Sunday, October 25, 2015


Allison: darling of the Stretford End
Not in my lifetime, noisy neighbours, welcome to Manchester, why always me

The heavily nuanced, insult-filled, low-respect Manchester Derby is back at the top of the bill, frothing at the mouth and swaggering like a top heavy drunk on his way out of Yates Wine Lodge.

This one reaches  us, as usual, with plenty coming to the boil, a full mother load of reputations at stake and the recognisable blustery faces telling us it is bound to be all red or all blue at the end of the day.

In the last five years Manchester has witnessed such a sea change that even that old sage Alex Ferguson has been caught on the hop. What was not supposed to happen in his lifetime, not only did just that but happened on his watch. Much of what we now see of Manchester United, a club scampering to pick up lost ground on their neighbours, is a result of the slack final chapters under Ferguson’s stewardship. United may have wrested the title away from City one final time before the Scot faded into retirement, but what has come since cannot all be blamed on the Glazers, on the incapacity of David Moyes and on the Ed Woodward Show.  

City are busy empire building. Whilst having Far East coconut drink partners smacks of a rampant commercialisation that City fans thought and hoped would never come their way, it is part of a new Manchester City unafraid to grasp opportunities and benefit from how modern football works. And, whisper it gently, they are making a pretty good fist of it all.

                Daniel Taylor’s Guardian report on youth teams' progress highlights a sea change in                       Manchester youth football
                Swiss Ramble’s financial report is proof of incredible progress off the pitch 

Football, dynamic , unpredictable and quixotic beast that it is, has sucked us all in and thrown us out the other side in somebody else's trousers. 

Current Manchester Status actually has the record league champions portrayed as upstart challengers, down on their luck despite spending a fortune to avert the decline and desperately clawing their way towards the light in a belly-scraping operation along the Chester Road. 

City, the feathered beauties, all shine and gloss, are Kings of the North with their two titles in three years (Reds will tell you it’s also two in 46 years, but never let the small print hold you down) and a slew of other baubles and trophies that have been collected since the desert sandstorm blew in over Moss Side.

And yet. Football's delicious ability to trip up the arrogant, to dispose with the cock-sure and put leeches in the bed of he who carps too long and too loud, means the first Manchester Derby of season 2015-16 brings together two sides well capable of doing damage to each other. United, diminished and devoid of the old swagger, can still grind out the wins. Louis van Gaal has dragged them up the table with a string of uncomplicated and unfettered victories that have been big on percentages and starved of style. The United power of the last two decades has faded now but the old beast can still throw a punch or two. City, with their tails up, step out in search of their 50th Derby win. That United already wait for their 70th tells the story of two and a half decades of unchallenged hegemony. 

City's enter the fray without Sergio Aguero and David Silva and with Vincent Kompany unsure whether it is his brittle hamstrings or his manager’s hurt feelings that have been keeping him away from first team action. These absences represent United’s best chance, for City with the Spanish-speaking pair would surely be too strong for their neighbours. As it stands, summer additions like Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are hardly much of a drop in quality, while Kompany is likely to be given the nod over the slash-happy Otamendi.

Brightwell: welly
The Blues may have followed up a scintillating start to the season with a dreary defeat to West ham and an inexplicably leaky performance at White Hart Lane, but the signs since then have been pointing back towards the positive. In beating their last two opponents 6-1 and 5-1, City have hardly needed to break into a sweat.  That will almost certainly not be the case at Old Trafford, in a game where traditionally nothing is gained without serious toil being involved. Given that in the past even that was often not nearly good enough, City must up their game and their mental approach considerably on the last feeble effort when United rolled them over far more easily than was expected.

United remain in front in the Derby stakes thanks to a period between 1983 and 2003 where City hardly had a look in. Andy Hinchcliffe, Ian Brightwell and a select few lightened the burden briefly, but the rest was dull, dark and dense. 

City’s recent years have mainly been spent shattering perceptions of them put in place by Giggs and Butt and Scholes over a painful drawn-out period of bruises and black eyes: The FA Cup victory over Stoke after waiting to replicate the feeling of 1969, a first League Cup win since 1976, a league title after 44 years twiddling thumbs and wringing hands. Not since the Malcolm Allison-inspired days of bravado in the late 60s when the coach would stride up to the heaving Stretford End before the start of the game and raise the number of fingers that he thought City would win by have City had such a clear upper hand.

Yet still the memories of André Kanchelskis whipping  in three goals in a truly horrible 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford in 1994 cling to us. Still the pictures of Hughes and Ince and Bruce waving their fists in the air haunt our dreams. Samir nasri’s casually raised leg and last season’s shambolic no-show have added more recent layers to the technicolour nightmare that losing to United represents.

Time, though, stands still for no one and the next chapter is about to commence.  Maybe it is no longer so clear who the noisy neighbours are and who let the football do the talking for them. Maybe it is no longer so evident who the title big-shots are and who are tagging along in their limelight. Things have changed quickly on the Manchester football scene, too quickly for some, more rapidly than even the wiliest old souls predicted, but you get the distinct feeling that the trend of the last five years that has brought the Blues to parity with the Reds and carried them quickly beyond, has not yet run its fascinating course.

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