And so Manchester remains blue. It’s been the same story since the last days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The three years of disastrous reigns of Fergie’s heir David Moyes and Dutchman Louis van Gaal were a welcome gift to the blue half of Manchester, allowing City’s well-oiled machine to make even further gains so much players and managers that would previously have naturally made United their obvious choice of destination if they were to ever ply their trade in Manchester started favouring a move to the Etihad over Old Trafford.
Thanks to Moyes and van Gaal, Thursday night European football has lately featured more on United’s schedules than Champions League football – the latest fixture having come this week against Feyenoord.
Even then, not once have they come close to winning Europa League, last time round bowing out of the competition in a humiliating way at the hands of the old rivals from Merseyside – Liverpool.
All the while City was busy building their squad from strength to strength. Already boasting an impressive array of world-class stars like Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and Fernandinho, they signed Kevin De Bruyne, Sterling, Otamendi, Gundogan, Stones and Nolito.
Any club that can attract and keep these kinds of players means business. And, of course, their ultimate signing arrived this year: Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola Sala.
The Spaniard is probably the best manager in world football today and, at only 45, he has an opportunity to become the greatest manager of all time. Guardiola is believed to have snubbed United. He probably didn’t fancy the fact that Fergie’s legacy was always going to cast a long shadow over any successor.
Yet, over at the Etihad, there was an opportunity to build history with a club where his longtime friends have a say. Here’s a club with no burden of long-held traditions, history, identity, legends – all of which tend to influence things at big clubs every now and again – where he has the opportunity to lay his own foundation, lay down his rules, standards, beliefs, and football and management styles.
Can Man City get their own Fergie in Pep? Maybe not, if one considered his reputation of spending short stints at clubs. But he’s still young and he has no reason to rush after all he’s won everything there is to win with a football club.
And here he has a chance to go down in City’s history as their greatest manager and to become an embodiment of their future identity.
In the meantime, across the street, Manchester United finally had the guts to show Louis van Gaal the exit door and brought in the man who should have arrived three years earlier: José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix.
Now, I’m a Man Utd fan but I must admit that Guardiola is tactically and technically more gifted than Mourinho. But the Spaniard twice won the Champions League by beating Ferguson in the final.
He won everything with Barcelona and won three Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich during his three years at the Allianz Arena, as well as two German Cups.
However, if there is anyone who can give Guardiola a run for his money (and who really relishes getting one over on the Spaniard), it is Mourinho. If you want to beat Guardiola, don’t allow him to concentrate on what he does best – on the pitch and off it.
Mourinho generally has an edge over his opponents when it comes to psychological warfare but he also has a reputation of perfectly reading difficult games, adjusting accordingly, and grinding out results. Although many people often tend to confuse that with defensive football.
The two men know each other very well from their time together at Barcelona and their rivalry in Spain during Mourinho’s reign at Real Madrid is one of the fiercest in modern football.
When he replaced Louis van Gaal in close season, Mourinho knew the task awaiting him wasn’t going to be easy. To try to turn around the fortunes of a fallen giant that finished the season outside Champions League places – for the second time in three years – was always going to be a difficult job.
Yet the Portuguese managed to instantly restore belief and morale. Not just in United’s dressing room but also among players elsewhere, particularly those he wanted to sign. Thanks to Mourinho’s arrival, United pulled off a surprise coup by signing Paul Pogba.
But he also signed the ever-green Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly. Today, the team is a far cry from the hopeless bunch of players they were last season, and that’s down to one man: Mourinho.
Now some people are obsessed with the 89 million pounds United paid Juventus to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford and are judging the 23-year old’s performances on the pitch based entirely on that world record fee United paid to get him.
As a fan, I can’t care less about the monies involved in any transfer (in this case, I’m sure the Glazers know how to balance their books) and will only judge a player on their performances.
Pogba is not the architect of the madness that characterise today’s football market where we have seen clubs pay ridiculous monies for players. That’s modern football for you.
Besides, had United been offering Champions League football, Paul would most probably have come at a lesser fee. Or he would have ended up at Barcelona or Madrid anyway since they probably would have matched United’s offer.
But United had to pay a heavy price for their dithering when van Gaal was clearly doing more harm than good. If anything – and if I were in the habit of apportioning blame – I would point fingers at the Dutchman and the powers that be at United for the club joining the likes of Madrid on the list of teams that often break the bank to ‘buy’ success.
Pogba must not bear the burden of other people’s misdeeds. He’s just a youngster with a great future ahead of him. And, he’s never been known to score 40 goals in a single season and may never be that player anyway.
The other Paul – Scholes – did not bang in that many but his enormous contribution during those glorious years under Ferguson was priceless.
And the younger Paul still has a decade or so to show us what he can do. I’ve no qualms he’s one of the greatest talents in the game today.
Yes, Pogba may not have been at his best during the Manchester derby last Saturday, but neither were any of his teammates.
The solid partnership between Bailly and Daley Blind that we were starting to get accustomed to was not on show on that day, while our wingers in Jesse Lingard and Mkhitaryan were largely passengers throughout that woeful first half display. And, I refuse to blame Mourinho either.
By playing Lingard and Mkhitaryan (the former had not featured in any of the three previous league games while the latter had been restricted to a cameo role), and not Anthony Martial and Juan Mata on the flanks, or deploying teenage sensation Marcus Rashfold alongside Ibrahimovic, he probably thought he would surprise City and hopefully trigger the collapse of Guardiola’s game plan. It was not to be.
Maybe City were surprised, but pleasantly as the game went on.
Yet on another day that boldness to ring the changes may have earned the Portuguese praise. That was City’s day. Had it not been the case, United would have run away with all the three points – City’s superior ball possession notwithstanding.
There was that strong penalty appeal, and the constant miscommunication and hesitation between City’s defensive line and their new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
But in all fairness, City boast a greater talent in most outfield positions than United. That does not mean that United can’t beat them. Even Louis Van Gaal did – at Etihad.
But it’s unrealistic to think that United will suddenly wrestle the bragging rights from their cross-city rivals without a fight. A real one at that. It’s not as if you are up against a team that only experienced the glory of parading that coveted trophy around town on the back of a one-off successful campaign.
Rather, we are talking of an ‘oil club’ that’s under the tutelage of Guardiola, that counts the likes of Aguero, Silva and De Bryune in their ranks, and one that masterminded Ferguson’s “worst ever day” in management with that 6-1 drubbing at Old Trafford.
And why the fuss anyway? It’s just four games into this Premier League season.