It was a victory engineered by an Italian coach and a bunch of millionaire players from every corner of the globe, but it was a day for the real Manchester City, the fans who screamed and cried and despaired ever since the bleak old days in the lower divisions.
Beating local foe Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Saturday was one win, one game, one afternoon, and yet, it felt like so much more to a team that has spent most of its existence overshadowed by its big brother.
At the end of a dramatic 90 minutes, they all celebrated together – coach Roberto Mancini, owner Sheikh Mansour, players from countless nations and the fans who had scraped together the funds to pay extortionate Wembley ticket prices and battled traffic carnage caused by a massive highway accident.
City is such a paradox, with a fan population drawn largely from the working masses of this gritty yet fascinating metropolis in the northwest of England but a squad that is now funded by Arab oil lucre from thousands of miles away.
For so long the Blue half was rich only in passion and tradition and loyal support. Now they have genuine riches too, the sort capable of building a squad capable of challenging for any piece of silverware on offer.
But for all the excitement of Sheikh Mansour's arrival and the spate of incoming superstars that followed, there was still a hole in the heart of City fans, one borne of inferiority and living, as ever, in the shadow of a hated, and more successful, rival.
This result didn't wrest the power struggle in Manchester from United's grasp, but merely loosened it a little. United is still a runaway favorite to lift its fourth English Premier League title in five years and sits comfortably in the Champions League semifinals.
This though, wasn't about all that. It was about Monday morning, and the scene at the factories and market stalls and fish-n-chip shops of the city. It was about how the long-beleaguered City fan can look forward to some joyous months of being the tormentor to his United workmate, after years of things being the other way around.
Whether or not City goes on to lift the trophy against either Bolton or Stoke on May 14, they will always have the satisfaction of denying United the treble (EPL, Champions League, FA Cup) which it won once before in 1999.
Such basic humanity is what makes English soccer special. For all the corporate side to the game and the way it has become a business first and a sport second, it must never be forgotten that 90 minutes of action can and does have an impact on millions of lives.
For City fans, life, even in this tortured English economy, just got a little better.
For that, they have a few factors to thank. The biggest one was Yaya Toure, the marauding midfielder from the Ivory Coast, who not only scored the only goal but was responsible for getting his team a grip on the game. Toure was strong and fierce and was too much for his opposite number Michael Carrick to cope with; suddenly his monstrous weekly salary of $300,000, the highest in the EPL, seemed like an absolute bargain.
United was solid and confident early but let the game slip in the first part of the second half. At 51 minutes in, two uncharacteristic United mistakes, first from goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar and then from Carrick, sealed their demise. Carrick's wayward pass was collected by Toure, who needed no invitation to stride goalwards, sidestep Nemanja Vidic, and slide the ball between Van Der Sar's feet.
Sir Alex Ferguson, sitting in the stands due to an ongoing touchline ban, uttered not a word but his face told a thousand of them. Ferguson's dislike of City goes behind local rivalries, he resents newcomers who try to buy success whereas he had to build it, and he wanted this result badly.
Instead, it only got worse after the goal. Paul Scholes' foolhardy challenge on Pablo Zabaleta was enough to earn a straight red card, making United's already-difficult comeback far more unlikely, and City closed things out with a degree of comfort.
Some unfortunate scenes followed the final whistle, when Mario Balotelli and Rio Ferdinand clashed angrily. Balotelli's ungracious taunts were utterly unwarranted, while Ferdinand's vitriolic response also did him no credit.
Such behavior will be a mere footnote though; nothing could take the shine off City's most beautiful day.
- Manchester City
- Manchester United
- Sheikh Mansour