Whatever happens next, however embittered it might become, Roberto Mancini has ingrained himself so intrinsically into the story of the new Manchester City that the people associated with the club should always cherish what he brought them. Supporters sang his name at Wembley on Saturday as a form of protest against the very people who have turned City into a serious force and whatever the thinking behind the decision, they have every right to be galled by the way he has been led to the guillotine.
A club that thought they had moved away from all the old sniping – Typical City, Cityitis, the Theatre of Comedy and everything else that has fastened to them over the years – regressed badly with the carelessness that preceded the FA Cup final and the way it was threatening to become an ordeal for Mancini long before the ball thudded against Ben Watson's forehead. It is the kind of story you couldn't make up: a manager about to lead out his team at Wembley, waiting to have his buttonhole fixed while digesting the news that he is about to be sacked.
A boardroom comprising Garry Cook, Peter Swales and Eddie Large could hardly have dreamt up a more excruciating set of events and, in that respect, Mancini will not only go with the crowd's affection and respect, but a fair measure of sympathy. Football can be brutal sometimes – two-faced, impatient, uncaring – and it is not difficult to understand why so many find it unappealing, in the extreme, when an employer has plainly spent several months trying to appoint someone behind the manager's back.
Unfortunately for Mancini, this is the way it works in his business. It isn't going to change and he, more than anyone, should appreciate the rules. If not, he merely has to remind himself of the clandestine way he was appointed at Mark Hughes's expense.
The difference, of course, is that Mancini brought City the glories that were out of Hughes's reach. He had promised he would pull down that "ticker" banner at Old Trafford, with its changeable numbers pointing out the number of years since City last won a trophy, and he was true to his word. The FA Cup arrived, then the Premier League trophy, and when Sergio Agüero pulled back his foot against QPR the blood of every City supporter turned into champagne.
He will always be convinced that the dynasty City's owners craved would have been possible on his watch but for an undistinguished summer of transfer dealings and, specifically, the failure to beat Manchester United to Robin van Persie. That complaint has become his default setting and it was aired again during a strained press conference at Wembley. He has a justifiable grievance, too. It is just that he has laboured the point for so long now it strays dangerously close to becoming a cop-out.
The simple fact is that if you understand City's aspirations – in short, to rule the world – you would know the minimum they expect is steady improvement and the bottom line is Mancini has not been able to deliver it. His team are currently eight points worse off than they were at this stage last season.
They have scored 26 fewer goals and their goal difference is down from plus 61 to plus 30. More pertinently, their position as champions was pretty much relinquished from the second week of February, when they strolled around the pitch at Southampton like zombies and found themselves 12 points behind.
Add to that the failed Mario Balotelli experiment, the team's record in the Champions League (not just the results but the dispiriting nature of their performances) and his fractious relationship with several key members of staff. A manager can get away with treading on people's toes if his team are thriving. There is not the same luxury when your neighbours have become a speck in the distance and all the glories are suddenly the other side of town.
There is no improvement, just the sense of a team who have fallen back. Just count the number of players at City who have improved this season, or even matched the same level of performance, then the considerably higher figure who have stalled to varying degrees. That number includes Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Yaya Touré, David Silva and Agüero, the heroes of the title-winning team. Mancini talked after the final about a team that had not "run a lot", but that merely brought his own motivation into question. Why did they not run a lot?
To clarify, this is written as someone who sympathises with Mancini, has enjoyed his company, both socially and professionally, and found him generous with his time and a man of great presence. Yet it is possible to admire someone without being blinded to the realities of his situation and only the remarkably naive could not conclude that Mancini was in trouble given the way the season has gone. The greater surprise is that anyone is surprised.
The reports about Manuel Pellegrini started to emanate in February and the volume has become louder ever since. It did not help, of course, that when City's director of football, Txiki Begiristain, arranged to meet Pellegrini's agent, Jesús Martínez, they chose to do it in one of Madrid's more salubrious restaurants and risk the possibility of being seen. As soon as that happened, it should have been clear to everyone. City's explanation was that it might have been to discuss one of Martínez's players. One problem: he does not have any.
Mancini was clearly aggrieved at Wembley by the lack of public support from City's media department, but what could it say? To denounce the stories would have been a lie. Mancini said he would feel "stupid" if it turned out to be true and it was difficult to reconcile that with the streetwise operator who spent four months talking to Monaco without City knowing anything about it last season. Mancini had feared he would be sacked then and if it were not for Agüero's right boot, he may have been proven right.
The more relevant question now is whether Pellegrini is a genuine upgrade. There were large numbers of City supporters volubly making the point at Wembley that they do not think so. By then, however, it was becoming clear that even winning the trophy would not spare the man they were serenading. Those are the stakes at the modern City, popular or not.