R my penalty against Newcastle Since Luis Su rez made his debut in February 2011, Liverpool have won a lower proportion of games with him (39%) than without him (59%)