Manchester City's Nigel de Jong, a midfielder who expressed astonishment when he first arrived in Manchester seven months ago that none of the local taxi drivers seemed to belong to the red fraternity, has declared that Carlos Tevez's symbolic move from Old Trafford demonstrates how his side can supplant United as the dominant force in the city.
De Jong's manager, Mark Hughes, continues to conduct himself with dignity here, in the face of the barbs Sir Alex Ferguson tosses his way from United's travels through the Far East, and though the audiences City are commanding in South Africa's Vodacom Challenge pale by comparison with the sell-outs United attracted in the same tournament last year, De Jong said Tevez's decision to reject wage parity with Rio Ferdinand and Dimitar Berbatov in favour of a move to City speaks louder than all of the Ferguson catcalling.
"The city is blue already. I was amazed by that," De Jong said. "But now also on the expectation side and performance side, it can be blue, too. Manchester City are making a point that nothing is impossible. We can buy whoever we want and just go for the best players in the league and compete. I hope we can be the dominant team."
The combative defensive midfielder, who followed Vincent Kompany to Eastlands from Hamburg, bore the nickname Rasenmäher – lawnmower – back in Germany, in recognition of his ability to chop down everything in front of him.
But in the past he's not had much success in mowing Emmanuel Adebayor, who is expected to play some part in Johannesburg on Saturday against the winner of today's match between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs, and De Jong is palpably relieved to be playing with him now rather than against him.
De Jong winces at the recent memory of facing the Togo international. "I played against him with Ajax, and with Hamburg in the [pre-season] Emirates Cup last season. He can protect the ball really well. We know his qualities."
Adebayor has scored four times in his last three games against City, netting both of Arsenal's goals in a 2-0 win on his return from injury in April and two more, plus an assist for Eduardo, when the Gunners breezed to victory at Eastlands in February 2008, as Sven Goran Eriksson's regime began to unravel.
De Jong has his work cut out establishing himself in a midfield strengthened by Gareth Barry, though reports yesterday that City might be interested in Liverpool's Xabi Alonso are well wide of the mark.
The 24-year-old is one of life's survivors though, raised in the tough Surinamese immigrant community of Amsterdam-West. His father, Jerry, a full-back at PSV Eindhoven with three caps for the Netherlands, was absent and his mother, Marja, had prolonged kidney problems. "I was small, four or five. It's a part of life but she's OK now," said De Jong, who remains an ambassador for a Dutch kidney foundation.
Moving to Manchester has been a retrograde step for De Jong in one sense, the forthcoming campaign being the first in seven years that he has not been playing in European competition. "In my seven years of professional football I have played in European football and now I don't. That frustrates me to be honest," he declared. "On the other side, everybody is hungry and will be fitter for other challenges." Like breaking up the old red hegemony in Manchester.
Meanwhile, Tevez may return from the pre-season tour of South Africa without having played any competitive football, with his bruised heel threatening to rule him out of the final match on Saturday.Reuse content