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City can learn much from the dustbin man next door

With the best of intentions, we decided a weekend in Manchester would be a nice way for our parents to celebrate their wedding anniversary in 1998. Coinciding as it did with our game at Maine Road against Manchester City, it seemed the ideal gift.

It turned sour fairly soon though. Positioned in the away end of the ground, they found themselves caught in the crossfire of seats and coins between both sets of supporters. My mother vowed to stick to home games from then on.

It is quite an indictment of those fans that Millwall is seen as a safer location to anyone, but events that day led to the decision to ban away fans from attending games between both clubs when we met again in 2001/2002. As was evident in this month's Carling Cup double-header between rivals City and United, such behaviour is still very much in evidence in Manchester.

Prior to the first leg of the semi-final over a fortnight ago, police confiscated darts, bottles and golf balls from supporters entering the ground. Numerous arrests were made on the night, and a further 11 supporters were taken into custody and charged when Manchester police raided their houses on the morning of the second leg.

Those intending to cause trouble at last Wednesday's game were warned they would be severely dealt with. Despite this, several United fans threw coins and bottles at Craig Bellamy as he prepared to take a corner kick in the 50th minute. Those charged face indefinite bans from Old Trafford.

Incidents like these have become worryingly common and it is surely only a matter of time before a missile thrown from the crowd or fans encroaching onto the pitch will result in serious injury. Coins cannot be confiscated by police upon entry to any ground, so it has now become an unwelcome addition to the abuse players are expected to face.

It's a long time since the semi-final of the Carling Cup meant anything to anyone, but it's even longer since the Manchester derby influenced anything other than the local pride of those who follow the two clubs.

The spending power of City's owner and the appointment of Roberto Mancini would suggest that has now changed, but talk of a power shift in the city based solely on City's progress to their first semi-final in 29 years is quite simply daft. As for City's chief executive Garry Cook's guarantee of world domination, it is the latest in a number of embarrassing statements from a man quickly losing any semblance of credibility he may have once had.

As Chelsea set out to do when Abramovich first arrived, Cook's intention to turn City into the "biggest and best club in the world" based solely on their ability to out-spend the competition is flawed in the extreme. Putting to one side the folly of making such an assertion in public (though he would later claim that despite the tv cameras present, he believed the meeting was a closed event), some of their actions thus far suggest they are farther from greatness than they would believe. The manner in which Mark Hughes was sacked, the bungling of the Kaka deal (never mind the decision to offer him a reported £500,000 a week), and just about every moment of their handling of Robinho illustrates that it takes a little more than vast wealth to know how best to run a successful football club.

Regardless of how City fans view things, United face their main rival of the Premiership era today at the Emirates stadium. Since the mid-'90s this fixture has stood out as the grudge game, which more than any other has affected the outcome of the league title each May. Without the injured Thomas Vermaelen, it will be left to Sol Campbell to handle Wayne Rooney. How he fares may well be the deciding factor.

Winning their two games in hand would put Manchester City within six points of United, and if their target of a top-four finish is to be achieved, a victory this afternoon against Portsmouth, a club in total disarray, is essential. There won't be anything near the hype surrounding the game as there was on Wednesday, but a

slip-up of any kind is inexcusable.

However Mancini chooses to spend Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan's considerable wealth, his greatest obstacle to challenging United's dominance of English football, let alone Manchester, is the continued presence of Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.

Much is made of United's reliance on Wayne Rooney's abilities and the club's level of debt, but the impending retirement of their manager will impact United greater than the loss of any of their squad. They've coped with the loss of Ronaldo better than most expected; it will be entirely different competing for trophies without Ferguson in charge.

Referring to him as "that Taggart from across the road" and claiming to be "buzzing off" just about everything to do with City at the moment, even Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher has weighed in with his considerable intellect on the topic. "He's a top manager and all that but he looks like a dustbin man." Hard to follow that to be honest.


Sunday Independent