Community Shield too far away
By this time of the campaign, I'm pretty much yearning for the finish line and a well deserved break; however, Manchester City's FA Cup win over Stoke on Saturday has me wishing the season could start the weekend after next.
The reason for this impatience is that the traditional opening curtain raiser pits the winners of the Premier League versus the victors of the FA Cup. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in case you've forgotten it's going to be a derby date at Wembley in early August: Manchester United against Manchester City in the Community Shield.
This particular opening match-up has only happened once, and I can guarantee it was pretty much before any of us were born. On that day in 1956, United took home the trophy, and it signaled the beginning of the 'Busby Babes' and their dominance of Manchester (bar for a few years in the late, late `60s and early `70s).
I'm sure once Roberto Mancini secures third place and automatic qualification to the UEFA Champions League group stage at Arsenal's expense (a scenario which looks increasingly likely), he'll have laser focus intensity on that opener and the chance to confirm the message that City are back.
For sure one trophy doesn't cure all the evils that have befallen City over the last 35 years, but for the Italian, he's got to start somewhere. In a way, it reminds me of Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. The 'Special One' brought home the 2005 League Cup, and it helped foster the winning attitude. Mancini will hope it has done the same for his club.
And say what you will about the Italian, but if you compare records (and that's what we do in the football industr)y, you'll see that his start in Manchester has been far superior to that of his rival, Sir Alex Ferguson.
It took four years for Ferguson to win his first trophy (an FA Cup) while qualification to the Holy Grail of Champions League football wasn't achieved until much later. Obviously, Ferguson made amends for that over the next 20 years by winning everything in sight, but it is something that Mancini holds over the Scotsman and could be used as a tool in the inevitable mind games to come.
I'll admit I've been a harsh critic of Mancini since his arrival in Manchester. I thought Mark Hughes was unfairly treated, having laid the solid foundations that could be built upon; however, despite being a winner as a player, Hughes has not shown the same pedigree in management.
Mancini on the other hand showed that given time, the squad, and the resources, he could win trophies, which he proved at Inter and has now achieved at City. He has managed dressing room bust ups, training ground fights, his captain handing in transfer requests and the combustible Mario Balotelli with equal amounts of charm, discipline and the reassurance of an armchair psychologist.
The off-season will call for all those characteristics, as he'll have to decide whether it is worth keeping Carlos Tevez around. The Argentine has said that family issues may force him out of City regardless of the money he makes. Mancini will have to provide a very compelling reason why he should stay. Champions League football might not be enough of a carrot.
He'll also have to answer questions about Edin Dzeko, who as of now looks like a big bust. The Bosnian was quality in the Bundesliga, but Germany ain't the Premiership. This is a Mancini buy and somehow the Italian has to find a way for the striker to click, especially if Tevez leaves.
Man-of-the-match at Wembley, Balotelli, has to produce week-in and week-out without throwing darts at teammates, getting fined thousands for parking tickets and generally pissing off anyone within 10 yards of him.
That aside, the nucleus to wrest control of the Premiership from red side of Manchester to blue is in place. The average age of the squad is 25, and now that they've popped their and the clubs' cherry, you'd have to say that there is a high probability that the two Mancunian clubs are in a position to fight for the domination of English and European football for the foreseeable future.
When two teams from the same city are on the same page in terms of quality and hunger, football benefits. The stakes are magnified and the world takes note. Think Celtic-Rangers in Glasgow, Galatasaray-Fenerbahce in Istanbul, Liverpool-Everton on Merseyside and AC-Inter in Milan.
Manchester has given us the Industrial Revolution, the Rave Scene and now - fingers crossed - the next biggest rivalry in football.
Well done United on 19 titles, richly deserved. And congratulations City on finally getting back in the silverware.
I can't wait for next season and the Community Shield.
Nick Webster is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the Barclay's Premier League and the English national team.