Stephen Tudor explains how City overcame United to become Manchester’s main men...
There may only be four points that separate the Manchester sides, but Manuel Pellegrini’s men head into the 168th derby this weekend as clear favourites and reigning champions, the city’s undisputed present-day top dogs.
It’s a status that was unimaginable only six short years ago, with City seemingly forever fated to languish in the shadow of their all-conquering red neighbours. Derided for being ‘iccle Citeh’, the Blues veered from catastrophe to comedy while their hated rivals collected silverware with hungry aplomb.
This all changed in September 2008 when the Abu Dhabi United Group – owned by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan – invested a fraction of their incalculable wealth into the club and immediately vowed to build a dynasty. At a stroke of a pen the English football landscape faced change from a blue tidal wave.
If City were to conquer England, they needed to identify the team to beat, an enemy to dethrone, just as Sir Alex Ferguson had concentrated his zeal on knocking Liverpool off their famed perch. City didn’t have to look far. They were right on their doorstep.
But the shifting of power from red to blue in Manchester has not happened overnight: it took seven steps to make the inconceivable a reality...
July 14, 2009: Signing Carlos Tevez
The first meaningful shot across the bows as City flexed their newfound fortunes in spectacular fashion with a £25 million shock swoop on their rivals.
Tevez joined a raft of extravagant signings that summer but while the purchases of Emmanuel Adebayor and Joleon Lescott caused ructions with Arsenal and Everton respectively, it was the Argentine’s actions in jumping ship from Old Trafford to Eastlands that made all the headlines.
King Carlos certainly wasn’t the first to defect across the city, but often the players who washed up in blue – Peter Schmeichel and Andy Cole – were glorified hand-me-downs. Here was a player Ferguson wanted, and wanted badly. In his two-year extended loan spell at United, Tevez had brought home successive titles, banged home 34 goals in 97 appearances and become a firm fans' favourite.
Reds who had implored their gaffer in song to “sign him up” feigned indifference to the news but City fans saw through the bluff. They knew the look in the eyes: they had been pretending not to hurt for years.
The shrugs soon gave way to outright anger, however, at the mocking ‘Welcome To Manchester’ sign that accompanied the signing. Erected at the behest of the City marketing department, it was perhaps a touch crass in hindsight but revealed there would be plenty of cheek with the chequebook.
Apr 16, 2011: The FA Cup semi-final
There were times when a derby win for City felt like a rebel raid that temporarily tripped the electric on some insignificant part of the Death Star: a cause for celebration, certainly, but of no real consequence beyond bragging rights.
Here, though, was a Wembley clash of tangible significance to determine which side faced Stoke or Bolton in the FA Cup final. For City it represented a chance to finally vanquish their 34-year trophy hoodoo.
For the Reds it was arguably more important to deprive their ‘noisy neighbours’ than to increase their impressive tally of 10 FA Cup triumphs.
Post-takeover City had suffered nothing but heartbreak at the hands of Ferguson’s team with five losses that included a two-legged Carling Cup semi. A fixation loomed.
United got off to the brighter start, with Dimitar Berbatov spurning two glaring chances in quick succession, but as the game evolved so too did City. According to some reports Vincent Kompany asked Mancini and the coaching staff to vacate the dressing room at half-time and delivered a rousing speech.
Whatever he said seemed to work as the Blues tore into the second period with relish, Yaya Toure pouncing on disarray in the United defence and slotting them ahead. The spell broken, City began to dominate until Paul Scholes settled matters with a late lunge that saw him see red.
What was left behind at Wembley that day were thousands of plastic pint-pots, some forgotten flags, and a lifetime’s inferiority complex.