By Liam Twomey
Last July, having witnessed his new Manchester City side claim the Barclays Asia Trophy with a 1-0 victory over Sunderland on a scandalous bog of a pitch in Hong Kong, Manuel Pellegrini could not resist the temptation to make light of chief executive Ferran Soriano’s rather ominous public pronouncement that he was expected to win five trophies in as many years.
"I just need four more!" he quipped. That the Black Cats are once again the opponents in Sunday’s Capital One Cup final might well be interpreted as auspicious by the Chilean as he seeks to finally make serious progress towards the target that will ultimately determine his legacy.
|MAN CITY v SUNDERLAND
CAPITAL ONE CUP FINAL
|PREVIEW: Pellegrini aiming to deliver City's first trophy of the season at Wembley|
Yet greatness is far more readily bestowed on winners. Pellegrini worked wonders at Villarreal and Malaga, producing expansive sides which seduced neutrals as they carried the fight to the Champions League elite. In between came his ill-fated spell at Real Madrid which, despite being a failure, was also highly impressive in some ways.
All of which makes it a pity – and slightly strange – that none of the Chilean's Spanish exploits yielded silverware. Perhaps there was a time when he could seek mitigation in pointing to reduced circumstances. It is not now. City are the richest, most lavishly-resourced club in England and boast a core of players who won the Premier League title less than two years ago.
The Capital One Cup does not figure particularly prominently on the club’s radar these days, but Pellegrini knows the value of tasting victory now. "It's very important for the team to have a winning mentality and to have an ambitious mentality," he told reporters ahead of the game. In this case the coach proving he is of the same mind would be even more significant.
"Both of those things start from winning the Capital One Cup, and then trying to win other titles," he added. "The feeling and the effect if you lose is not the same as if you win the game."
Recent history tells us that even in victory this competition can be a fickle mistress. Triumph can prove a springboard to further glories – as with Jose Mourinho's first great Chelsea side in 2005 and a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Manchester United a year later – or a cleverly concealed trapdoor, as Juande Ramos, Birmingham City and Michael Laudrup would attest.
Nevertheless, it is the only outcome worth contemplating for Pellegrini. Defeat, even to a Sunderland resurgent under Gus Poyet and particularly dangerous in the cup competitions, would evoke unwanted memories of last season's disastrous Wembley humiliation at the hands of Wigan and the firm hammering of the final nail into Mancini's coffin.
That memory will inspire the Sunderland players as they embrace the role of underdog. "Having been on both sides of it, we're going there with nothing to lose," insists Adam Johnson, a man with more motivation than most to hope for an upset. "We can go and play with freedom and try and win the game. If City don't win the game it will be a massive failure for them, won't it?"
Yet the lingering sense is that Wigan have already stolen their thunder. The events of the past eight months only serve to reinforce the notion that City's chastened stars have had their fill of farce.
Their manager, meanwhile, can accept no less than one down, four to go.
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