More friend than foe: City legend Uwe Rosler leads underdog Wigan to FA Cup shocker

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More friend than foe: City legend Uwe Rosler leads underdog Wigan to FA Cup shocker
More friend than foe: City legend Uwe Rosler leads underdog Wigan to FA Cup shocker

It will go down as the most memorable upset of the English soccer season and that doesn't even begin to tell the full story.

On a strange Sunday afternoon when the odd voodoo that makes soccer's oldest competition eternally magical was never stronger, a plotline so unlikely became the narrative. The final score for this stunning FA Cup quarterfinal read Manchester City 1, Wigan Athletic 2, and to those who follow the English game that result alone was remarkable enough.

City, the cash-laden Premier League heavyweight backed by the bottomless oil wealth of its Arabian ownership group, was knocked out of the Cup – on its own turf – by Wigan, a club relegated from the Premier League last year that currently sits in seventh place in England's second-tier Championship with a wage bill dwarfed by that of its opponent.

But more than the score, the afternoon was about a man. And the scene would have been a puzzling one for the uninitiated.

Uwe Rosler was the architect of City's demise at the Etihad Stadium and was adored by Wigan's fan base before the game and remains so after it. But the Latics manager received an even greater reception from the home supporters than Manuel Pellegrini, the boss trying to win City the Premier League title in his first season in charge.

City fans stood and applauded and even chanted Rosler's name, "Uwe, Uwe Rosler" to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys' 1990s classic "Go West" just like they did a couple of decades ago.

Before he was a follicle-challenged manager in a suit, Rosler was a striker with a mullet – one that was transplanted from behind the Iron Curtain and East Germany's communist regime into City folklore. He played for City from 1994 to 1998 and scored 64 goals in 176 games, including a classic chip against Manchester United, the star-studded neighbor of perennial underdog City.

The Man City faithful loved Rosler for his effort and industry but loved him even more for the way he returned their affection. Rosler was embraced by his teammates, was touched and surprised by how the predominantly English squad included him in social golf outings and would pour beer for them as he didn't know how to swing a club.

It was a different world for a player who had grown up in the regimented East German sporting system. Rosler says he was even a recruitment target for the Stasi secret service early in his career.

Rosler helped City avoid relegation in the 1994-95 season and shed tears when he couldn't do it again the following year. He stuck with them the next campaign before finally moving on after a second straight relegation left the club in the third tier of English soccer.

Modern soccer players are often an unsentimental bunch, but that wasn't the case with Rosler. He came back with his family to watch key games as the club began its road to revival, screamed himself hoarse and celebrated with fans when they won the FA Cup in 2011. He kept friendships with former playing colleagues and club workers and named both his sons after City legends.

Rosler contracted lung cancer in 2003 and wasn't expected to survive, but his fight was boosted by a friend's phone call as he lay in a hospital in Germany. The noise on the other end of the line was 40,000 City fans, after hearing news of his plight, chanting his name during a game just like they used to.

Rosler beat the disease and threw himself into management. He wasn't a big enough name to walk into a high-profile job but worked his way up. He got a chance at small London club Brentford and began to build a reputation as a coach.

Last December, he got a call from Wigan, a club struggling after experiencing the unique joy and anguish of winning last year's FA Cup (beating City in the final with a late winner) only to be relegated from the top flight in the same campaign. Fate, and the random nature of the Cup draw, cast Rosler in the most unusual spotlight.

Wigan, an underdog in last year's FA Cup final, was even more of a long shot in Sunday's quarterfinal with a squad inevitably weakened after dropping down a division. Moreover, the game was on City's turf and not the neutral site of Wembley Stadium.

Manchester United lost at the Etihad this season, conceding four goals in the process. Arsenal lost there, too, while letting in six. In the Premier League, City has won 12 or its 13 home games, scoring 43 times and allowing just nine.

But the FA Cup never ceases to stupefy the odds makers and make underdogs play out of their skin. No one quite knows how, but it happens, year after year.

Jordi Gomez slotted a penalty after 27 minutes to make the upset a possibility. Despite City dominating possession, a defensive lapse allowed James Perch to extend the lead to two just after halftime. Then Emmerson Boyce, a journeyman defender who will never be considered a world-beater, repeatedly repelled the attacking waves of City's multi-million collective of Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Samir Nasri.

Nasri narrowed the gap with a fine strike with 22 minutes left but neither he nor his teammates could conjure the equalizer as time wound down. With a bit of luck, resolute defending, pure, uncompromised spirit and the colossus of Boyce having the game of his life, Wigan held on. Rosler, the former hero, was lauded once again by the City fans despite the shellshock of the events from the previous 90 minutes.

Next up for Wigan is a showdown with Arsenal beckons in the FA Cup semifinals. Realistically, Arsenal must be relishing the matchup. Having not won a trophy for nine years, the London club is now left with just Premiership battlers Hull and two Championship teams in its way.

But one of them is Wigan, which has been somehow turbo-charged beyond its means whenever it steps out in this tournament. The magic of the FA Cup is alive and well.

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