4 years since this last happened. Ever since Rooney, off-form and guttered by the press for cheating on his wife, rose like an inverted salmon to bicycle kick a Nani cross into the top corner of the goal. Late on. In the derby.
Since then, it’s been 1-6, 1-2, 0-3. Yes, United had beaten them at the Etihad a couple of times since but City’s dominant success at Old Trafford in the last 3 years marked a decline that had to be arrested if United’s recent rehabilitation could be treated as such.
City had been habitually wounded since January, United had become rejuvenated in the last couple of games. But this match was always going to be decisive, and when City went in front early on after capitalizing on an early swagger, it seemed as though theor comfortable Old Trafford wins of yore would continue. A nice delayed, reversed pass from Milner to Silva took two United markers out of game in the final third, a simple pass across the goal to Aguero drew first blood. It was eerily similar to City’s third in the mauling of 2011-12, when City really did look like a team destined to take over indefinitely. Fast forward to another wet Sunday less than 4 years later, and a team comprised of largely the same players rested so lazily on their lead that it was lost inside 5 minutes. United’s first foray into their half providing an open invitiation to score. Once Young and Fellaini had turned the game around, City demonstrably stopped trying.
It was something to behold, actually. A team of champions, with no major departures from their team or staff since they lifted the trophy last May – were resigned to waving their hands, fixing their socks, sauntering around and looking increasingly perplexed as to what was required of them. The answer, of course, is effort. Any discernible semblance of desire might have done enough to even help the quality of performance but such an ask was clearly beyond them.
Is it recruitment? Probably, City have paid massive fees for instant results. Players arriving in time to give City their best years with little to no chance of decent sell-on value. It hasn’t worked for the most part, with only the perpetually injured Aguero, the dynamic Silva and the recently insipid Yaya Toure seeming genuinely good value for the money spent. (Kompany was bought before the Abu Dhabi takeover) The rest is filler, players designed to compliment the spine of concrete ingenuity running through it. Instead, they’ve been surrounded by players not consistent enough to hold down a regular place, or paid to much to bother trying. Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia, Nigel De Jong, Boeteng – you remember the names, you probably remember them playing for City. Can you remember where they are now? And if so, are they doing all that well? The precedent that playing for Manchester City will lead to making history is now gone, replaced with the prospect of a career resigned to the history books.
The manager? Sure, Pellegrini will probably pay for this staggering decline with his job. And in the current climate he can have no complaints. The age-old and tired example of Alex Ferguson being given 5 trophy-less years before winning something at United was redundant well before he retired. The level of investment in clubs from owners has been on an exponential rise since then to the point that the corporate stucture of clubs like City make it unfeasible to go without marked improvement year on year. Sustainable success is the only antidote to the firing line – ironically the managing professions most lucrative source of income. If that’s not achieved, then a drop from champions to a now more intriguing battle than people are suggesting for fourth palace is just not enough. Pellegrini’s only scope for continuing in the role is as a stop-gap for Guardiola’s Bayern contract to expire. It’s a risky strategy that can only lead to further atrophy next season and a genuine risk to their Champions League credentials.
Are Manchester City mentally shitty? It’s an intriguing argument this. Rarely, if ever has a team enjoyed such a meteoric rise in such a short period of time. From perennial mid-table non-entities to champions in 5 years is some feat, even with the money invested. The fact that this ascension has come at the expense of their most hated rivals from across the town has only added to the enjoyment but it’s also intensified a certain desperation. City’s success was still in it’s very nascent stages when the entire Etihad would jeer at results which weren’t good enough, performances that weren’t sufficiently explosive, players that were stealing a living. They will always be compared to United, because they’ll always compare themselves. The fans have enjoyed the success, sure. But there’s always been an over-arching sense of impending implosion from within that’s being substantiated now. The sooner that particularly moody shadow hangs over them, the sooner they can actually enjoy the fact that they’re the richest fuckers in the game.