In the nine years since Alex Ferguson retired, Manchester City have completely turned the tables on their bitter rivals Manchester United on and off the field. Where once United went about their business quickly, quietly and decisively, it is now City who routinely demonstrate how a football club should be run – and the red half of Manchester who falter.
“A bus that waits for no one” is how Alex Ferguson once described United. These days, City could accurately describe it. The ruthlessness that once characterized Ferguson’s regime at Old Trafford – think how players like Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Roy Keane were jettisoned – has given way to a damaging indecision and hesitation, while City never hesitated.
Their decision-making is emphatic and they never allow emotion or concerns about what others might be thinking to cloud their judgment, unlike their opponents on the street who seem to be in constant fear of a decision they make or external perceptions haunted – a factor behind them endless accumulation of inferior or over-the-top players.
Consider City’s position against Sergio Aguero last season. Despite a decade of exceptional performances, City decided the Argentine forward’s best days were behind him and announced in March last year that he would leave the club at the end of this season. Had United been in this situation, it would have surprised no one if they had handed Aguero a new three-year deal.
United are looking for their fifth permanent manager in nine years while Pep Guardiola nears the end of his sixth season. Knowing who they wanted and what they wanted, City went out and got him and empowered him to build a dynasty around him with the right support structure and to be top of the class in every department.
Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, CEO Ferran Soriano, football director Txiki Begiristain and Guardiola make up the team. By contrast, United have either slacked off and missed goals, botched the pitch, stayed blindly loyal or simply attacked the wrong man. In turn, they’ve watched a very diverse array of managers – from David Moyes and Louis van Gaal to Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – all falling horribly short in a chronically flawed system riddled with inexperienced people in critical roles .
Defined play style
Guardiola’s team has one of the most recognizable styles of play in world football. United also had a clear identity under Ferguson, but no more. Theirs is a Frankenstein team assembled from five different managers, now steered by an interim manager in Ralf Rangnick, who is desperate to bring structure and meaning to the chaos. So often in recent years United have resembled a group of individuals expensively thrown together on the whims of different individuals with little or no serious thought to how they want to play – and the players who fit the profile.
Guardiola can make changes from one week to the next, but the style of play remains the same because the players were bought with a fixed vision and there is the manager who implements them. Personnel changes at United bring dramatically different styles which only muddies the waters further. What is United’s philosophy of the game? The reality is, barring a broad, opaque promise to attack and entertain football, they haven’t had one since Ferguson.
The derby at Old Trafford last November, when United dominated from start to finish a fortnight after beating Liverpool 5-0 at home, offered perhaps the most vivid snapshot of the rift between the clubs.
Solskjaer threw his players together in a hasty and ill-conceived 5-3-2, having worked in a win at Tottenham a week earlier, and watched as his team were tortured by Guardiola’s beautifully oiled machine.
City buys and sells brilliantly. Ferguson used to take pride in the fact that United mainly handled their transfer business early and discreetly and City have embraced that mantle.
Despite their position as one of the richest clubs in the world, they are rarely blackmailed and have made a habit of identifying and bringing on a wide variety of players with relatively reasonable release clauses that obviate the need for extensive negotiations, including players such as Ruben Dias , Rodri and Aymeric Laporte. They are rarely drawn into the long, painful and drawn-out transfer sagas that have defined so much of United’s post-Ferguson dealings and invariably land their prime targets. And when they don’t, as was the case with Harry Kane last summer, they move on quickly and cleanly.
City’s strike rate in the market is impressive but when things don’t work they are just as adept at moving players around – unlike United who hoard unwanted or unpopular players. Not only is that proving costly, but it was also a factor in the unrest that has plagued the club this season.
The city recognizes a potential headache and is taking decisive action. Take Ferran Torres’ situation. Uneasy in Manchester and desperate to move to Barcelona, City struck a £55million deal with the Catalan club and within weeks the Spanish striker was being transferred for almost triple what they paid for him.
Contract negotiations inevitably get easier when there are players at trophy-winning clubs, but City have learned to lock their talent into deserved long-term deals without beating the odds.
Joao Cancelo, John Stones, Dias and Ederson are just a few whose futures have been secured with minimal fuss over the past 12 months and even the more troublesome negotiations are being handled sensitively.
Raheem Sterling, for example, will only have one year left on his contract this summer but talks are expected to start before the end of the season, with both parties said to be fairly relaxed.
In contrast, five players are out of contract at Old Trafford this summer – including Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Edinson Cavani – and a host of other players looking to leave. Fearful of laying off players, United too often hand out long, lucrative deals to players who don’t deserve them – and this summer threatens to be no different.
The currency by which all top clubs are ultimately measured. In the nine seasons since Ferguson’s retirement, City have won four Premier League titles and could add a fifth, six League Cups, the FA Cup and the Champions League final this season. United have won the Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup once each during that time and are nowhere near winning the Premier League or Champions League.
They have finished an average of 22 points behind the title winners over the past eight seasons and if they lose to City today they will fall 22 points adrift of the leaders despite having the second-most expensive squad in history and a wage bill that this season is expected to be the most highest in the top division.
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/premier-league/tables-have-turned-decisively-in-citys-favour-41416019.html The tide has turned decisively in City’s favour