Inside the derby Ã¢ÂÂ with Mancini, Vidic, Micah and Cleverley
The November 2011 issue of FourFourTwo previewed the Manchester derby with a cover story examining the history of the fixture and interviewing several protagonists. It makes for fascinating reading...
FFT: Manchester United have set a high standard in recent seasons. If you finish above them, do you think you will win the league title this campaign?
RM: I think so, for sure! United began winning many years ago and they have a winning mentality, so it's not easy to match them and be on their level so quickly. TheyÃ¢ÂÂre one of the best teams in the world, but we have a good team as well.
WhatÃ¢ÂÂs your relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson like?
I have a good relationship with Sir Alex. For all he has achieved over the past 20 years, he deserves the kind of respect he gets. HeÃ¢ÂÂs a good guy and I like him Ã¢ÂÂ but it would be great if I could beat him this season!
How much has the atmosphere around Manchester changed?
ItÃ¢ÂÂs very important for the city of Manchester that both teams are at the top, playing great football and are in the Champions League. Now, Manchester is like Milan or Rome, which can only be a very good thing.
What kind of reaction do you get from Manchester United fans when you are out and about?
They are very good and respectful. They smile and say hello and I can go to the city centre without any problems. From time Ã¢ÂÂ¨to time I bump into their players and they are respectful too; good guys as well as great football players.
FFT: What did you know about the Manchester derby before you came to England?
NV: Not much. Then, it was not one of the derbies that is known all over the world, like Manchester United versus Liverpool or Arsenal and Chelsea. Now it is different. The games are much more competitive and everyone knows how important it is.
ThatÃ¢ÂÂs possibly because when you first arrived, City were at a very different end of the table to United. Could you tell it meant a lot even then?
Yes, it was still important within the club. The first game after I signed was a Manchester derby. I didn't play but I was in the dressing room before the game and Sir Alex Ferguson made it clear we could not lose. He told us all how important it was. That is something I understood because derbies are the same everywhere. It is like the Belgrade derby, Red Star versus Partizan. As soon as you see it, you realise how much it means.
What did you make of it?
It wasn't just my first game as a United player, but the first English game I had ever seen live. We lost. Patrice Evra, who had been signed at the same time as me, played and he didnÃ¢ÂÂt do too well. It was good to have the chance to see what English football was like. It was so fast, really tough, and all the players seemed so big. The passion was a real surprise, too.
Even as a United player, is it good for the city that both clubs are doing well?
Definitely. As a player, you want to be part of the big games. They have more tension, more quality. They are more difficult, but that's why you play football: to play against good players, good teams, in front of good crowds. All of the excitement we have had against City in the last few years means it is the best atmosphere in the stadium when we play them.
Do these games feel different now? Is it the most important game of your season?
We've had a few games against City in the last few years where we have won in the last minute and the excitement has been incredible. It is maybe going to be one of the most important games for us in the next few years. There is more pressure when you play against them now. Derbies are about the fans: it's them who have to go into work tomorrow and see the other fans, and it's them who get texts straight after the game, with a joke about United players or City players.
FFT: How has the rivalry with United changed during your 10 years at the club?
MR: I have noticed a change but not in the way you might imagine. There was more of a derby vibe a few years ago when we had the likes of Nedum Onuoha, Michael Johnson, Stephen Ireland and Richard Dunne, because they knew what winning the derby was all about. ItÃ¢ÂÂs still an important game, but itÃ¢ÂÂs more about who can play the better football rather than blood-and-thunder challenges Ã¢ÂÂ thatÃ¢ÂÂs what derbies used to be Ã¢ÂÂ¨all about. ItÃ¢ÂÂs definitely different.
WhatÃ¢ÂÂs it like around the city for the players? You must pull up alongside each other at traffic lights on the way to training and bump into each other all the time in restaurants and shops?
Yeah, I see some of their lads outside of football as IÃ¢ÂÂm good friends with Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck from the England under-21s Ã¢ÂÂ theyÃ¢ÂÂre good lads, but on derby day, all friendship is forgotten!
Is it a good thing for City and United that your closest rivals are now your nearest neighbours?
ItÃ¢ÂÂs good for Manchester and the Manchester derby, which was one-sided for a long time. City have made good signings and theyÃ¢ÂÂre playing well. There will be a bigger than normal build-up around the derby.
YouÃ¢ÂÂve actually played with a lot of the City playersÃ¢ÂÂ¦
I know Micah [Richards] best from EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs under-21s and IÃ¢ÂÂve been with England alongside Lescott, Johnson, Barry and Joe Hart. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs a lot of United and City players with England and the Community Shield was brought up. They were saying that we didnÃ¢ÂÂt batter them, whereas we explained quite clearly that we did. It was a great game, really exciting, and IÃ¢ÂÂm sure it will be the same again when we play them in the league.