Ben Watson's 90th minute header confirmed the biggest headline in football this week (Image | The Sun)

Ben Watson’s 90th minute header confirmed the biggest headline in football this week (Image | The Sun)

Last week may have seen the first significant news of the football off-season, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Following the retirement of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, and David Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford as his successor, there has been plenty more big news in the past seven days.

Saturday’s FA Cup Final saw the biggest upset of the 21st century when Wigan Athletic midfielder Ben Watson, only ten minutes after coming off the bench, popped up with a near-post flicked header to hand the underdogs an unforgettable 1-0 victory over Manchester City.

Often the better side throughout the evening encounter, Wigan’s victory was the highlight of the club’s eight-year stint in the Premier League. They forced City back with mostly smart passing (with the exception of a few over-hit crossfield balls) and crisp, optimistic, creative football. The Mancunians, on the other hand, seemed short on ideas and intent, inevitably over-confident to the point of complacency and lacking their usual flair.

City’s manager Roberto Mancini clearly feared the worst after the game, openly criticising the club’s hierarchy for not defending him publicly and speaking defiantly of his team’s performance. Within 48 hours, Mancini was packing his bags.

In truth, the writing has long been on the wall for the highly flammable Italian. His ability to drive wedges between himself and his players  – public criticism of Joe Hart, the volatile relationship with Mario Balotelli (admittedly a tale of two villains) and so on – is the biggest weakness of his management style, but ultimately Mancini’s failure in Europe was what cost him his job.

Roberto Mancini's lack of European success has outweighed his domestic achievements in the eyes of Manchester City's owners (Image | The Guardian)

Roberto Mancini’s lack of European success has outweighed his domestic achievements in the eyes of Manchester City’s owners (Image | The Guardian)

A second FA Cup in three years would have earned the former Inter boss one more shot at leading City into the Champions’ League knockout stages, but little more. One league title and one FA Cup in three years, and with £300m spent in transfer fees, evidently left Sheikh Mansour a little underwhelmed. Although many have already decided Manuel Pellegrini is leaving Malaga for the Etihad, the Argentinian is understandably hesitant to confirm his departure from a club which holds him in

While Mancini was booking his holidays, though, fortune was flying away from his cup conquerors as well. Wigan knew the stakes when they took on Arsenal Tuesday night, but they never looked like having the requisite energy to take the game to Arsene Wenger’s Champions League-chasing Gunners. Starting with the same eleven as had lifted the cup three days earlier, Roberto Martinez’ men left themselves staring at European football but not top-flight football next season.

The night after Arsenal all but confirmed their participation in the Champions’ League next season with that 4-1 victory, London rivals Chelsea made European history by becoming the first club to hold the Champions’ League and Europa League/UEFA Cup titles simultaneously. Rafa Benitez signed off on a turbulent eight months as Chelsea boss by delivering on his promise to win a trophy for the club this season – even if Jorge Jesus’ Benfica side made the favourites work for it.

For the first half, the Portuguese side were overwhelmingly the better team. Target man Oscar Cardozo, one of the most experienced campaigners on the European stage, had two early half-chances while Nico Gaitan, Rodrigo and Eduardo Salvio gave Chelsea nightmares with their technicality and incision. At the back, Luisao and Ezequiel Garay were rarely tested.

None of their dominance would count if Benfica couldn’t finish, though, and in front of goal they seemed uncharacteristically reticent for a team which has racked up almost 120 goals this season. And their wastefulness was punished when, nearing the hour mark, Fernando Torres rolled back the years with an acute finish beyond Artur to give Chelsea almost a surprise lead.

Cardozo equalised from the spot after a handball by Cesar Azpilicueta less than ten minutes later, but Benfica’s stranglehold on the game had been broken. Branislav Ivanovic’s towering header capped off a back-and-forth final few minutes, bringing European elation back to Stamford Bridge for a second successive season. The victory was even more sweet for captain-for-the-night Frank Lampard, who ended his personal year-long soap story by signing a one-year contract on Thursday to remain at the club.

Putting the old gang back together? Frank Lampard is staying at Chelsea, who continue to be linked with former manager Jose Mourinho (Image | Getty)

Putting the old gang back together? Frank Lampard is staying at Chelsea, who continue to be linked with former manager Jose Mourinho (Image | Getty)

That news was taken by many as further confirmation that Jose Mourinho is on his way back to England to re-take the reigns of the club he walked out on in 2007. The Real Madrid boss is a great supporter of Lampard’s ability, having tried unsuccessfully to take him to Inter Milan, and the pressure continues to mount at the Bernabeu with news emerging this week that Real Madrid are pursuing PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti.

More news was to come out of Paris on Thursday with the retirement of David Beckham, one of the most famous, talented and successful English footballers of all time. The 38-year-old is the first man from these shores to have won league titles in four countries (England, Spain, USA and France) and fulfilled a personal ambition to retire at the top, having played in the latter stages of the Champions’ League this season for PSG.

Whatever your memories of Beckham may be – the chip over Neil Sullivan in 1995, the petulant kick on Diego Simeone in 1998, the free-kick against Greece in 2001, retribution from the penalty spot against Argentina in 2002, the acrimonious departure from Manchester United (or Real Madrid), or the enduring warrior who gave his all for England years past his physical prime – he will always be remembered as one of a select group who has changed the public perception of footballers the world over.

One only needs to look back at the video of Beckham’s arrival in Japan and Korea, or his reception at Los Angeles Galaxy, or the impact the winger made after his conversion to central midfield – not just for Galaxy, but on bigger stages in Italy and France – in his twilight years, to know that Beckham has made one of the most indelible impacts on football by any man since the age of Pele, Maradona et al.

What’s left to come, then? I’ve been surprised at the lack of transfer speculation regarding Moyes and Manchester United, but there must be plenty of that to come. United have a narrow lead now, in that their new manager has been appointed before the arrivals at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, but Moyes’ nerve will be tested managing at a level he has previously only gazed at from afar with Everton.

The managerial merry-go-round will feature not just these three clubs, but also now managerless Everton, while Fulham are eyeing up replacements for Martin Jol and Swansea will be hard-pressed to hold onto the impressive Michael Laudrup. Further afield, new managers – Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich and possible new arrivals at Real Madrid, PSG and depending on Tito Vilanova’s health status, Barcelona – will make the Champions’ League a particularly unforgiving welcome party next season. That alone is plenty for football fans to look ahead to this summer.

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