Had it been scripted, it would have stretched believability to breaking point. Manchester City FC's Premier League title win will go down as one of the most stunning climaxes to a championship season anywhere after Roberto Mancini's men conjured a pair of added-time goals to claim the three precious points they needed against Queens Park Rangers FC.
In a finish reminiscent of Manchester United FC's comeback against FC Bayern München in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final, United were this time left on the losing side of the equation as they surrendered their Premier League crown on goal difference alone. Wayne Rooney secured the Red Devils a 1-0 victory at Sunderland AFC to give them hope, but they were left heartbroken in the north east as news filtered in of last-gasp efforts from Edin Džeko and Sergio Agüero back in their native city.
For Sky Blues manager Mancini, the final whistle must have brought forth a gushing release of emotions, meanwhile. The Italian had been defiantly cautious during the run-in, going so far as to deny his side were favourites after they beat United 1-0 to return to the summit with two games remaining, but here was incontrovertible proof that his side are truly the best in England.
"Five minutes from the end, I didn't think we'd win this game," he said. "But we deserved to win this and deserved to win the title. We were on top for 20 games. I think for us it was really important to start winning this championship – Manchester City can have a big future now."
For all the euphoria of the moment, Mancini was not alone in turning to the road ahead, with City's expensively assembled squad now looking to dominate the domestic scene and make a significant splash in the UEFA Champions League after winning their first English title in 44 years. If their coronation came in desperate circumstances, their home-and-away triumphs against United – in particular the 6-1 success at Old Trafford in October – felt like turning points.
"People say that the first trophy is the most important one and then you can go on and on," explained defender Gaël Clichy, a summer signing from Arsenal FC. "It's going to be tough because people will be waiting for us next season, but I'm sure we can do even greater things. Hopefully, we will have more trophies to come."
His fellow defender Pablo Zabaleta, scorer of City's opening goal against QPR, is not yet ready to plot next season's title defence, however. "I don't want to wake up from this," he said. "You just look at the players and the fans; everybody deserves this. The most important thing for any team is when you believe. If you believe in yourself, you win. We believed until the last minute."
For his part, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to congratulate the team he once dubbed the "noisy neighbours". He said: "It is a fantastic achievement to win the Premier League; it's not easy to win, it's the hardest league in the world, and anyone that wins it deserves it.
"We knew there were five minutes of injury time being played there – one of our assistant referees informed us of that. Our game only had three [added] minutes, so for two minutes [after our final whistle] we didn't know what was happening. Of course, they got the break and won the game.
"It's a cruel way to lose out, but I have experienced many ups and downs in 26 years. I think we have a rich history, better than anyone and it will take [City] a century to get to our level of history. For us, it's still a challenge; we're good at challenges and we'll kick on from here." So too, perhaps, will City.
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