"We have to get used to playing City in important games. The financial support they have means we'll meet them in a lot of big games. Therefore, if we're going to be contesting with them for the league title it will become almost as important as the Liverpool derbies. In fact, this supercedes Liverpool at the moment because they're our direct opponents. We have to focus on the team who can affect our progress in terms of winning the league.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Rewind to the end of the 07/08 season. Manchester United had just edged past Chelsea on penalties to lift the Champions League trophy. We had superstars such as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez spear heading our attack on way to our 2nd Premier League title in a row, which would be followed by a 3rd a year later. Many casual observers of football would be forgiven for thinking that their was only one team in Manchester.
Manchester City however did exist before they were taken over by super duper rich Sheikh Mansour. He vowed to make Manchester City the biggest club in England. A huge task considering they were a mid table team at the very best. However, climbed the table they have, and now they are three wins away form claiming their first Premier League title, after signing some of the biggest names in football.
Each year the Manchester derby has taken on more importance. Who can forget the brilliant 4-3 win at Old Trafford at the spring of the 09/10 season. Micheal Owen scored the winner in
injury Fergie time to mark his first Manchester United goal. And last season, Wayne Rooney lit up the famous ground with his overhead kick to nick a 2-1 win. But not before City had beat us on the way to the FA Cup. And who can forget our first league meeting of this season. As much as I would like to, the feelings I felt as we succumbed to a 6-1 loss on our own patch will live with me forever. Our own FA cup win in the 3rd round did little for revenge. Only a favourable result this coming Monday, will mean revenge in my eyes. They may have won the first battle, but we would have won the war.
But has this now become our biggest derby. Has this now eclipsed the importance of the games against Liverpool?
As a boy, I always looked forward too, and at the same time dread, the Arsenal matches. My parents were not United fans, and I am over 200 miles south of Manchester. I was never taught of the Liverpool rivalry, and as they were not a threat, despite being formidable opponents, I never staked too much importance. Remember, these were days when the Internet was not in 99% of homes, and Sky TV was not in my home either. My football was limited to being allowed to stay up late to watch the highlights on Match Of The Day on a Saturday night. And ITV's coverage of the Champions League.
No. Arsenal were the ones. Because Arsenal were always challenging for the title. They were our main/only rivals. Our matches often decided which direction the title would be headed. Don't get me wrong. I hate Liverpool. They certainly made a comeback. Rafa Benitez almost led them to their first Premier League title, but the fact remains they came up short. And since then, the fact is that they have continued to slip back(*).
(*) I will stop with the FACTS. I can't be bothered to state 19 or 20 FACTS about how Liverpool are shite, and still haven't won a Premier League title.
Arsenal too have fallen. I no longer fear them as much as I used to, when Henry, Begkamp, Pires and Overmars used to line up for them. Walcott, Mertersacker and Gervinho don't quite strike the same dread in the heart(**). Chelsea overtook them. The Mourinho years took them to the top of the Premier League. Stamford Bridge became a fortress. United struggled to beat them.
(**) Although if they manage to keep hold of Robin Van Persie, expect them to be right up there next season.
But they too have fallen, although I am sure they will be back fighting for the title before long. And that leaves us with our most immediate of foes once again. Manchester City.
Whether it be this season, or the next, or even the one after that, Manchester City will become champions of England. There is no doubt at all of that. They will continue to grow and invest untill they do. What is the more pressing question is if they can sustain it after winning that first title. Can they become a regular force to be reckoned with amongst the elite of Europe? Only time will tell. But I am leaning toward yes. The fact that only a few days ago City backed manager Roberto Mancini, stating he will be their manager for next season no matter what, suggests they will run the club better than what the trigger happy Roman Abramovich does at Chelsea. Perhaps he will be able to mould his side for a few years yet.
For these reasons I feel they have become our main rival and not Liverpool. The scousers are languishing down in 8th, and if they have a poor ending to the season, may finish closer to Wolves than the eventual champions. Sure, the sentimental value will always be there. The genuine dislike, not only between the two clubs, but the City's too will remain and so the fixture will always be massive. But there are new kids on the block. Having eclipsed Liverpool's 18 League titles, I believe our immediate concern is now the team that will stop us from increasing our title lead. And for me, that is Manchester City.