The Manchester City winger Adam Johnson has raised the stakes ahead of tomorrow's derby by claiming that Manchester United will be made to regret their decision to allow Carlos Tevez to leave Old Trafford last summer and move to the blue half of the city.
The Argentine forward left United when it became apparent the club would not approve the £25m fee required to negotiate a new contract with the player.
"What Carlos has done this season is to prove everybody wrong," said Johnson, himself a recent arrival at Eastlands, having joined from Middlesbrough in January. "He has had his critics but when it comes down to it, football is about winning and Carlos is a winner.
"Probably looking at his situation now, any team would regret selling a player of his quality," added Johnson. "I am sure Carlos would swap all of his goals this season to score the winner against United on Saturday."
If it does finish up with Tevez dragging out a shin-pad with his daughter's name written on it as he did when finding the net against Birmingham last weekend it will be a far more significant image than the "Welcome to Manchester" poster the club unveiled – much to Sir Alex Ferguson's disgust – when he exchanged Old Trafford for Eastlands last summer. Not since the Sixties were turning into the Seventies have the two sides of Manchester been so close. And the England hopeful is sure that Tevez will make the difference. "He has become a stronger player and tried harder to prove a point," said Johnson, "and he has definitely done that."
The points that Johnson has proved this season are many. He grew up in Easington, the pit village where Billy Elliott was filmed. A campaign that began with him in a relegated Boro side facing a long slog through the Championship and which might now finish in a World Cup final in Johannesburg has something of that quality. He admits that with one year on his contract at the Riverside, he thought he would move on. "And after three or four months in the Championship, I did long to play Premier League football again."
At the age of 19, he had been linked with a move to Real Madrid during Juande Ramos' brief, unsuccessful spell at the Bernabeu. "There was a lot of talk about Madrid. Ramos was the manager and he liked me but he was only there until the end of the season and the board were not going to buy players if they were not going to keep him on," he said. "Obviously, I was flattered by the speculation. Things like that gave me confidence and it would have been a once-in-a-lifetime move."
Manchester City will never be Real Madrid, no matter what their chief executive, Garry Cook, might boast, but they were not a bad substitute, even to the extent that Johnson rejected a move to Sunderland, the club he had grown up supporting. They could offer him the thrill of playing in a red-and-white shirt but not Champions League football. It was a wonderful, last-minute equaliser that dipped into the top of the Sunderland net last month that showed he had arrived at City.
Three months in to his time at Eastlands, Johnson confesses to being comfortable among the light blues of Manchester. "I feel I have been here years," he said. "I love the way we play and that we have got the possibility of Champions League football. Deep down, I always knew that playing with better players would rub off on me. I'd like to think I have the confidence to take the next step up because City have given me a wonderful platform.
"The comments Mr Capello has made about me have given me a real boost. The World Cup is a one-off tournament but I like to think I will do well. I have a big game on Saturday to justify his praise."
Ahead of the derby City's manager, Roberto Mancini, was eager to talk up his side's attacking threat, and insisted that his players will pose a threat at Eastlands, whoever the opponent.
"We know that it is vital we have a good goal difference because that could possibly decide who finishes in fourth place," Mancini said. "We have been scoring a few goals in recent weeks, which is good. There is no reason we cannot continue to keep scoring if we play in the manner we have been of late, no matter the opposition.
The Italian also hopes that United's top scorer, Wayne Rooney, will be fit for the game, despite the threat he poses to the City defence.
"I think it is better if Rooney plays on Saturday," Mancini said. "He is a fantastic player and has had an amazing season. He will be a danger, of course, but we have beaten United once at home already and can do it again.
Mancini has been fined £20,000, suspended until the end of next season, after being found guilty of improper conduct, the Football Association has announced. The Italian was charged following City's game against Everton at Eastlands last month when he clashed with his Toffees counterpart, David Moyes.Reuse content