FA Cup - The two Robertos offer up a study in perception

On Saturday, two Robertos – one Italian, one Spanish – contest the final of a cup competition that has become a cultural cornerstone in England.

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FA Cup - The two Robertos offer up a study in perception
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Roberto Mancini, The FA Cup, Roberto Martinez

One Roberto is admired by the press and fans. Despite dangerous flirtations with relegation, the latest of which may yet be consummated, he finds himself linked with every job going outside of the top four, almost by default. A move to Everton is now reportedly on the agenda.

The other Roberto, though, is strangely unloved. Despite a lengthy record of achievement in the game – a win at Wembley on Saturday would be his sixth cup triumph across spells with four different clubs – the only speculation that surrounds him is the now regular debate over who may replace him in the summer. On Saturday morning it is even suggested that a deal has been struck to bring in Manuel Pellegrini.

The fact that one manages a provincial club who use a ramshackle Portakabin as a training base, while the other presides over a global superpower constructing a sprawling, futuristic Etihad Campus which has been sponsored to the tune of £400 million explains why different levels of scrutiny are afforded to the two men. That is the nature of football. But is the widely-held perception of the two Robertos fair?

Roberto Martinez, entirely unsurprisingly, has already been made second favourite to replace David Moyes at Everton. The Spaniard was courted by Liverpool as a replacement for Kenny Dalglish and famously turned down the chance to talk to Aston Villa in the summer of 2011. He is a bright, engaging manager who places a strong emphasis on personal education and advocates attractive football. A club PR department’s dream.

Part inspired by his father, who was a manager in Spain, his is also a philosophy made in the image of Johan Cruyff. Martinez, born in Catalunya, was an impressionable 18-year-old when Cruyff’s Dream Team won the 1992 European Cup final at Wembley, and in an interview with our site in November 2011 he described the great Dutchman as “one of my biggest influences … in the way he controlled the games, introduced possession football to Barcelona ... in the way that he changed the philosophy of the football club.”

Martinez has achieved a similar feat on a rather smaller scale, but not at Wigan. Rather, his more appreciable impact came at Swansea where he helped transform the club into an admirably progressive entity. Now, under his successors in South Wales, he has seen this process accelerate to the point where his former side have reached a level above Wigan’s, and are managed by one of the chief on-pitch architects of Cruyff’s Dream Team in Michael Laudrup. Wigan, meanwhile, remain stuck in perpetual relegation battles.

As ever in football, financial reality underpins aspiration, and Wigan, by Premier League standards, are almost destitute: in 2011-12 they had the smallest turnover of any club in the top flight. Yet while the correlation between money and achievement is convincing, it is not always decisive. Sam Allardyce showed what can be done on a budget at Bolton, for example.

Earlier this season, Martinez spoke of his belief that Wigan could break their financially-determined cycle of struggle. In October he said: “This is a squad that is ready to achieve something better than just avoiding relegation.” Yet instead, Wigan find themselves in a more difficult predicament than ever. Martinez has done very well to keep the club in the top flight since his appointment in June 2009, and he has done so in no little style, yet there is no disguising the fact that his two main predecessors at Wigan did superior jobs in the Premier League.

Where Martinez is a survivor, his opposite number Roberto Mancini is a winner. Or at least that is how the Italian likes to characterise himself. In an interview with the Guardian in February, he recounted the story of playing his cousin at table tennis, aged nine. "He'd beaten me," Mancini said. "So I threw my bat at him and it hit him on the head. I've always been the same. I've had the same mentality ever since I was playing with my friends at school. I want to win. I only want to win. I don't like to participate at anything and not finish first."

This character trait is borne out in his CV. At his first club, Fiorentina, he won the Coppa Italia in 2001. Another cup win followed at Lazio in 2004 before three successive league titles and a further two Coppa Italias with Inter. With City, he ended the club’s 35-year wait for a trophy when winning the FA Cup in 2011 and followed it up last season with the Premier League. Yet to many, these achievements come with asterisks next to them. Coppa Italias? Not regarded as proper trophies. Inter’s league success? Founded on the ruins of Calciopoli. City’s Premier League title? They almost threw that away before two injury-time goals on the final day.

There are legitimate concerns over Mancini’s European record, which at Inter was unimpressive and at City has been dismal, even if his overall body of work is fairly compelling in terms of the weight of trophies alone. However, stats reveal this season has seen a significant dip in performance - a trend Mancini attributes to a ruinous summer's work in the transfer market, with only Matija Nastasic making a lasting impression of the six players recruited for a total of £37.5 million.

Mancini's desire to win is also reflected in his abrasive man-management style which has seen him fall out with a number of players. From his commendably robust handling of Carlos Tevez, which drew compliments for his "strong management" from none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, to his public attacks on Samir Nasri and ostensibly private scuffle with Mario Balotelli, Mancini is not a manager who seeks harmony in the workplace. As he told the Guardian: “I like being a manager. I like being angry every day."

Where Martinez relies on bonhomie, Mancini thrives on conflict. Perhaps this distinction, allied to the more intense glare trained on the Italian, helps to explain why perceptions of the two are so different. One is easier to lionise than the other as he is simpler to understand; he is friendly, open and accessible where the other is a more complex soul.

But in truth, Mancini probably isn’t as flawed as many make out; nor is Martinez quite as impressive.

Saturday's FA Cup final has the potential to shape perceptions of either man to a significant degree. For Mancini it can provide redemption in an otherwise difficult season, giving him a more compelling body of evidence as he attempts to hold onto his job - even if, judging by reports from Spain, that battle has already been fought and lost.

Martinez, meanwhile, could back up the hype with tangible achievement - making him an even more desirable commodity in the managerial market.

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