'Small club' aim to knock Fergie off his perch

Hughes insists City will overtake rivals because 'these things go in cycles' but United's manager 'ain't bovvered'.

When plain Alex Ferguson arrived in English football from Aberdeen in 1986, "knocking Liverpool off their perch" (with an expletive or two deleted) was his long-term aim for Manchester United.

It took six or seven years to accomplish and ever since, his own club have been the ones in everyone else's sights; Jose Mourinho's Chelsea left them hanging on by their claws, but found in a resilient United something more than a dead parrot. Now, closer to home, the Manchester blue variety have designs on that perch.

City would do well to keep a sense of perspective, which is a quality admittedly difficult to maintain given the events of the past couple of years. Normal timescales, like normal financial parameters, no longer seem to apply. Spending £200m in a year – possibly more, as few people seem to know either how much Carlos Tevez cost or where the money went – does not encourage either perspective or patience and nor does a run of five successive wins to start the season, let alone victory in a friendly away to the European champions, Barcelona.

Even the manager, Mark Hughes, as composed as any man could be in the heady atmosphere of Eastlands, was to be heard at times on Friday looking way beyond this afternoon's Manchester derby to the possibility of greater glory, before attempting to check himself. He might have been wiser, for instance, to resist a question about dethroning United, rather than merely beating them once or twice, but could not quite manage to do so.

"I think these things go in cycles," he replied. "I was a Manchester United player when Liverpool dominated. It was very difficult to overcome them because they had the mindset and winning mentality. It's a different era, but who knows? Let's hope it's us that changes it, because it will change. It's a huge challenge. They've been successful over a significant period of football history and to be able to overcome them – or maybe change the make-up of the Premier League – is a challenge in itself.

"To be able to do that you have to be able to overcome teams like Manchester United. The fact that they're in the city – well, not quite – it's important for us they're there and it's great they are because they're the benchmark and if we get anywhere near them we've done really well."

In the circumstances, United supporters might say the same applies to this afternoon's game at Old Trafford. It has come at a bad time for City, mocked for having collected strikers like Panini stickers but finding Craig Bellamy the only one fully fit and available today. Tevez may just win a place among the substitutes, depending on how well his knee has responded to yesterday's training session. Emmanuel Adebayor (pictured below), keeping the Football Association's disciplinary department busy with his reprehensible antics against Arsenal last weekend, is missing and the best Hughes can hope for is to use his suspension as a motivational tool, trying to convince the squad that as well as the world not being enough, the world is now against them.

"Given the week we've gone through, from a motivational point of view any words I use have to have more motivation," he said. "We've had a difficult week and we sense that people outside are trying to speak about us in a negative way, so you can use that to our benefit."

Amid all City's excitement, it was reassuring to hear a young player like Micah Richards attempting to bring some perspective when he said: "I don't think at their place we are the favourites. We have players to match them but they have been a unit for the past how many years? Arsenal, Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea have had the same players for five years. We have bought a brand-new team in the last year. We have shown we can win games but it takes time to gel. We have the players to be an unstoppable side but we aren't there yet."

A first trophy of any description would be an important step, as Hughes well knows, having played such a crucial role in Ferguson's first for United, the 1990 FA Cup. "You're always bonded together as a group if you win something together and that collective spirit is something that can sustain you when things go wrong over periods of a season or in a game," Hughes said.

Barely a mile away at United's training headquarters, however, his former mentor was adopting an attitude of studied indifference. If his taste in comedy stretches as far as Catherine Tate, he could have borrowed her recalcitrant schoolgirl's "Am I bovvered?" catchphrase. For Ferguson, matches against Liverpool are still the real derbies and if he has long ago knocked them off their perch as promised, they have at least remained a threat.

In contrast City have been able to look down on United at the end of a season only once since 1978 and even then (1991, see panel above) they did not have to look far. Ferguson has labelled the new (or nouveau) City "cocky" and, when they got under his skin with Tevez banners reading "Welcome to Manchester" this summer, he famously categorised them as "a small club with a small mentality".

On Friday he was equally dismissive, even about the level of their spending: "It's not unusual because it has been done before. Chelsea did it, Sunderland did it back in the Fifties, the 'Bank of England club', and got relegated. It happens. With the kind of wealth people have today they want to own football clubs. I think you will see more of that. More clubs will go in the same direction. I have heard some stories of big clubs being willing to sell to Middle East groups and there is a trend in that."

Was he envious of their spending power in the summer? Hardly, when United had picked up £80m from Cristiano Ronaldo's transfer. "No, I have got my squad. I could have bought someone at £52m [Karim Benzema or Franck Ribéry] but I didn't think anyone was worth it. I didn't think it was a good time to buy because of what happened over the Ronaldo fee."

As to City's supposed new prominence in the English football firmament: "You can't get any bigger than playing Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. This doesn't make any difference. It is a game in which three points are important to us. We need to go on a run now. Consistency has to be the name of the game for us. We lost a game to Burnley and we don't want to lose any more."

The little that he would concede was that United's immediate neighbours should continue to improve, as they managed to do in the second half of last season from an admittedly low starting point – the bottom three at Christmas. "They've spent some money and had a good start to the season so you would expect a challenge from them," Ferguson said. "That is what they expect themselves, I'm sure of that. They would not have been spending that money without getting a dividend and the only dividend you can get is winning a trophy. That is the name of the game. I was asked the other day whether they are capable of getting into the top four. I don't think that really matters. To be number one in the country is the main thing. That is what we have to do. Whether it's City or Crewe Alexandra, you have to be number one."

That is a harsh judgement, as fourth place now brings a prize of its own and is therefore considered something to aim at, at least for those many clubs who have been unable to break into the current quartet. After 30 years of hurt, the more rational City followers talk of the top six and perhaps a Champions' League place; if Tottenham can do so, they feel equally entitled to.

Today will not, however, be the day to judge them, even if United are inclined to do so. It would appear that Bellamy will have to play on his own, with Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stephen Ireland and Martin Petrov supporting from behind. Even a cameo from Tevez would be interesting, though Ferguson predicts a harsh reception for him and says of his departure from Old Trafford: "I'm not bothered about it. Believe me, I'm not the slightest bit worried about it. It happens and you can't keep all of the players all the time, that was proved with Cristiano."

Old-timers like Mike Summerbee claim "we're now as good as United", which was true of his time and beyond – from, say, 1967 to 1978 – but has never been the case since. For all the Middle East millions, there is much still to do, and eyeing up United should not be a priority. As anyone who has ever cleaned the bottom of a cage can testify, looking upwards at a perch can have messy consequences.

A game of two halves

2008-09: City: 10th United 1st

City 0 United 1; United 2 City 0

2007-08: City: 9th United 1st

City 1 United 0; United 1 City 2

2006-07: City: 14th United:1st

City 0 United 1; United 3 City 1

2005-06: City: 15th United: 2nd

City 3 United 1; United 1 City 1

2004-05: City: 8th United: 3rd

City 0 United 2; United 0 City 0

2003-04: City:16th United: 3rd

City 4 United 1; United 3 City 1

2002-03: City: 9th United: 1st

City 3 United 1; United 1 City 1

Last seven seasons:

Played 14, City won 5, United won 6, drawn 3. Overall: Played 140, City won 37, United won 55, drawn 48. Last time City finished above United in League: 1990-91 (5th/6th). League titles: City 2, United 18.FA Cups: City 4, United 11. League Cups: City 2, United 3. European trophies: City 1, United 4.

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own