The Manchester Derby: The "Big Five"
It has become a cliché that the evolution of modern telecommunications—from the telegraph to the telephone to satellites to the Web—has increasingly brought people closer together. Many activities that were once possible only when individuals were in relatively close physical proximity to one another have now entered the virtual realm.
Today, people can engage in various pursuits, or a remarkable simulacrum of them, whether they breathe the same oxygen or are thousands of miles apart.
Two such British clubs are, although physically within a stone's throw, yet miles apart in the footballing world are Manchester City and Manchester United.
But this season, there's been something different about Eastlands, something more constructive, although that concreteness comes with a touch of absurdity. For Hughes, breaking into the top four in the Premier League would imply replacing either Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Liverpool.
I believe out of the "big four", the most likely to finish fifth this season will be Arsenal.
Last weekend brought a lot of issues to the table. If cash guaranteed success, competing with Man City in the long-term is perhaps an unreasonable expectation then for Arsene Wenger.
Although the pessimists religiously & regularly criticize Wenger's youth policy, it's inevitable that most people will come to the conclusion that there is a lack of balance in his philosophy and inability to adapt to compete in the age of the Abu Dhabi group; however, he is a man of such intelligence that you would be naive to suggest he doesn't realise the shortcomings of his transfer strategy.
In an age in which football—like every other sport—is having its course dictated by commercial business, you can only admire a man of pure intentions and principles and Arsene Wenger has made it abundantly clear he is against big business 'corrupting' football.
Instead, he is more concerned with maintaining a stable, recession-proof economic policy. Playing it safe. But slow and steady only wins the race for a Europa Cup spot today.
And that is why there is growing belief that the penny-saver menu signings are nothing more than a fail-safe, to hide behind the guise of financial responsibility and youth development as an excuse for any potential failure, while snatching the likes of Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott would put the onus squarely on the manager to deliver success immediately.
That is the exact same position Mark Hughes now finds himself in; however, believe what you will, but don't believe it's unfair, don't believe there is no money and don't believe that Arsenal's decline from magical to a little mediocre is anyone's fault but the club's.
For a man who coaches his players with such passion and belief to take risks and go out to win, it is nothing short of a shame for football that he cannot take that same mentality into the boardroom. There is a reason Real Madrid head-hunted the Frenchman this summer. It wasn't the first time and may not even be the last, as he is a man universally recognised as embracing a special brand of football and nurturing top talent.
Man City were still some distance away from becoming a major force in the Premier League before the summer. Admitted, with money comes great power and years of barrenness can be washed away by a single fountain of liquid asset and City do have a great squad but does cracking the Top Four jackpot appear a little too far-fetched for Mark Hughes' side?
Not for me...
It would be ignorant of English football to ignore the fact that the Premier League may well have a "big five" on the horizon, although it's early in the season, what was proved against Arsenal is that the Citizens have what it takes to knock the Gunners off a Champions League spot.
The last time Mark Hughes was quoted on the subject he said he would be happy to win the Carling Cup, a disarmingly modest ambition though not necessarily one to send John Terry's pulse racing as seen during the last transfer window. Yet City do want to be playing at United's level, entering the Champions League every year and putting silverware on the sideboard more seasons than not.
And alas, now is the time for Manchester City to prove that very thing to the world when they compete with Manchester United this Sunday in the Manchester Derby. United have conceded goals and been on the receiving end of double wins handed out by City before but to overcome Alex Ferguson's side this weekend would be of much greater importance, significance and intent given last weekends result (pun intended).
Following the game, you would be forgiven in believing Manchester City didn't win last weekends match. The headlines prioritised Adebayor's stamp on former team mates and irregular goal celebration rather than the scoreline.
Personally, I can't ride the critical bandwagon on Emmanuel's actions. I don't condone violent or improper conduct but only he knows of the abuse he received that Saturday afternoon and the events leading up to that match.
To score against your old club who mistreated you and sold you behind your back, former friends refusing to shake your hand before kick-off and supporters making their opinions heard, it must have been a huge surge of emotion for the man to hide his true feelings so I don't condemn what he did regarding his goal taunting.
One thing Manchester United have condemned though is the blue Carlos Tevez poster in the city centre with the slogan "Welcome To Manchester." In fact, both managers previews of the Manchester Derby have been discussions on everything except the actual game.
City will be without £100 million of strikers come Sunday through either injury or in Ade's case, banned from playing.
Whatever the outcome, at 4 PM(GMT) this Sunday, things may well be more non-fiction than sci-fi.
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