Manchester’s demolition derby: it’s too early to gloat

Manchester City may have put six past local rivals United, but the Premier League race is far from over yet.

Duleep Allirajah

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You’d have thought that Manchester City’s astonishing 6-1 trouncing of rivals United might have been greeted with mixed emotions amongst neutrals. Yes, by all means laugh at the grim-faced Fergie – or the even grimmer-faced Sky pundit Gary Neville. But should we enjoy the triumph of super-rich collection of overpaid pampered mercenaries? You bet we can. A rare chance to celebrate United’s misery trumped any green-eyed resentment of City’s wealth, judging by the mockery on Twitter. (‘Affected by United’s defeat? Dial the helpline number: 0161 616161.’)

Within minutes of the final whistle at Old Trafford, the commentariat were talking portentously about ‘regime change’. First Gaddafi, now Fergie: a bad week for autocrats. So, what did we witness last Sunday? A decisive shift in the balance of power in English football? United being knocked off their perch by the noisy neighbours? Roberto Mancini was refusing to get carried away. ‘This is important for our squad and I am happy for the three points, but in the end it is three points – we don’t take six points’, said Mancini. ‘United are still one yard above us and we can only change this if we win the title.’

For many pundits, the emphatic scoreline gave the game its fin de siècle aura. ‘In time we might reflect on Sunday as one of the most significant moments in the history of the modern English game: the day when the power did indeed shift across Manchester’,

‘It was only one result but it is hard to deny that it felt like a changing of the guard at the summit of our game’, reaching for his superlatives. ‘This result was the biggest statement in Premier League history. Forget geography, this shows City are a force to be reckoned with. I woke up yesterday still stunned by it.’

What short memories we have. Cast your mind back a few weeks to when we were heaping praise on Fergie’s youngsters. United were quick out of the blocks this season. They beat City in the Community Shield, swept aside Spurs 3-0, beat Chelsea 3-1 and pulverised Arsenal 8-2. In truth, United’s early-season form masked shortcomings which have now become more evident. The once-impregnable defensive pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand looks creaky while their youthful successors are still too green. More worryingly, the workmanlike midfield is clearly devoid of creativity. What Sir Alex would give for a player like City’s David Silva. Sunday’s humiliation has revived speculation that United will make a bid for Inter’s playmaker Wesley Sneijder in the January transfer window.

It’s clear that the process of replacing the old guard and rebuilding the team is still a work in progress at Old Trafford. However, it doesn’t follow that the Premier League title is a foregone conclusion. What the so-called ‘demolition derby’ illustrates is that City are more than just a collection of talented individuals. Mancini, to his credit, has managed to deal with the big egos in the dressing room and instill a work ethic.

However, as the old cliché goes, no titles are won in October. The league is usually claimed by the team which consistently delivers results after Christmas. United may not be able to match City’s spending power, but they’re hardly church mice. More importantly, they have the knowhow to win titles. Sir Alex Ferguson has forged a winning culture at Old Trafford. United have the experience to cope with pressure and bounce back from setbacks. They are able to raise their game and grind out results during the run-in. This is all new territory for City. It’s not a question of skill or ability – which they have in abundance – but the psychological wherewithal to win a long attritional war.

So United aren’t finished and City aren’t champions yet. And because City have yet to win titles, they still don’t attract the opprobrium that has been heaped on United for nearly two decades. Hatred, of course, is the highest form of flattery. If there’s one thing the British can’t stand it’s seeing other people succeed. And that’s why Fergie’s team is still despised throughout the land. The widespread gloating at United’s defeat, as Oliver Holt

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. He will be taking part in the debate Who is the greatest-ever Olympian? at the Battle of Ideas festival on Sunday 30 October.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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