Paul Vallely: Across the city, fans feel a shift in the balance of power

"Where were you when you were shit," Man Utd fans chanted the last time Man City played at Old Trafford.

The grammar was ambiguous but the accusation was clear enough: the ranks of the City supporters have been augmented by fair-weather fans since the gushings of Arab oil wealth allowed Manchester's second team to buy a raft of players of the calibre to mount a serious challenge to their cross-town rivals.

The chant was, for all its chippiness, a tacit acknowledgement that something significant has shifted in the psycho-geography of Mancunian culture in recent times. City, once regarded by United supporters as a comic irritant, have become a potent threat to the primacy of Old Trafford.

Today's derby is widely regarded in the city as the most important for some considerable time – or "ever" to succumb to the hyperbole of the local fanzine chatrooms. Victory for City could secure their grip on a place in Europe's top-flight next season; for United a win would keep their slipping Premier League hopes alive. But there is more to it than that.

Nor is this merely a case of the added needle brought to the fixture by the defection of that whirlwind of a striker, Carols Tevez, and the provocative "Welcome to Manchester" poster which City erected to mark the Argentine's arrival from United. A firm of bookies this week have tried to rekindle the outrage/glee that provoked with a new double-headed knocking-copy poster, in the teeth of attempts by the police to lower the temperature with a 2-mile alcohol exclusion zone around the ground and pre-match warnings to Tevez and his hot-tempered opponent Gary Neville after their previous on-pitch spats.

No, what has seized fans on both sides is a sense that the old balance is shifting. The patronage of City's new Abu Dhabi owners – said to own some nine per cent of the world's remaining oil reserves – is finally bearing fruit with the club clearly determined to spend whatever it takes to turn City into serious title challengers next season.

By contrast, United, who can look pretty ordinary when Wayne Rooney is injured, have four key players aged 35 or over, a mountain of debt inhibiting big spending to replace them, Ronaldo and Tevez, and a manager whose retirement looms. City are in the ascendancy and United feel on the cusp before decline, in a sport where momentum counts a lot.

Old stereotypes are being inverted. City, whose boast has always been that they were the real Mancs by contrast with a United fan-base which stretches from Highgate to Hong Kong, are now looking like a bunch of cosmopolitan galacticos with a management bent on challenging the international marketing machine which has been built round Old Trafford. By contrast United, ironically, have a larger number of home-grown players. And while Tevez is the finest of mercenaries, Rooney exudes the dedication of a fan in his commitment and naive enthusiasm. For many the world in Manchester feels on the brink of turning upside down.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week