By Allan Valente
Time has an invariable habit of changing things. Some people use it as a healer, while others grumble at a loss of youth as the clock ticks away mercilessly.
It certainly has been kind to Manchester City. Little more than a decade ago fans from the blue half of the city would head out every other weekend to parts unknown to watch their team compete in the third tier of English football. On Sunday they will travel the short distance to Old Trafford for a top of the table clash with their greatest rivals.
This particular derby promises to be explosive, for it is truly the first time in a long time that both sides are realistically striving towards the same goals. Thaksin Shinawatra’s takeover prompted cautious excitement, but it is the extraordinary investment of Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group which has now heaped expectation upon Roberto Mancini’s side.
They only recently secured their first win in the Champions League, but whereas before City were largely viewed as tricky, wealthy but ultimately fruitless opponents in the Premier League in the past three or four years, things are now different. Mancini appears to finally have a squad capable of challenging wholeheartedly.
This Sunday’s derby is significant, purely because it will provide another indicator as to how far City really have come in the new era. With the exception of the FA Cup semi final last year, they have come up short against Manchester United at just about every turn.
However, following a blistering domestic start, the noisy neighbours are regarded as a worthy challenger to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. The early season form has been down in no small part to the signing of Sergio Aguero, who leads the line with devastating effect as David Silva and Samir Nasri rampage eloquently forward in support. The Argentine has been in imperious form since his arrival from Atletico Madrid and now the blues finally seem to have a genuinely world class forward without the baggage.
City aren’t quite the finished article, of course – one could point to some seriously slack defending in Munich recently to highlight the work which has still to be done.
But it has already been a remarkable week for the city of Manchester. After 15 years of sniping and arguing the Stone Roses have finally reformed. In 2006, bass player Mani, a massive Manchester United fan, claimed that the newly reunited band would only get back together the day after City won the European Cup. We’re not quite at that stage yet, but the sight of the four familiar strangers announcing their resurrection on Tuesday afternoon is a stark reminder that anything is possible.
City fans and Mani probably wouldn’t have believed you five years ago if you told them that the Citizens would now be squaring up to United in a title clash off the back of a win in the Champions League. But, then again, time does have a way of changing things.