Wednesday 17 January 2018

Gary Neville: The Manchester derby will showcase £732m in talent, but only one player makes my Team of the Season

Both Manchester clubs have underachieved this season and success next year depends on them winning the transfer-market battle

Manchester United had to blitz the transfer market to sign Angel di Maria, simply because they had to throw money at the problem they found themselves in. Photo: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
Manchester United had to blitz the transfer market to sign Angel di Maria, simply because they had to throw money at the problem they found themselves in. Photo: Matthew Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

Gary Neville

The combined value of the Manchester United and Manchester City squads for tomorrow's 169th Manchester derby will amount to a staggering £732 million, but I cannot find an outfield player from either club who would get into my team of the season.

It is around this time of the year that voting forms for the PFA player and team-of-the-year awards are passed around dressing rooms, so it is a poor indictment of both Manchester clubs that the only player I can state a case for is United goalkeeper David de Gea.

Wayne Rooney has had a good season, but not good enough to dislodge Harry Kane or Diego Costa from my team and, while the improvement of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, and the solidity of Marcos Rojo, has caught the eye, they have not outshone the likes of Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic or John Terry.

As for City, Joe Hart aside, none of Manuel Pellegrini's players has come close to performing to the level they would expect of themselves.

Not since the 1989-90 season has the PFA team of the year failed to include a player from United or City, so the fact that only De Gea makes my team offers an indication of the state of both clubs as they prepare to meet at Old Trafford.

It feels like the 'half-full, half-empty' derby.

Louis van Gaal's side are an emerging team playing with confidence and United supporters, three weeks after viewing their glass as half-empty, now see it as half-full following significant wins against Tottenham and Liverpool.

But City are the reverse, with an ageing team, one which is looking stale both tactically and in terms of personnel, going into the game with big question marks hanging over everybody at the club.

Neither team are where they aspire to be right now, but I envisage an even bigger battle between the clubs - a recruitment derby - that will take place in boardrooms, hotels across Europe and the offices of agents throughout the summer.

And unless City are bold and decide to take on UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations, they will find it difficult to compete with United, Chelsea and Arsenal for the players I believe could make the difference in next season's title race.

If any of the top four are able to add Gareth Bale, Morgan Schneiderlin and/or Paul Pogba and Mats Hummels to their squad this summer, they would instantly become front-runners to win the Premier League next year.

There will be an intense fight between all the top four clubs to secure the best players, but if that battle takes place on an even playing field, I do not see how City can come out on top.

The landscape has changed since City were able to blow everybody out of the water by paying big fees and big wages to sign the likes of Carlos Tevez, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri.

When Nasri left Arsenal to sign for City ahead of United in the summer of 2011, the money on offer at the Etihad Stadium made it impossible for United to outbid their neighbours.

At the time, particularly after City signed Tevez and then narrowly lost to my United team in the League Cup semi-finals in 2010, everybody at Old Trafford began to realise that City were not going away and that they would, sooner or later, win the league.

They have done that twice now, and also won both domestic cups, but they have not been able to sustain that success.

FFP has reined City back in and United and Arsenal have upped the ante by spending big themselves and raising the ceiling of their pay structures.


When United were faced with the doomsday scenario of being out of the Champions League last summer, they had to blitz the market to sign the likes of Angel di Maria, simply because they had to throw money at the problem they found themselves in.

And that is the big issue facing City this summer - United, Chelsea and Arsenal are now all capable of taking them on in the transfer market and, if a player has a straight choice between the four clubs, City will come fourth every time. Why?

When choosing a new club, players will always want to win trophies, live in the best location and play for a club with history and tradition.

London is such a huge draw, especially for foreign players, so Arsenal and Chelsea have an advantage over United and City in that respect. But United's history and tradition is their trump card, one which will attract players to Old Trafford ahead of the capital.

So, if City are fighting to persuade a player to sign for them ahead of United, Chelsea or Arsenal, the only way they can win the race is to do what they did in the past - offering the biggest pay packet and deal with the consequences of FFP later.

I accept the basic principles of FFP and the need to prevent clubs such as Portsmouth taking themselves to the brink of extinction as a result of excessive spending, but you also cannot have a situation whereby clubs such as Manchester City and Blackburn are unable to challenge and topple the established superpowers.

We do not want the Premier League to follow the path of La Liga, where only Atletico Madrid are able to threaten the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and I believe that City should do all they can to shut FFP down.

Sooner or later, a club such as City or Paris St-Germain will take Uefa on and challenge FFP because it is elitist and restrictive.

I have suggested before in this column that, rather than be restricted by FFP, wealthy owners should lodge a bond with Uefa, to cover contracts and all existing commitments, to safeguard against a Portsmouth-style situation.

Perhaps a trade-off could be an insistence that all clubs have four or five domestic players in their team. People will say you cannot have quotas because of European law, but ultimately, FFP is as restrictive as quotas, yet Uefa has been allowed to impose its regulations on clubs regardless.

On the pitch, however, City cannot escape the fact that they have recruited badly in recent years and it has left them with a team who have grown old. Experience can be a good thing, but it can also be a negative because staleness is an issue. I remember walking out for a game against Chelsea at Old Trafford in April 2010 alongside great players such as Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

But it was probably the only time I did not want to be on the pitch with them because the average age of our team that day was 31.

It was one of those hot spring days, when age hung heavier than experience, and we lost 2-1 to a Chelsea team who went on to win the Double. That United team were coming to the end and City will arrive at Old Trafford with the same clouds on the horizon.

United will have to be at their very best because City remain a group of quality players who are capable of winning anywhere.

My gut feeling is that City have the better team and squad but, unless they take on FFP this summer, it will be the red half of Manchester that is next celebrating winning the Premier League title. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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