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Dignified Martinez makes the cup special again

Short of leaping on a white horse, Roberto Martinez could not have ridden more spectacularly to the rescue of the dear old, rather battered FA Cup.

Wigan Athletic's dignified, principled manager and his wholehearted players restored the cup's sheen by masterminding the greatest upset since the competition commenced in 1871-72.

When Ben Watson rose like a modern-day Lawrie Sanchez to head the goal, Wigan sealed a victory more surprising than even Liverpool's 1988 defeat to Sanchez's Wimbledon, who were then seventh in the top division.

Make no mistake: Wigan did not make history only for themselves with their first major trophy in their 81-year existence. A rival to this triumph cannot be found on any of the previous pages of the FA Cup final story.

As with Watson's intervention with the additional period looming, the timing of Wigan's proudest moment was vital for the competition. Some were questioning its future in an era of the Premier League's lengthening shadow.

Yet the cup mattered to Wigan. They may be fighting relegation, dealing with an injury list like something out of M*A*S*H, but they wanted the cup, embarrassing City with their hunger, organisation and spirit.

"From the outside world it was all 'Manchester City are going to win; they only have to turn up to take the trophy'. But in Wigan we were walking in the street and people would come up to us, stop us, tell us: 'We believe; we believe in the team; we are going to win'," Martinez said.

"Many people from outside, maybe they will look at the result and ask 'What happened?. Was it a red card (for Pablo Zabeleta) early in the game? Did they get lucky? Did the 'keeper have an incredible game?' The truth is that we were the better side.

"I asked the players today, 'Do you think you deserve this trophy?' and the truth is that they felt they did. You saw that in the performance. I felt at half-time that was the biggest reaction you could ever see from a group of players.''

They fought even harder, played even better and were rewarded when Watson reached Shaun Maloney's corner.

"Then you have the winning goal which is another story, a player who breaks his leg when nobody expects him to come back but he fights and fights, tells everyone he will be back before the end of the season and comes back to score the winning goal,'' added Martinez. "I ask them to play in a way that teams fighting against relegation don't play.''

They played without fear, their brio embodied by Callum McManaman. "He takes people on, he enjoys risking possession in the right areas and is a massive threat. He will be a big asset for Eng-land, although it's for the England manager to decide. He won't have any problem with coping with it if it comes. The bigger the occasion, the better he responds.''

Wigan's manager and his team were applauded as they collected the cup by many City fans who sportingly stayed on. City's supporters demonstrated far more appetite for the cup than their largely anaemic team who clearly sensed the imminent departure of Roberto Mancini.

His prickly performance in the press conference simply confirmed the rift between manager and board. His spiky criticism of the hierarchy for not shielding him from all the Manuel Pellegrini headlines was noted by the club, who acted yesterday.

The focus was also on the future of another Roberto. The next seven days, comprising the games against Arsenal and Aston Villa, will surely decide whether Martinez stays or goes. He did not sound like a man rushing to leave.

"I like to build football clubs, to do things over the long term,'' said Martinez. "It's not about my future. It is the football club I care about.

"I believe that managers shouldn't look at themselves but should look at the club, what it has, what it can achieve.

"Sometimes there is a right and a wrong time to leave a club. Only I will know when it is the right time, for me and for Wigan, to leave. It's not about just jumping on the success train and moving along on that. I don't believe in that."

He liked the thought of leading Wigan into Europe, of adding to its history. "This is a club that comes from nothing,'' he said. A club that made the cup special again. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent