Does anybody remember back in the summer of 2021?
Cristiano Ronaldo was being linked to Manchester City and, when it turned out that it was all one big ruse by Jorge Mendes, there were some fans who were legitimately a bit gutted that this was the case.
After all, not many clubs could say they’d missed out on both Lionel Messi AND Cristiano Ronaldo in the same transfer window. It was almost an achievement to miss out on both somehow.
I was personally in the camp of not wanting Cristiano Ronaldo anywhere near the club, for reasons which I’m probably legally not able to go into any detail about, but ultimately, as the day came where it appeared to be inevitable that he would join City, I had sadly convinced myself that maybe, just maybe, on a pure footballing level, it might not be the worst decision in the world. After all, he is a goalscorer. He does put the ball in the back of the net; something we’re desperately missing.
When Manchester United completely and utterly GAZUMPED City by taking Ronaldo out from under their rivals’ feet, they were overjoyed. The Instagram post announcing his return to the club broke records. It was, in true United fashion, a roaring commercial success. It was a romantic story, to see an ex-player return in the twilight of his career for both the love of the game and also an all-time Premier League high wage of £600,000 per week.
The reality of the situation, as has since been proven, is that this signing was yet another symptom of the complete and utter shambles that Manchester United have become post-Sir Alex Ferguson – and it is a thing of beauty.
If you look at Manchester City’s club hierarchy, from top to bottom, there is a unified message throughout on how the club wants to be run and the style of football the club wishes to play; a style which predates Pep Guardiola and will likely continue long after he leaves.
Every Manchester City signing is made with that very vision in mind, and any transfer has to be signed off by the manager, Txiki Begiristain, Ferran Soriano and even Khaldoon Al Mubarak himself. There is little room for error, though it’s difficult to make too many errors when this method has been perfected, which in the last five to six years it certainly has been.
Look across Greater Manchester, towards Salford, and you’ll see the antithesis of this approach. Where there is a clear structure in the blue half, you’ll see none whatsoever in the red.
The fact there is still no Director of Football after nearly a decade of no Ferguson, with transfer matters having seemingly entirely been dealt with by Ed Woodward until his recent departure, is beyond comical. Darren Fletcher was hired as some kind of Technical Director, though it appears that even the club’s manager, a man who sits next to him on the bench during games, has no clue what he actually does on a daily basis.
The approach of United, to sign players based on what is ultimately “just vibes”, has caused them to sign a non-descript mix of players that are either players who were linked with City (Harry Maguire, Fred), are clinging on because of big contracts handed out years ago (Phil Jones, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard), are genuinely talented and being almost entirely mismanaged (Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane) or players who are from a previous manager’s reign and have no place in the current manager’s plans (Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Anthony Martial, Donny van de Beek).
It’s easy to say that Guardiola has had nearly six years in charge to put his stamp on the team at this point, and the squad is made up almost entirely of players who were signed by the man himself, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the day Pep leaves, a manager will be appointed who is best suited to manage the current squad.
A look at the inconsistency of appointments at United, from David Moyes to Louis van Gaal to Jose Mourinho to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and now to Ralf Rangnick, tells you that what City have in regards to footballing infrastructure is not to be taken for granted.
It’s amazing to look at the gulf in quality between the two teams today and think that it’s only thirteen years since those infamous words, when Ferguson was asked if United would ever be derby day underdogs, “Not in my lifetime”.
Of course, it has happened in his lifetime.
Even just the year after he left the club, Manchester United were torn apart not once but twice by Pellegrini’s side, as Moyes took a 7-1 aggregate battering in a season where United ultimately finished 7th in the league. Manchester United are yet to register a league finish higher than City since Ferguson’s retirement, with the average points difference between the two being 15 points.
What’s the point of this article? I don’t even know. I just felt like basking in the fact that we’re significantly better than Manchester United right now.
They’ve been in utter chaos since that red-nosed Scotsman decided that he could only prop up the Glazers for so long, complicit in their destruction of the club’s finances which he will always know was ultimately his own fault for having a paddy about a horse. It’s fitting that the most odious football manager in recent history, rivalled only possibly by Jose Mourinho, is almost entirely responsible for the long and painful downfall of the empire which he created.
Whilst City have put in place football men, who know the game and have CVs which back this up, Manchester United have hired investment bankers and commercial experts, and on the commercial side there’s no denying that they’re a juggernaut which cannot be rivalled. Though it’s this commercial thinking which contributes to signing Cristiano Ronaldo when he just simply isn’t what the football club genuinely needs.
City are building for the here and now, as well as for the future, whilst United are trying desperately to reclaim their past.
The likes of Solskjaer refusing to park in Ferguson’s parking spot at Carrington, become a “jobs for the boys” club where the likes of Carrick and Fletcher are given roles which are well above their level of experience, Evra and Ferdinand sending Ronaldo frantic voice notes and WhatsApp messages as he flies over to Manchester from Portugal to try and convince him to come back to United, as if he would need any further encouragement than the half a million a week they’re offering him.
The whole thing is just a desperate attempt to reclaim their former glory by refusing to let it go.
Many had their issues when the “Catalan mafia” rocked up into town, yet it’s their disconnected, in many ways dispassionate approach, which has allowed them to make decisions which have occasionally been unpopular (European Super League, anybody?) but are ultimately the decisions which have turned City into a powerhouse.
You still see the likes of Shaun Goater and Mike Summerbee around the club but they’re ambassadors, nothing more. When Guardiola leaves, the club won’t turn to Paul Dickov to take over as manager because of a famous goal he scored in 1999.
The two derby victories this season have been two of the most utterly dominant performances against United I’ve seen from any club. Social media is awash with reactions from various United fans talking about how it’s a sad, sorry state of affairs but I couldn’t disagree more. It’s wonderful.
This is a fanbase which, even though City were gleefully chanting about how bad they were at every ground they visited as they dropped through the leagues, still held a banner counting the years since City’s last trophy. It’s a banner which might need replicating at the Etihad if United continue on their current trajectory…
You can follow Joe on Twitter here: @joebutters