Checks and Balances

Why Manchester United and Jose Mourinho will be keeping more than a close eye on The Etihad this season.

In Sid Lowe’s excellent book; Fear and Lothing in La Liga, the author makes some very astute observations about the nature of the enormous rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

One of the most interesting points he makes is that effectively, the two clubs are locked in together in a ceaseless game of Cat and Mouse. If Real win the Champions League, then Barcelona fans will demand Los Culles do the same. If Barcelona win a domestic double and Real win nothing, heads will role at The Bernabeu.

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Effectively the other club’s performance is as much a measure of success as their own achievements. It’s what fuels the predatory behaviour of each club and the first signs of which are starting to develop in England’s second city.

Noisy neighbours

When Sir Alex Ferguson quipped his moderately dismissive quote about the antics going on accross town at City, the then United manager was sat very comfortable as the dominant man at the dominant force in the city.

How things have changed. Almost a decade of success and growth by Manchester City has seen them crowned League Champions with a rally of 100 points. United fans have watched with envy and frustration in equal measure as their rivals have played their way to the top with swagger and flare.

This waltz to the summit has been bank rolled by hugely wealthy owners, but it has not taken the sweetness of the success away for the fans. United’s fanbase though have grown increasingly impatient with the succession of managers since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.

City have been champions twice in the period since Ferguson left Old Trafford, winning a few extra cups along side it for good measure. United have not won the league since and sacked two managers. A pattern is clearly emerging.

New season, same frustration

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United fans must have been quietly confident of a signing going into Deadline Day yesterday. A centre half was a priority and they were linked to several, some of whom were available. However Mourinho, in his now typical glum fashion, poured cold water on the fan’s hopes. Early morning yesterday he grumbled that he was not confident of any incoming signings.

He was not bluffing. United fans were left to a day of frustration as they feel a transfer window has come and gone without proper reinvestment in the squad.

However, for their fans to be panicky and frustrated with their current crop of players is quite telling. They have a team blessed with quality from top to bottom. Pogba, Sanchez, De Gea, Lukaku, Rashford, Matic et al, plus Fred and Dalot added to the ranks, it’s a team with plenty of quality, which has reached three finals in two seasons.

This is clearly not enough though. As with the behemoths of La Liga, it is not enough for United to be in City’s shadow. They want their manager and Mr Woodard to be able to attract the best in the world. They need to be above City, anything else feels like failure.  Fans are now openly calling for a manager who can appeal to very brightest talent in the game, such is the open hostility toward Mourinho by some.

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A rivalry in flux

Its obviously clear that the La Liga rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona is far bigger than the one between the Manchester clubs. In fact Manchester City do not yet deserve to be considered an elite club. They need the Champions League for that.

The famous trophy is not one they’ve found particularly enjoyable competing in since their rise to the contention in Europe’s elite tournament. Years of successive failures to even make a final have hurt. Gaurdiola is clearly under no illusions, the summit of European Football is the ultimate end game for him at The Etihad.

Their rivalry is not quite at the level of Barca and Real yet, but as the money continues to flow and City carry on their upward trajectory, United could find themselves growing increasingly twitchy.   They have a lot to lose, as the world’s richest club, they will not want to see their status eroded, especially by a city rival.  The fates of these clubs could set be intertwined in a similar fashion to those fierce rivals in La Liga.

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