Title completes City's story of a 'charming man'
Manchester City 2 West Ham Utd 0
As the final whistle confirmed Manchester City's second Premier League title in three years, a wave of blue-shirted fans swept across the Etihad pitch, thousands of them dancing and celebrating, crowding around the players, grabbing selfies, showing that even recent acquaintance with the trophy had not lessened their hunger to see it won back.
"Oops we did it again," declared one of the banners. Before kick-off, one fan brandished a placard that read: "Nobody remembers who came second, come on City we can do it." And they did, triggering that tide of emotion crashing over the grass. Some lit blue flares. Others climbed on the crossbar, tumbling into the net, until security arrived.
As the players ducked and weaved and reached the tunnel, the announcer pleaded for fans to clear the pitch, and for those with "inflatable bananas" to make sure they took them back to the stands. When the blue tide receded, and the green was visible again, City's back-room staff came out first from the tunnel, walking around holding a banner saying 'fight to the end', which the team certainly did.
Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee, members of the title-winning class of 1967-68, looked on admiringly. They had performed with panache in becoming champions back then as had Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri and company now.
City were well-prepared for the moment. Inflatable blue moons with 'champions' written on them were thrown around the stands. Some fans were already wearing 'champions' scarves. This was a celebration that came hash-tagged.
Suddenly, up on the big screen, came a picture of the final table with City top, prompting the fans to launch into 'we are the champions.' They then sang 'Wonderwall', fittingly with Noel Gallagher and Georgi Kinkladze in the house. Gallagher was actually back-stage, wandering around with Kompany's captain's armband.
Kompany and his squad waited in the tunnel, embracing, chatting, donning '14 Champions' shirts and wrapping their national flags around their waists, awaiting the call for the trophy presentation. It threatened to become a bit Eurovision at times.
West Ham fans stayed on to applaud City, a reminder of links when they consoled the visitors who went down at the Boleyn Ground in 1987.
It is such painful memories of final-day relegation that make City fans so enjoy this period of prosperity. They have suffered, particularly in the decades dominated by their neighbours, so such days are pure elixir. City fans redoubled their cheering on spotting three carefully-chosen youth players carrying the trophy out.
They were Ashley Smith Brown of City's U-18s, and the U-11s' Conrad Egan Riley, both of whom led their sides to titles this season. Joel Labotierre joined them, representing City's U-14s. All of them are English. Whether they progress to the first team is another issue, but City were clearly wanting to make a point to Greg Dyke, the English FA and UEFA. 'Up Yours Uefa' read the rather more blunt message on one fan's banner.
Yet City fans were really too busy basking in the moment to think about such clouds on the horizon.
Each player was lauded as he walked up to collect his medal, the roof almost being raised when Pablo Zabaleta's name was announced.
The Argentine embodies so much that is good about the 2013-14 champions: he reminds everyone of the need for a balance in a side. There was a 60-second period in the first half when Zabaleta was organising the repelling of a rare West Ham surge before rushing upfield and almost finishing off a City attack.
After Vincent Kompany lifted the trophy, and the fireworks hurtled to the heavens, Yaya Toure organised an ambush, rounding up Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri before making the move. Five of the key players during City's run to the title stole up on Manuel Pellegrini and gave him the bumps.
City's manager laughed nervously as he was hoisted in the air before realising he was in good hands.
For this was the season when City held their nerve. After losing at Anfield on April 13, City were seven points behind Liverpool (albeit with two games in hand), but never lost the faith. Even when they drawing against Sunderland, they stayed calm. This was a triumph for exhilarating attacking, bringing 102 goals in the league (and 156 in all competitions), and for patience and intelligence.
The players did their lap of honour, a fairly anarchic one. Sergio Aguero strolled around, almost hidden under a huge jester's hat. Kompany leant into the crowd to pluck out a Belgium scarf.
Joe Hart, clutching a bottle of Champagne, got a Poznan going. City fans roared as a picture of Pellegrini appeared on the screen, next to the words "The Engineer", his nickname and professional qualification.
They sang of Sheikh Mansour going to Spain in his Lamborghini to bring back Pellegrini. City's manager was typically humble in victory, simply standing around smiling, enjoying the moment with his family who had flown in from Chile.
Such days as this, such title successes, his first in Europe, made all that separation worthwhile.
He spoke afterwards of his desire for victory, but victory through beauty. Football was "an entertainment business" and the fans who pay to watch deserve to be entertained. And this is why City, for all their over-spending, are worthy champions and should be respected, even cherished. Under Pellegrini, they play football the right way.
The Chilean, who was brought in to make City more watchable, wanted to win this game, not just draw even though a point was sufficient.
He wanted to finish the season in style. This was the manager behind such results as the 7-0 thrashing of Norwich, 6-0 and 5-1 thumpings of Spurs, and a 6-3 win over Arsenal.
He sought the desired result here with his usual commitment to attack, unleashing all his in-form talents in an awesome foursome. Nasri was immediately lively, running at West Ham's left-back, George McCartney.
David Silva was on the left, cutting in with his usual elegance, looking for Dzeko and Aguero. Pellegrini does not know how to park the bus; he wants to accelerate and any parking involves three-point turns.
It is Pellegrini's passion for creative, flowing football that has so endeared him to City fans, who waved banners praising 'This Charming Man' and adding 'Muchas Gracias Manuel'. There is a quiet nobility to Pellegrini, who last month waited in the tunnel at Anfield and shook the hands of every Liverpool player after City's defeat there.
For all their frustration, Liverpool fans will know they have been beaten by a man of dignity.
Pellegrini even got an early touch here, driving a loose ball back into play. Behind him, City fans were still edgy for a while. They screamed when Javi Garcia dawdled as Mohamed Diame closed in from behind.
They appealed loudly for penalties when Mark Noble accidentally handled and Zabaleta fell under a challenge from Diame. They sighed when Silva volleyed over and Adrian tipped over Aleksandar Kolarov's 30-yarder.
The fans' flags fluttered in the breeze here, signaling support from as far afield as Koh Samui and Sierra Leone. They were together, willing the players on. Six minutes from the break they had the goal they craved and deserved.
Dzeko, Garcia and Toure combined to set up Nasri, whose shot was too strong for Adrian. Four minutes after the break, Nasri curled in a corner, Dzeko's flick carried on to Kompany, who finished from six yards, and the City title party really started. (© Daily Telegraph, London)