Stephen McGovern is the Content Manager for The Final Third podcast. He’s also a student journalist who has written this piece about the growing gulf – pun firmly intended – between oil-rich Manchester City, and cultural capital-rich Manchester United.
Instead of living in Ferguson’s shadow at Old Trafford, Guardiola can blaze a trail in Eastlands.
Manchester City have always lived in the shadow of their United counterparts. Even when the Sky Blues have been successful, they have toiled under the ever eclipsing Red Devils. When they won the league in 1968, United won the European Cup. When they won the Third Division in 1999, a not so insignificant moment for the club’s future, United won the treble. But the times they are a changin’.
When Manchester City announced that Josep Guardiola would be their new manager come the 2016/17 season, it demonstrated the growing gulf now appearing between them and Manchester United. Pep could have picked any club on earth, including the supposed “Biggest Team In The World©”. Undoubtedly, United made enquiries as to his willingness to replace Louis van Gaal it would be silly not to and would have been ready to offer him a monstrous contract. Add to that the fact that United has a history of producing young talent, attracting top players and winning; Pep has a history of working with clubs that boast much the same thing. On paper then, it looks a dead certainty he would be moving to another team in red.
In reality – and United won’t want to believe it – they had zero chance of landing arguably the greatest coach of this or any generation. Maybe 1% if you round up. In 2012, Man City approached Guardiola to take over. He instead plumped for Bayern Munich, a club on the cusp of their fifth European Cup trophy, boasting a superb squad comprised of established stars like Arjen Robben and exciting upandcomers like David Alaba. Some called it the “easy move”, now a common refrain in light of this week, but in truth it wasn’t the right time to go there. Now City are not just a team that should win titles, but have and can.
After that two things happened: Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and Man City went about building for the future. As manager they hired Manuel Pellegrini, a capable placeholder with an impressive resumé and the ability to build on what Roberto Mancini had achieved at the club. However, a more significant signing in October of that year; it was that of Aitor “Txiki” Begiristain as sporting director.
Txiki is a former Spanish footballer who won the European Cup with Barcelona in 1992. In retirement he became the director of football at La Blaugranas; he oversaw the club’s most successful period in history, between 2003 and 2010. Another ex-colleague of Pep’s, Ferran Soriano, was subsequently hired. Following Mancini’s sacking, the club expressly sought to “develop a holistic approach”. The terminology was jarring, especially for a club backed by oil rich Qatar, which is something both clubs have in common funnily enough. But the objective was clear: be like Barça.
While City have been busy trying to replicate Barcelona, Man United appear to be putting on their best Real Madrid impression. Spending big on transfers because they can, building the ‘brand’, an ever more influential Jorge Mendes, and haphazard decisions that make little sense. All the pieces are there.
Recently The Times revealed that Man United’s head of youth development had resigned from his post, disillusioned with the current state of the academy. Some have said that United’s youth players get less that 10 hours contact time a week, whereas City’s receiveover 30.I spoke to an FAI official last year who told me that contact time was the key factor in successfully developing young players. Meanwhile, a number of former United players have enrolled their children in City’s academy, which says all there needs to be said.
Man City have built a £200 million academy , while United’s Carrington training ground once the envy of every club in England has been been criticised in some quarters for being outdated. With spending on academies uncapped by Financial Fair Play regulations, City are going all out.
City are not producing homegrown first team players even at the rate United currently are; they have yet to start a single English player developed by the club. This is a fairly natural for a newly rich club. Acquiring already established players in order to break into the elite level. This was the Chelsea model following Roman Abramovich’s purchase of the London side. (The Blues are now in a position where they could easily blood academy products, but forsome reason rarely do). Man City already have the buying power, but imagine if The Citizens were able to produce their own superstars too.
United fans have hit back at their bourgeois cousins with claims that their club is not only more successful and always will be, apparently, but possesses a far greater identity too. Class of ‘92 and all that. City have only built this new identity as champions based on money. They casually forget the fact that Ferguson won his first league title with the most expensively assembled squad in English football at that point. He also repeatedly broke the British transfer record during his tenure there.
Unfortunately for them, United’s ‘identity’ is fading fast they don’t have the best academy, or the most money, and they don’t play the socalled “United Way”. They can’t even win anything anymore. United are still in the FA Cup and still in contention for the league, theoretically, at least. However, if United failed to win any silverware this year, it would only the fourth time since the Second World War that the club has gone three consecutive seasons without a major trophy.
At some point in the not-so-distant future, they won’t even be able to call themselves the biggest club in Manchester, let alone the world. It’s almost as if City are taunting them. “That’s right, we’re going to take your money, your trophies, your records, and your relevance.” Pep’s signing isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, dig they get in on their rivals.
Man United will probably dig themselves out of this hole, dust themselves off and start over, but if they don’t, that hole will start to resemble a crater.