By accident more than design, Manchester City timed things rather excellently yesterday when they chose the eve of their biggest league derby in over 40 years to call Carlos Tevez to account.
The view within football was that the striker's disciplinary hearing should have been held 48 hours earlier so as not to overshadow tomorrow's occasion, but this felt like City doing things their way and beginning to cast off Sir Alex Ferguson's cast-off once and for all. It was a club standing on two feet, putting all that "Welcome to Manchester" baloney in the past, along with the old United obsessions. No better time to do it than the weekend they walk into Old Trafford as the league leaders.
In a build-up marked yesterday by some extraordinary managerial courtesies, Micah Richards was the one most worth listening to when he spoke of the significance of also dispensing with that City bête noire – the Old Trafford "35 Years" [since winning a trophy] banner. "To be honest, it was more our fans who got worked up about that banner," Richards said. "United now know, much as they won't say it, we are a genuine threat. To get that banner taken down is quality. We have got the last laugh."
The stakes are so high and the risk of hubris so great that it was difficult to discern how sincere either manager was amid their mutual appreciation yesterday.
The Italian, who reaches his 100th game in charge of City tomorrow, was more convincing when locating a deficit between his own side and that of the manager 23 years his senior. It is 43 days since Mancini declared United to be "two yards ahead" of City and yesterday he said this could only partially be revised down. "Now it's one yard," he said. "United over City – it's one yard now because we've worked very well and reduced the gap."
United remained the better club because of an amorphous quality he did not entirely define but which was located in that fabled psychological rigour Ferguson instils in his players. "United is United," was how Mancini defined it. "It is like a team that every year wins something. I think when one team every year continues to win it is normal to be there [ahead of the rest]. United has one thing that we don't have yet: when they play badly they win the game. We are missing that."Reuse content