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Andy Mitten column

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25 Jan 2010 11:20:38

Andy Mitten column

I FIRST saw the change a year ago. Sao Paulo is South America's biggest metropolis of 15 million, its '25th March Street' a hot, teeming and dangerous haunt of black market traders. Police intermittently raid makeshift stalls selling toilet brushes and fake designer watches, dog biscuits and counterfeit European football shirts. Taking centre stage on a football stall alongside the usual suspects of Manchester United, AC Milan and Barcelona were three Manchester City shirts with 'Robinho' on the back. What had City done to join such venerated company? Such has been United's dominance, and City's lack of silverware in the past three decades, the word 'Manchester' became a global byword for `Manchester United'. Foreign newspapers referring to 'Manchester' were seldom talking about Britain's second city, but the team from M16. City fans mocked the old cliché by pointing out that waiters didn't mention Bobby Charlton or Ryan Giggs when they ordered egg and chips in Benidorm, but in truth United's profile dwarfed City's. But as the markets of Sao Paolo testify, City's standing abroad has rocketed and while they have yet to trouble the English top four, they are viewed as an emerging threat by such esteemed luminaries as Barca coach Pep Guardiola. Oil money has allowed City to think bigger than at any time in their history. There's even talk of a trophy sometime soon and a new tin of Duraglit is on order from Grey Mare Lane market, as the last one is decades past its 'use by' date. It's ironic that City have started to rise as United's fortunes (and you can read that word in two ways) seem less secure. In contrast to the seething and very understandable frustration felt by many Reds because of the astronomical, mounting debts at Old Trafford, there's a buzz among Blues. Match-going Blue mates, who have been the butt of jokes for years, are enjoying the ride and who can blame them? It's even sweeter for them that their in-form player used to wear red, their brilliant assistant manager used to coach red and they've got a big laser blue moon flashing around the crowd at night matches. Derby atmosphere City have reached the semi-final of the competition they last won when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, Vietnam was still two countries and Rocky hit cinemas. Blues have heard all that before from Reds. They want that odometer highlighting their trophy free years off the Stretford End and they rightly believe that they have their best chance in years of winning something. An improving City has made the Manchester derby really meaningful again. I'm sure there's still the odd Blue with '5-1' tattooed on his forehead, but United have dominated derbies since Sir Alex Ferguson took over in 1986, with 20 wins to City's seven and nine drawn. If the Manchester derby wanted to compete with the crosstown clashes in Milan or Madrid, City weren't keeping their part of the deal. Real Madrid, Atletico, Internazionale and AC Milan have all won trophies. Even Espanyol, the second club in Barcelona, have won two Spanish Cups and reached a UEFA Cup final. Although more people watch the top two in Manchester every week than in any of those cities, until the Manchester clubs meet in the semi-final of the European, rather than the League Cup, our derby will never achieve the international prominence its support deserves. When the two teams lined up last Tuesday, when the United players weren't sure whether to shake Carlos Tevez's hand, ruffle his hair or slap him, I felt less confident than in any previous derby I've witnessed. Rightly so, as it transpired, yet despite some clowns calling MUTV after the match and savaging United's efforts, the vanquished players in red will take encouragement from their performance ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford on Wednesday. As will City, who will be backed by 9,000 fans in what will hopefully be a trouble-free occasion with a brilliant, partisan atmosphere. Given the strength of both sides, the controversial Old Trafford derby in September and the gripping game last week, the ingredients are all there for an absolute classic. The Manchester derby is finally living up to its billing for the first time in decades. Andy Mitten is an author and editor of United We Stand. This article is published on both the City and United pages of www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk


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