Rise of Manchester City to challenge Manchester United makes derby one of world’s best

Our columnist revisits some of his past experiences of the hotly contested Manchester derby as United and City prepare to go into battle in the Premier League on Saturday.
Manchester United's Diego Forlan, right, is challenged by Manchester City's Richard Dunne during a Premier League match at The City of Manchester Stadium in Manchester on March 14, 2004. Paul Barker / AFP
Manchester United's Diego Forlan, right, is challenged by Manchester City's Richard Dunne during a Premier League match at The City of Manchester Stadium in Manchester on March 14, 2004. Paul Barker / AFP

Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan’s column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

The Manchester United coach moved down the backstreets close to Manchester City’s Maine Road home. I was fascinated by what I saw outside. Fans were so close to the coach that they could touch it. The coach was so close to the brick terraced houses that we could see inside them.

Everywhere, Manchester City fans put two fingers up at us. I could not understand it. Why were they all saying they wanted victory for us? I asked a teammate, I cannot remember who. He explained that the two fingers were not for victory, but because they did not like United. But that was about it.

All around the world, the visiting team coach enters stadiums from the quietest points to avoid fans. They try to avoid the rocks and stones. There are underground tunnels at some of the biggest stadiums, such as Camp Nou. At other stadiums, the police keep the fans far away.

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At City’s old home, there was no chance of that. I enjoyed it, seeing the working people who love football in Manchester, the biggest of football cities. Plus, it was only words.

In the middle of the houses stood the football ground. The coach stopped and we got off. We were the target for more insults and boos when we disembarked in our club suits, proud of the badge of Manchester United covering our hearts.

An elderly gentleman in a City suit welcomed us into Maine Road. He had smiles and handshakes for all. I liked that respect. We were the enemy, the top dogs in Manchester, but he had such pride in City, another huge club.

I knew some City fans in Manchester who went to games. I respected them. They loved their team. I could not understand why people said there were more City fans in Manchester, though. I did not see it that way for the fans in red are everywhere.

City did not have the talent we had then. It was not the City of today who buy the best players and have Pep Guardiola as manager. Then, they were a mid-table team. United’s main playing rivals were Arsenal, but the biggest game for the fans was Liverpool, as I found out when I scored against them.

The Manchester derby was still a big match, though, and City could raise their game to prove a point to the real kings of Manchester, the team who won all the trophies. City did not win trophies then. The United fans even had a flag at the Stretford End which showed how many years City had gone without a trophy. Each year, the number went up. Cruel, but funny.

That counted for nothing when the two teams met. I played in derbies when we lost, games where City and their fans were so motivated that we could not contain them.

The Manchester derby was a big game for Manchester, but it has transcended that to become a big game for world football. It is not the biggest – Barcelona v Real Madrid is much bigger. They are the best two teams in the world with the best players.

United finished fifth in the Premier League last season, City fourth. If United and City are winning the Premier League or the Uefa Champions League at the same time the Manchester derby can become much bigger globally.

I cannot wait for Saturday’s game, which starts at 9am in Uruguay. I will either be watching there or in Dubai where I will be training with my new team, Mumbai City.

I am fascinated by the dynamic between Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, the attacking manager against the one with the reputation for building from a solid defence. City will be without my old teammate Sergio Aguero. They will miss him, he is that good, but he cannot argue against his three-match suspension for swinging an arm at West Ham United’s Winston Reid.

City have David Silva, a completely different type of player and one in super form. He has great control, technique, he scores and assists. He is quick with his feet and his mind. I have played against him many times and managers picked him out as a player to stop.

United have Zlatan Ibrahimovic and that young striker Marcus Rashford. I like them. Rashford is a Manchester boy, which is special, but every player knows how important the derby is. You feel it when you live there.

Most importantly for United fans, they are playing in a winning team. That is all Mourinho was asked to do: to create a winning team. Everything else is secondary. United have won all four games under him so far, City have won all theirs. Something has to give.

You have players who are desperate to stay in the team because competition is so tough. You have managers who do not want to lose. Last season, in the first derby at Old Trafford, I felt both teams were happy to draw.

Now I think both will be bolder and go for a win. They both have the players to secure victory. A win will give such a huge lift and a three-point advantage over their rivals, but the season is still young. There is so much time to recover, but the psychological boost for either team is what will be important for the new managers.

Both have been good in the transfer market, especially United. Great players were bought to win great games like the Manchester derby.

For so long United were the only team in Manchester that people talked about around the world. Now there is City, too. It is good for Manchester, it is good for football. I hope the game does justice to their reputations.


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Published: September 8, 2016 04:00 AM


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