It's more than 'Just a Manchester Derby'
It was the 23rd of October, 2011. Every United fan all over the world had hopes that at the end of the 90 minutes ‘The Noisy Neighbors’ will be put to their place and Manchester will remain Red. After all, it wasn’t long ago that they had put 8 goals past our great rival from London. Even half of that would have made every Red Devil jump and dance with joy. But that was not how it went down. The memory of what transpired that day is enough to make even the most perfect day a very gloomy one for the United fans. Balotelli with his ‘Why always me’ moment started what ended as City’s mauling of the Reds. It has now become the symbol of the power surge from the blue side of Manchester. Although what City did on the last day of the season with a United-esque stoppage time title winning comeback has a lot more quantitative importance, the two derby victories have a more profound qualitative significance.
Its not like it was the first time City have had a gigantic victory over United. United fans will know that they have spent time in the second division. What stands out from City’s point of view is that they beat United 1-0 at Old Trafford in 1974, a result which relegated United to the second tier of English football. Although, with the rise of United as a global force, that result and the derby itself lost its shine in the 1990′s and the 2000′s, specifically for the global fans. It became just a derby.
With Sir Alex at the helm of United, Premier league, in its formative years, invariably was all about United, until Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal Gunners started challenging for the title. Those 6-7 years when Arsenal and United shared the top two positions, Arsenal were the prime rivals. Then came a certain Russian and changed the dynamics of the Premier League. Chelsea, under Jose ‘The Special One’ Mourinho, became ‘the team’ and United had a new foe. However, the departure of Mourinho made sure that United-Chelsea lacked the spark that could fuel a classic rivalry. With Lancashire and Yorkshire history as the background, United- Leeds ‘Rose derby’ sparked tensions when Leeds united were a Champions League team. That being said, with the ‘knock you off your perch’ theme, Liverpool have been the main rivals for United throughout the Ferguson era. Even legends and icons from the side testify that no matter the position in the league or the competition, United-Liverpool were the games of the season for them.
However, first with the Thai takeover, and then the emergence of the Etihad Dynasty at the Eastlands, there were signs of change in Manchester. The somewhat ignored sky blue side was suddenly making some noise, and frightfully for United, the right kind of noises. And even though Rooney, with his famous Bicycle kick and then Micheal Owen with the shining moment of his United career in the famous 4-3 victory suppressed the noises for some time, the writing was already on the wall.
The Mancini and Kompany led side with the FA cup trophy, the 6-1 victory coupled with the league championship win last season showed that now its not one club that will represent Manchester in the title race. The sky blue team from Manchester proved they are here to stay. The cross town rivalry has grown into something bigger than that. Although, on a global perspective, there is still no competition in terms of fan following, in the city of Manchester the once hibernating fans from the sky blue side are back. With Arsenal no longer a title challenger, Leeds disappeared, Liverpool no longer the force they were, Chelsea self imploding this season, City are the new number one rival for United.
Sir Alex and also Ryan Giggs trying to downplay the significance of tomorrow’s derby match with City by saying ‘the liverpool games are special’, raises the stakes even more. Also to add fuel to fire, a couple of days ago reports came out that United chief executive David Gill was in Croatia to monitor the availability of Dinamo Zagreb duo of Halilovic and Vrsaljko, who are also on the radar of City.
With all that happened last season, tomorrow’s City vs United clash isn’t just a derby. Although a draw would suit both teams, United more than City, its the one match that every United fan wants to win. With City undefeated at their home ground for almost two seasons now, a victory for United would be a sound reply to the 6-1 humiliation.