Ferguson's swipe fails to rile City

Hughes stays calm after Tevez poster provokes angry Manchester United reaction
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The Independent Football

Manchester City were baffled yesterday by Sir Alex Ferguson's latest extraordinary attack on them and their ambitions, with manager Mark Hughes pointing out that the Carlos Tevez billboard campaign which has so angered the Manchester United manager was a harmless "bit of fun between fans" in just the same spirit as the Stretford End banner which taunts City for their lack of trophies.

"Sir Alex Ferguson is a man I hold the utmost regard for and he is fully entitled to his opinions," said Hughes, who has spent the last week on tour in South Africa fielding questions about Ferguson's pot-shots at City and their £25.5m Tevez deal. "The poster is in a similar vein to the banner at Old Trafford which counts the time span [33 years] since City's last trophy. We are glad it's got so many people talking."

The campaign also prompted Ferguson to declare, in an interview in the Far East, that City are "stupid", a "small club with a small mentality" and that "all they can talk about is Manchester United." He declared that City's "biggest success of all is to just get the players there. They might not get beyond that." Goodness knows what his press conference ahead of the September 20 Old Trafford derby will yield.

Hughes countered that he was "very happy with the transfer business we have concluded this summer and the players we have recruited are as excited as I am about the season ahead."

The posters were a subject of discussion at the City team hotel in Durban early last week, as was the way one City fans' site has recreated the billboard with an image of Michael Owen on crutches and the words "Welcome to Stretford". Talk also turned to United fans' attempts to deface a Tevez poster by throwing red paint at it, which City view as an inevitable response considering the rivalry.

But Ferguson, whose venom is usually reserved for those who threaten him, viewed things differently. City executive chairman Garry Cook was aware as early as Friday that the United manager had delivered an explosive attack on City, though the Scot's tone was evidently not quite so strident when the two men sat beside each other in March at a Manchester town hall dinner to mark Bobby Charlton's freedom of the city. City's ambitions apparently did crop up in their conversation but Cook emerged impressed. He told The Independent, last Friday, that "I respect that man probably more than anyone else in football."

It is one of Cook's most fundamental concerns that City should keep their local fanbase with them as they seek to become a global force ("be relevant globally, connected locally" is how he always puts it) which is why he sanctioned the mischievous campaign, which is in keeping with those developed by the Grey London advertising agency for City in the past and plays to City fans' notion that theirs is Manchester's indigenous club. "This is our City", "Greater Manchester" and "Pure Manchester" have been the messages on previous billboards.

Cook insists that his club have spent too long worrying about how they match up to United and that they must no longer do so. Speaking before publication of the Ferguson interview, he told The Independent: "We don't need to compare ourselves to Manchester United and Chelsea. Having lived in the shadows of Manchester United, you can see this competitive balance where we've always got to be better than them.

"Well actually, we've just got to be better ourselves first and that will lead us to a better place. Sometimes – and I grew up with this in the Nike world [where he worked before moving to City] – if you worry about your competitor, sometimes you can take your eye off what it is you want to be. We are trying to define ourselves before we define what we want to be compared to somebody else."

Ferguson also claimed that the representatives of Emmanuel Adebayor attempted to hawk him to United and Chelsea before he moved to City for £25m. Adebayor declined to discuss the issue on Thursday night. "I don't want to dwell on that any more," he said. "I've signed for Man City but people will be thinking why did I sign? It was the way they approached me and the way they showed me their ambition. This club wants to be one of the biggest in the world."

Though Tevez's "Welcome to Manchester" has been a warm one, it is still unclear whether he will make his debut in the friendly at Barnsley on Saturday, having missed City's pre-season tour with a bruised heel. It is unclear how Tevez sustained the injury though he did fall over in the shower in his hotel room while on tour and this is understood to have caused him ankle trouble, though the damage is not thought to be serious.