If footballing hell does exist, then come next Saturday in Manchester, the devil won’t be red, he’ll be blue, waving an inflatable banana and wearing a shark’s mask.
In the grim wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, the glory years have been replaced with tepid mediocrity and a style of football played by three managers that in all honesty could drag a yawn from a statue. Trophies, albeit not the major ones, two domestic and the Europa League cup have still been won, but even the most red-eyed (and they’re out there) would have to admit, the expected drop off after Ferguson has definitely occurred.
Come Saturday evening, a crazy 5-30 kick-off, (good luck with that GMP) the fall from the stars may well hit the floor.
In what is undoubtedly the biggest derby for a generation, all that is left for United to play for is delay City’s inevitable triumph for a week or so and lay down a marker for next season.
For the present gap in points that exists between the two clubs is simply unacceptable. Sergio Aguero’s 2012 title winning goal, whilst always a dagger in the heart, came at least with utter, unrelenting breath-taking drama, when Manchester United fought until the last.
Though sick to the stomach you took it on the chin and knew no one would be hurting more than Ferguson, and that he would, sure as night followed day, ensure the following season United came back fighting.
Cue Robin Van Persie and a 20th title.
Currently, at Old Trafford, I’m not certain they hurt hard enough, both players and staff. That itself an indictment when you consider the passion of the supporters. Many, whose lives revolve around following United home and away. Marriages, kids, friendships, suffer, even lost for the sake of a scarlet ribbon and keeping the red flag flying high.
As for the derby itself, there’s no coach better than Jose Mourinho in world football at setting a team up for a one-off match. To spoil and hit on the break. So many times, Mourinho has achieved this against all odds notably with Porto, Chelsea and Inter. Come kick-off at the Etihad, I expect him to have United ready in a similar vein.
To do all in his power ensuring Manchester City’s title winning triumph against their greatest rivals from across town turns into a damp squib. Because, let’s face it, Mourinho’s tactics can darken the sun when required. The arguments raging on whether he’s the right man to lead United in the coming years against Guardiola’s City will continue between Manchester United supporters. Many reluctant to over-criticise, for when considering what went on previous with David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, second place and two trophies is not to be sniffed at.
However, the recent home debacle against Seville losing 2-1 in a shameful performance, lacking tactical nous, courage and any type of passion, definitely caused a shift in the debate, with many finally coming out screaming the point that Mourinho is the wrong fit.
Events at the Etihad may well strengthen those claiming this Portuguese man ‘o’ ‘dirty wars’, this supposedly dark lord of the arts is the antichrist to the mystical ‘Manchester United way’.
A footballing philosophy totally alien to Mourinho. He’s never going to change. There’s more chance on Saturday night of both sets of supporters joining hands and singing ‘‘Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs.’’
There will be many reds whom simply won’t be watching this derby, due to what’s at stake. Others, with the late kick off simply happy in the haze of a red drunken hour. Praying that pride and a small touch of the United magic that these players do possess, if, if they’re let off the leash by their coach, shows itself.
I don’t think it will be pretty, when is it ever these days, but can see Mourinho making life bearable. At least for another week or so.
And heaven knows I’m miserable now…..
John Ludden: Dad: writer: books, screenplays, stageplays. My ‘Once Upon a Time in Naples’ is the basis for the upcoming ‘El Diego’ Maradona film. All work enquiries @Johnludds
Pic Credit: Phil Noble