Balotelli ban key factor in City's revival
Roberto Mancini will elevate his managerial status by claiming the Premier League title, deservedly taking his place among a select group of elite coaches.
It is a remarkable fact that only six managers have won the title in the last 20 years; the Italian can now sit proudly alongside Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Kenny Dalglish. Anyone who oversees such an achievement deserves to be in such esteemed company.
Should City defeat QPR next weekend, as everyone anticipates, Mancini will also have succeeded in a unique way.
If a guide is ever written for the most unconventional means of winning a championship, the Manchester City manager will be the author.
He's led his club to the brink of a historic triumph by going about it in the hardest possible way. I thought City would win the league by 20 points at one stage, but all that matters in the end is that you win.
I can't deny I didn't just think Mancini had blown it, I felt he'd overseen a capitulation. Even as City began to close in on Manchester United in the last four games, I was surprised by the negativity I was hearing from the manager as he refused to admit his side had a chance of winning.
The psychology of such comments made no sense to me.
There would be some players in the City dressing-room who would never give up until it was a mathematic impossibility who would have hated hearing such remarks.
Others of a more pessimistic disposition would have accepted second best because their manager said it was inevitable.
Those caught somewhere in the middle would not have felt suitably inspired to push themselves the extra yard to get City across the line.
I stand by all the observations I made when it looked like City had to settle for second place, despite the strange turn of events in recent weeks.
What changed is the three unlikely developments needed for City to close the eight-point gap on United all came to pass.
Firstly, they had to find a solution to their appalling away form; second, to banish Mario Balotelli from the squad (this was linked to the away form); thirdly, for United to offer a lifeline.
Even had Mancini succeeded with the first two essentials, I would never have believed a side managed by Alex Ferguson would squander an eight-point lead with six games remaining.
The stroke of luck Mancini needed arrived on what appeared to be gravest day for City's title bid. The sending-off of Balotelli at The Emirates removed the disruption in the dressing-room and ensured Mancini stopped picking him.
It can be no coincidence that City have won five consecutive games with Balotelli gone.
What is scary for the rest of the Premier League is victory over QPR next weekend will be the platform for 10 years of domination by the blue half of Manchester. Having secured the first elusive title, they have the resources to keep building, attracting the world's best players and going from strength to strength.
When Chelsea won the title in 2005, there was a feeling of a shift in English football. United proved they could never be written off by winning another three consecutive titles, but they're up against even more financial muscle with their neighbours and they may have to get used to feeling second best in their own city.
Mancini will feel more secure at The Etihad Stadium and he'll have even more confidence to run the club in his way with a league title behind him.
I still believe he'll have more to prove at the start of next season. In the Champions League he has fallen short at City and Inter.
His man-management is still the subject of debate and his capacity to retain the hunger and desire to keep winning title after title will also be put to the test.
There is merit to the argument that while the first title is tough, the second one is even harder.
Ferguson has managed to rebuild six or seven times over the course of his United career, while Mancini will have it all to do to keep City on their perch.
Mancini deserves respect for assembling what looks certain to be a title-winning team.
As he finally accepts the crown is there for the taking, even he must privately acknowledge it owes a giant debt to United's unprecedented slip as much as any tactical masterplan.
Football history, however, is written by winners, and Mancini is on the threshold of proving what City argued all along. That's exactly what he is. (© Daily Telegraph, London)