Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, declared yesterday that his side are now “the best team in Manchester” but, in another wounding statement for the club they share a city with, reflected that: “It's not important to beat United twice or beat Chelsea, it's only important to win a championship in the end.”
There was consolation for United when the gulf in the global reach of the two Manchester clubs was revealed yesterday through a new £12m-a-year Nike kit sponsorship deal for City, which is less than the £23.5m the Old Trafford club command from the same company. The figure, which reflects how early City are on their trajectory towards worldwide brand recognition, is also less than Arsenal's £13m-a-year 10-year deal with Nike. Neither is City's new six-year deal, from the start of the 2013-14 season, in the same bracket as Liverpool 's £25m Warrior deal which starts this year, or Chelsea's £20m Adidas deal. But it is a substantial increase on the £6m-a-year contract with Umbro, which is owned by Nike, and has been the supplier for the past four years.
City's ascent to the top of the Premier League in place of United left both managers reflecting on pivotal games, though Mancini declared that the 3-2 third-round FA Cup defeat in January, rather than the 6-1 Old Trafford annihilation of last October, allowed his players to know they had crossed a psychological frontier. "When we won 6-1, that game was easy," Mancini said. "But the FA Cup was really important. We [had] 10 players after 10 minutes but recovered the game and had a chance to score a third goal. United didn't have a shot in the second half with 11 players. I think that game was important in changing our mentality against them."
It was also the game when Sir Alex Ferguson accused Vincent Kompany, the dismissed player, of being a dangerous tackler – a comment which so agitated Mancini that he privately vowed to beat United to the title in the Etihad derby. Such a coronation must wait, though Mancini – suddenly speaking with profound confidence – agreed with Ferguson's assessment that the title will be theirs if they win an extremely difficult match at Newcastle United tomorrow lunchtime. "I agree. Probably. He has more experience than me. If he said it like that, I agree with him," Mancini said.
The residual fear of thousands of City fans since before last Monday is that their team would beat United and then lapse into "typical City" mode and lose this weekend. "I don't think it's typical City now," Mancini said. "In the last two or three years Manchester City have improved a lot but, I repeat, it changes nothing. We've showed we are clearly a good team but, as I've always said, it's important to be at the top when the championship is finished because only this position is important to us. We are here because we want to do this. We've known that for two years. It can be very close but until it's in your hands you don't have it."
Mancini, who declared goalkeeper Joe Hart would be fit to play, said that Carlos Tevez had been absent from Thursday night's player of the year awards, in which Sergio Aguero took the main prize, because "he had a problem with his daughter at home." The Italian had resolved his touchline dispute with Ferguson immediately and shared a glass of wine with him on Monday. And he would not turn to his religious faith for success this weekend. "We are Italian, we have a lot of superstitions!" he said. "I pray always, every day, but not for the game. I pray for me and my family, for life in general. But not for this."
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