Manchester City: On Vanquishing United & Redefining The Man In The Mirror

The little brother slays...

Neil Blackmon on the how little brother became all growns up.

Manchester City should glide past an injury-riddled Villarreal Wednesday in the Champion’s League. The success will pale in comparison to what was achieved across Manchester ten days ago.

On that Sunday, something completely out of the ordinary happened for City and perhaps in the world of high class, high profile, highly-paid sport.

Out of the ordinary doesn’t even begin to do it justice–try bizarre, nonsensical and revelatory all at brilliant once.

In two hours, a club turned the corner in an existential battle to redefine itself.

Mancini: Uncommon at Old Trafford...

There were Manchester City, victorious and barely breaking a sweat–gliding–and celebrating a victory over rival Manchester United on their hated rival’s hallowed and fervently-protected pitch. The cynical Italian man who manages the Citizens couldn’t hold his emotion back, beaming in adulation being on the same pedestal–temporarily at least–as the other manager. Perhaps the first time in his entire career that Sir Alex Ferguson was considered “the other manager.” He was long gone from the main stage.

It would have been a glorious side-by-side sight, the Italian and the Scotsman who share completely opposite historical tales of English football success.

But, given that the Premier League is a global village these days, not much was lost except the lived experience, the real time sounds and smells. Not lost was the sense of occasion. A grand one indeed–one that bares illuminating again now that the buzz has died down and given way to perspective.

As City lingered on the pitch in the match’s aftermath, one couldn’t, with the obvious exception of United fans, feel affection for the team in the powdery blue.

So much has been made of Manchester City lately and their rise from parochial afterthought to plush pockets and prominence that the general sentiment was this was a side that without fail should be disliked—a noveau riche group that didn’t and wouldn’t know how to graciously behave and charm at a dinner party.

City Backlash

City Backlash (the “B” in caps appropriately) has been widespread and pervasive and, given two years or so of underachievement, perhaps warranted.

And yet here were a cadre of City fans, slotted into a corner cluster at Old Trafford, dancing and hugging and singing and yes, drinking in their powder blue shirts and coats and scarves.

They’d weathered Heathrow Airport style patdowns, sniffing dogs, metal detectors and segregated lines (United fans first, of course) on their way in but here they were, the last to leave, watching their team hug and shake hands and clap, arms raised to the heavens. The scoreboard read 6-1. It was a Massacre in Manchester, and what’s more, it was a powerful, fairy tale type beginning to a new chapter, a story, as City midfielder Yaya Toure put it last week to the Guardian’s Paul Wilson, “waiting to be written.”


And at once, it became easy to identify with that cluster, oblivious to the Etihad Airways-sponsored replica kits they were wearing that always seem to undulate with an underlying “Arsenal imposter”-like feel.

You can talk all you’d like about the tactics—about Sir Alex Ferguson’s refusal to shore up the back after American public enemy # 2 (Rafa Marquez will not be overtaken in 2011 by anyone) Jonny Evans was sent off in the 47th minute.

And it’s true- at one-nil, Ferguson was very un-Ferguson like.

He was outmanaged, from the team selection sheet to the poor choices he made when the game was still within reach, like failing to bring on Nemanja Vidic for Danny Welbeck or taking a shot sometimes brilliant, always enigmatic Anderson.

Scholes's questionable bite and distribution was perhaps missed by United on the day?

But this game won’t be remembered for tactics.

No, this game will be remembered as the moment Manchester City warped  from a side with a generally cynical and negative perception globally into a genuinely likeable group; one you can’t help but love, reluctantly, despite their the flauntings of their ownership, the petulance of their strikers or, their quirky, poorly-quoted manager and idiosyncrasies. It was a new chapter to a story that to this point, was more dark comedy and antihero than character and Capra.

Ten days ago, City tore up chapters already written. The team it easy to forget for a moment the Arab investors and their billions upon billions.

Fans of smaller sides–myself included–previously found it easy to not detest, but loathe City, to protest their rich owners and dumb luck.

Money can’t buy you love, so the Beatles sang, and it can’t buy you hardware either, so the small club “everyman” said. City were a collection of sprockets and carburetors, dissembled parts that could never make a whole–no matter the growth of David Silva, the steadiness of Vincent Kompany or that Nigel De Jong hasn’t been thrown out of a game in how long?

Chelsea fans can tell you how oil money and nouveau fans create a hated identity–and though John Terry helps perpetuate, largely “new Chelsea” is still on the opposite side when neutrals fans go rooting.

But City by all accounts should be nearing the absolute edges of the resentment universe; an object lesson in the risky excess of capitalism, the hatred it sometimes engenders, of the “Occupy Wall Street” sentiment and fear the growing gap between haves and have nots seems to represent. Every City failure was brilliant—vindication for the little guy.

That is, until they finally put together a a beautifully orchestrated team effort against United and until their long-maligned fans celebrated the blitzing of their Goliath.

As Micah Richards noted in the aftermath, the “noisy neighbors” had arrived.

It was easier extremely more palatable after that performance, to recognize that money can’t buy you love, but it can put you in a position to earn it yourself.

And the prose with which the story unfolded was grandiose.


There was, of course, Mario Balotelli, with his fleet of sports cars, fits of infancy about shortened playing time and distaste for the city of Manchester. Yet there he was, timing his run perfectly and combining with James Milner and David Silva (more on him later) in the build-up to City’s opener in the 22nd minute.

There was no more poetic beginning to what was about to ensure than the volatile Balotelli perfectly redirecting a cutback pass inside the post at in what seemed like slow motion. A build-up that crescendoed with the Italian forward proudly standing, Cantona-esque right where his brilliance occurred and lifting his jersey to display the phrase, “Why Always Me?”

A poetic statement from Balotelli that was just as brilliant as his touch.

There was Yaya Toure dictating play in the midfield. That’s the same Toure whose signing was berated as over-indulgence on a marginal player who was not responsible for Barcelona’s success when he was at the Camp Nou. Yet United did no talking in midfield thanks to Toure.

And then there were those that were conspicuous by their absence on the pitch.

In the symphonic thumping that City put on their neighbors, seven yellow cards and one red were issued. United amazingly having four cautions and one sending-off with City gathering the other three minors. And Nigel De Yong didn’t play a part in any of them (nor the match.)

United's retort is now history...

And of course, Carlos Tevez deserves a mention here and this City victory seemed be like the closing of the movie the musical Damn Yankees, where the Washington Senators win the pennant by their Joe Boyd’s own might after breaking his pact with the devil. That United is owned by a damn Yankee and the Senators vanquish them sans the devil seems, once again, poetic.

City became the lovely and aspiring Senators on Sunday. And perhaps that’s the identity they’ll forge to become a global brand.

Certainly, the club’s history is much closer to that. Long treated as second-class citizens in even their own city, the Citizens lack a title since 1968. What’s more—clubs long gone from the Barclay’s Premier League pecking order have greater global support and fanfare—Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, West Ham United come immediately to mind. Some sides have luxurious stadiums and general love—City have neither of these and what’s worse, their stadium is a sterile, lifeless building that smells of stale beer. As Jamie Trecker pointed out in the build-up to last week’s match at Fox Soccer—City essentially have no history to speak of outside of simply being tolerated in their own city, although with a fair amount of disgust.

Sunday, October 23rd will forever be known as the reckoning in “a little brother finally winning a game of RISK and sending extra armies into places just because he can” sort of way. Or maybe it’s, look away United fans, Johan Cruyff at the Camp Nou after Franco and Real Madrid.

Or maybe Sunday was just in the revolving door and immediately out again for City and a slap-of-the-hand reminder that championships aren’t won in English Autumn, but on cold February afternoons at the Stadium of Light, or at bogey sides like Everton, or wherever.

But for now Manchester City is loved and and here’s the odd twist: Perhaps only raising a Championship trophy will re-instate the vilification of the little brother. Wouldn’t that be something.

13 responses to this post.

  1. I’m not one to have allegiences, for some reason my mood just can’t be dictated by any club sides at home or abroad, so I’ll never be a City supporter. However, this game as well as the David Silva signing have made me a fan and I’ll tune in because you never know what you’re going to see: a 6-1 mauling of the team that thinks they own the Premiership, or some crazy dropped points to QPR…either way it’s sure to be entertaining in its granduer or flaming-out.


  2. Posted by Puck on 2011/11/01 at 9:21 AM

    While some might consider this a ridiculously hyperbolic statement from a long Time Citeh Fan, I really believe that David Silva is playing the best football of anyone in the EPL.

    The only other player in the discussion would be RVP.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/11/01 at 10:22 AM

      I think you’re spot on. He’s been perfect.
      RVP has been outstanding this year. The captaincy made him a team player.

      Also think you have to give a nod so far to Mata as well. A different Chelsea when he’s on.


      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2011/11/01 at 12:20 PM

        VDV deserves a little love too. And what about Demba Ba? Goal poacher extroadinare? 8 goals in 9 matches… and back to back hattricks if I’m not mistaken.


  3. Posted by Matt on 2011/11/01 at 11:44 AM

    Great article. As a fellow fan of a smaller club (Portsmouth), however, I disagree that Man City’s dumb-luck rise to prominence made them easy to hate. I’d rather see a club without much history finally get a taste of success, and have thus always been much quicker to hate on the Man U’s of this world, where wins are almost taken for granted.

    If nothing else, Man City gives a type of hope, maybe against all odds, that your club will be the next one chosen by an oil sheik to heights that right now are unimaginable.

    Though it may just be as a die-hard Ohio Bobcats fan in a decidedly scarlet state, I love the idea of a “little brother” finally fighting back.


    • Posted by Jared on 2011/11/01 at 12:14 PM

      Unfortunately, the oil sheik taking over a club and dumping money into it so that it becomes a contender is at an end. The UEFA fair play regulations will make that much harder for the sheiks to do because of the requirements based on restricting spending based on revenue. There are a few ways around that including building new stadiums but it’s not the quick fix turnaround the way it was at Man City.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/11/01 at 3:43 PM

        City moved into the City of Manchester Stadium after the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and the area of Manchester it’s located in [Eastlands], has plenty of ‘wasteland’ around it, meaning planning permission for expansion etc., shouldn’t be a problem. Just think of of the issues Chelse, Liverpool and Tottenham have had recently… And as far as I am aware, stadium / training infrastructure investment is not part of the FFP.


  4. Posted by Jared on 2011/11/01 at 12:19 PM

    I don’t hate Man City very much at all for doing what they are now doing. I did hate them last season because they were so awful to watch with the amount of quality they had on the team. We’ve also seen much less of the truly dangerous (in a bad way) Nigel de Jong. They are playing a style that is very fun to watch with players that are top class.

    It’s not even close to the way that I hate Chelsea for the way they rose to the top. That was a team that was full of players that were easy to hate as an American (Terry and Lampard for their 9/11 actions) and players that were easy to hate in general (Ashley Cole). Mourinho for all of his brilliance/insanity had them play a very boring style with the exception of when he had initially unleashed Duff and Robben as the wingers.


  5. Posted by Alex on 2011/11/01 at 12:27 PM

    I hate Nigel De Jong. I hate (some of) Mancini’s tactics. I hate City’s ability to spend loads of transfer money. I hate a lot about City. But I’d be a damn liar if I said that I hate watching City play. David Silva has been a class above everybody else. Balotelli has a Cantonaesque insanity and playing ability that is just so fun to watch. I wish Kovalev was American because he has been one of the best left backs in the BPL. They are by far one of the most exciting teams to watch, and I’ll tune in for every match that they show on TV. Excellently written piece Neil.


  6. I really want a WHY ALWAYS ME? shirt — but right before I order one, I think about how all the non-footy fans will look at me when I wear it.

    But as @usarsnl so astutely put, Balotelli is the Tracy Morgan of futbol…!/usarsnl/status/128809974058057729


  7. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/11/01 at 3:29 PM

    I think the thing that annoys most ‘small / regional team’ fans is how quickly City fans have done a one-eighty. For years, City fans have turned their noses up at United for being the Evil Empire and for buying their success – and more recently Chelsea under the Abramovich era. But look how quickly all those decade-long sentiments have gone out of the window. The reality is that to win the Prem and compete in Europe, you need to spend big – I get that [and am somewhat jealous!]. How else would you catch up to a team that been spending big money consistently for 20+ years?

    It’s just the hypocrisy that gets up my nose. That and the New Fans, who claim to have supported City for years [think Chelsea fans circa 2004-5 – and there are *plenty* of them]. I have seen many people in City tops in the last 12 months [hardly any before that BTW] and I always think to myself “where were you in 2005?” I guess the US equivalent would be Mets fans being tortured for so long by their city rivals winning championship after championship after championship – and then boom, they’re in the big time too. It must be exciting times for the City of Manchester, to have their two-team city, both being genuine title contenders.

    Like the author says, nothing is won in November. It would be nice for City to break the United/Chelsea duopoly of the PL. We shall see come April / May won’t we?

    And for the most part, Mancini has invested the money very well [I think the few question marks I have were Mark Hughes acquisitions?]. The team looks to have some steel at the back and some flair going forward. Will be interesting to see how they balance 4 competitions, although they definitely seems to have the squad to cope – they have players on the bench that would probably walk into most PL teams. With Kidd, Platt and Lombardo he seems to have an interesting management team too. The other interesting thing is the long term vision of the club – I saw news re. plans to redevelop the area around Eastland that seem very impressive – they seems very serious about developing a youth academy [EPPP], so hopefully, that will in-turn help Team England. But what also fascinates me is City’s strategy to compete with United commercially, given that United have basically had a 50-year head-start – where do you start?


  8. Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/11/01 at 7:35 PM

    EXcellent well written piece Neil and thanks to TSG for making it available.
    Might be a bit premature to be claiming City as ascendant over The U and Ferrguson here on Nov 1.
    Not a supporter of either but the reality is that Man U won the leaguelast yr with a couple of old guys Scholes and Giggs manning the central MF and has the core of that league winning squad lining up each week. Vidic is back and Jonny Evans won’t see CB time again. Ever. As a matter of fact he’ll be loaned out by next summer if history holds.
    City has no record of holding up under the grind of the EPL and UCL and the beer cup. No winning culture at all to draw from and guys like Balotelli who guarantee that you will pay dearly for any periods of good behavior and focused performance. The odds are that he implodes in some fashion at some point this season.
    I have come, grudgingly, to respect and admire the job that Ferguson does. Unlike the Yankees comparison, he tends to buy young and on promise and hammer and carve them into shape. Rooney was a kid when they brought him in. Nani was a bargain from Portugal. Chicarito is one of the best and most savvy buys in the last 20 yrs. He takes a lot of pieces that are not standouts and fashions them into a well oiled machine that works incredibly well for and with each other.
    City did win a game convingly last week but has a long way to go to reach where Man U is,


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/11/02 at 4:10 AM

      You do have to admire Ferguson’s ability to build teams, break them down, and rebuild. But you also have to concede that United have had more resources to do so – the financial clout to out bid rivals for young talent plus the global scouting network. Plus the intangibles, such global brand equity – which they have spend years building.

      But the reality is, you didn’t have to be a super-scout to realise what you had on your hands when you went to watch Rooney, Nani or Hernandez- they were pretty stand out. Like I said, when / if City build that training /development / academy complex, they will be building for the long term. the fruits of that labour might not be realised for a while, but the important thing is to plant those seeds.

      I also agree somewhat about City never being in that position, and it will be interesting to see how they handle the pressure and media scutiny. But Mancini has – as a player and manager. It took Ferguson 7 seasons to win the Prem [and one might consider him lucky not to have been sacked before then]. Either way, it looks like it will be a great fight – hopefully, top spot will change positions a number of times. It’s boring when one team gets in front and stays in front!


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