Ten years ago, Manchester United played Manchester City at Old Trafford on their way to an unprecedented hat-trick of Premier League titles. The red wave of United jerseys, both on and off the pitch, made light work of their blue neighbours as Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez scored in the 18th and 45th minute respectively to give them a 2-0 victory, and further strengthen their position at the top of the table.
In those days, Manchester was red – an all-encompassing and dominant aura that seemed to be passed on from one generation to the next. If you were a City fan, the sight of Sir Alex Ferguson prowling around the touchline was sickening to the stomach.
He knew what this fixture was all about, and the noisy neighbours, to him, were a mere whisper. United ended the season on 90 points, with a goal difference of +43. City finished in 10th position with 50 points and a goal difference of just +8.
As you were, everybody – nothing to see here. United could celebrate, and City were left to lick their wounds. Yet in City’s 2-0 win at the home of their once runaway enemies ten years on, the glittering array of talent didn’t waltz onto the Old Trafford pitch in red and black, but as this light blue convoy of assured, relentless Pep Guardiola pawns.
They may have been ruffled at the beginning of the game, but as Bernardo Silva drifted from right to left inside of Luke Shaw to slot the ball past David de Gea, this was barely a contest. Now, United fans are the ones who are sick in the stomach, unsure of what they may have missed in the last decade.
The winds of change have been subtle, but glaringly obvious at the same time. Once City could bring in the likes of Robinho, the water on the surface of the sea began to ripple.
As soon as managers such as Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini walked through the door, the tide began to make its way onto the land. When they won their first title in 2012, the tide became a tsunami.
Ten years ago, it was Micah Richards, Steven Ireland, and Felipe Caicedo. Now, it’s Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Agüero.
Before we knew it, the pendulum had completely swung and the blue moon not only rose, but catapulted to diminish the Red Devil’s fiery flame like an eclipse.
Forget about the arguments to do with dirty oil money and plastic fans – this City structure is doing all the right things that United could only dream of, and the gap between the two grows ever wider.
Before that club-changing title triumph, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan couldn’t have imagined that his investment of £1 billion into City would bring about such revolutionary results.
Ferran Soriano, a former top executive at FC Barcelona who had become City’s Chief Executive Officer in September 2012, knew exactly how to leverage Sheikh Mansour’s ambitions.
After overseeing Barcelona’s run of winning 6 out of the 6 titles available in one year in 2009 under Guardiola, who better to lead the City revolution than him? Everything seems clear and well thought-out, from the formation of the City Football Group to the appointment of Guardiola. It pays to have football men making football decisions, apparently.
And whilst United’s current modus operandi revolves around, “Operation: Find Pogba”, with a hoof up the field here and misplaced pass there, City knew where each and every one was on the pitch.
Aymeric Laporte could find Fernandinho, who could find David Silva, who could find Bernardo Silva, and the options go on and on. It never used to be like this.
Fred encapsulated United’s current state of affairs perfectly. With the ball at his feet in the final third, he tried to find Pogba between the lines.
As his pass went astray, the transition from defence to attack was fluid – City pounced onto that mistake like they knew it was coming, and seemed to move into those consistent grooves without thinking.
Vincent Kompany found Sterling, who looked up and carried the ball with the pattern of play clear in his mind. Agüero’s run dragged the ghostly figure of Matteo Darmian out of position, and there was Leroy Sané, in position A1 just inside the box.
Off of De Gea’s legs and into the back of the net.
There was the killer blow - the dagger to the heart. City’s polished design was clear to see, its continued upward trajectory making a mockery of United’s glaring blemishes. The formidable and fearless met the mixed and muddled.
How does it feel to be the plucky outsider looking in, Manchester United? For so long, City were the ones having to kneel at the feet of the relevant, to want to be counted in those lofty statistics.
And as Ole Gunnar Solskjær dipped his head in disappointment when Sané put the game to bed, it’s important to state that even though he has been made to feel like an enemy of his own nostalgia, it’s not his fault that United have become irrelevant.
Look at the men behind the scenes, the ones making the football decisions – City have Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, the former director of football at Barcelona; whilst United have Ed Woodward, who has seen David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho come and go with bruised egos and hefty pay-outs, delivering 2 top four finishes amongst them.
In all of this, Woodward has been left unscathed, his work with bringing in lucrative sponsorship outweighing his lack of results when it comes to what should matter the most – what United do on the pitch. The Glazers won’t mind – why would they be bothered when the money continues to roll in?
So here we are, wondering when United will wake up from their slumber, and what else City may have up their sleeve. United fans may not want Liverpool to win the league, but it may be high-time they start to wonder how they will stop City from winning more in the years to come.
Ten years ago, who would have been able to say that City would be the standard bearer that United looked up to? A lot has changed, yet a lot has stayed the same. United cling on to those glory years, but could learn a thing or two from City – don’t let your past stop you from looking forward.Published 21 May 2019, 12:19 IST