Despite Alex Ferguson admitting concern over a resurgent Manchester City, he must have only envisaged Tuesday night’s Carling Cup semi-final result in his worst nightmares.
Ferguson is a man known for his ferocious pride, and two goals from the rejected Carlos Tevez must have eaten up the 68 year-old more than the 2-1 defeat; a score-line that leaves his United side well in with a chance of reaching the final.
Of course, the journos and critics will set the hyperbole meter to 11 and you’ll hear a lot over the next few days about a changing of the guard at the top of the English game, with City on the way up and United on the slide. Ferguson shouldn’t worry about that just yet: City have a way to go till they scale the heights that United have over the past two decades and if they don’t finish in the top 4 this season – a not unlikely scenario, although they are well in the race – then you can put their ascent back another year, 6 months at the least.
As comparison, Tuesday’s game was reminiscent of the League Cup semi-final between Arsenal and Tottenham two years ago, as a side that had lived in the shadow of their more successful rivals came through to win the day. Similarly, there was a feeling –perhaps not so pronounced as the City/United atmosphere – that Spurs were on the up and may catch a misfiring Arsenal. Juande Ramos had recently joined to some fanfare and piloted Spurs on a good run of form, culminating in the Carling Cup success at the end of the season. Arsenal, on the other hand, were said to be short of cash after the opening of their new stadium and the fighting in the second leg of that game between team-mates Nicklas Bendtner and William Gallas was met with inevitable glee by Spurs fans who thought they were witnessing a turning of the tide.
Fast forward 2 years and Arsenal are challenging for the league title and Spurs sit in 4th place, improved after the disastrous Ramos era, but still apparently a distance from overtaking their rivals. Financially, the Manchester situation may be somewhat more polarised, but the difference in spending in North London is also apparent. The fact that Manchester United and Arsenal both have long-term managers should also be a fillip to Ferguson, having seen countless bosses from other clubs fall by the wayside over the years without being able to challenge his dominance. The one who has come closest – other than, arguably, Jose Mourinho – is of course Wenger.
Comparing the two rivals is a precarious route to take, but the precedent shows that these type of games don’t always signal that a revolution is on the way. United may be in oodles of debt whilst City lord it over a Scrooge McDuck-style pile of cash, but would it be a massive surprise if Ferguson managed to keep his team at the sharp end of things? Or if equally affluent owners came in and replaced the Glazers at Old Trafford? For all the accountancy spread-sheets, nothing has changed yet: the trophies still sit in United’s cabinet.