Just days before Manchester City’s attempt to win their fourth league title in five years, Pep Guardiola compared his team’s consistency in winning the Premier League to Alex Ferguson’s golden era when they achieved the same level of dominance. Perhaps, it was a statement designed to rub salt into the wounds of their neighbours. Maybe, it was actually the case.
The Citizens will certainly claim so. On Sunday, Guardiola engineered City to their first ever dominant run, winning yet another title in a dramatic finale. His side came back from 0-2 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 and become champions in a dramatic manner among heavy chasing from Liverpool. It continues their tremendous run of titles under Guardiola, who was brought in by the new owners to launch an era of dominance.
When a financially cash-strapped City was bought out of its life of negligence by Sheikh Mansour, their initial days of playing catch-up to an English football dynasty was treated as a ‘money can’t buy everything’ venture. Yet City stuck to their guns, demanding that their football project had nothing to do with United. Even though everything suggested that the cultural significance of the future of their club depended upon taking Manchester first, England next and then chasing Europe.
— Premier League (@premierleague) May 22, 2022
The 2011 league title victory over United on the final day sealed the question of how soon the battle of Manchester would last. Sir Alex Ferguson may have come back next season to win the Premier League, but the writing was on the wall.
In 2012, City hired Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain – the architects of Barcelona’s famed success in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The idea was to replicate the continued success that Barcelona enjoyed, at Manchester. The owners of City Football Group then built and opened a £200m football campus – one that left behind Manchester United’s famed youth facilities in the rear-view mirror by some margin.
Just as City continued to lay the red carpet for one of the greatest managers football has seen, Manchester United embarked on life after Ferguson and club CEO David Gill. It meant a litany of failures – Moyes, Falcao, Di Maria, Blind, Herrera, Van Gaal – all came, all failed and all left United.
City meanwhile continued to wait while Guardiola took over the Bundesliga. And in 2016, they finally won their crown jewel – a transcendent manager who could guarantee success and a path forward like no other. During this time, and in the years to come, City flouted financial rules, unlike any club before them. Inflated sponsorship deals, breaking Financial Fair Play rules – the Manchester club went into choppy seas but when UEFA wouldn’t budge, the Court of Arbitration Sport provided the Citizens with get-out-of-jail cards. Money talked and titles started to flow.
Meanwhile, on the other end of town, a club geared towards proactively searching for the best deals in the market was now actively trying to break British transfer records in a desperate attempt to close the gap to City. In three seasons at United, Jose Mourinho, an eternal rival to Pep Guardiola, had a net transfer spend of just under 315 million pounds. The money resulted in Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic signing for the Red Devils. Mourinho enjoyed his second season at United, much like he does at most clubs he goes to, winning the Europa League, FA Cup and the Carabao Cup.
It was the most successful season that United has enjoyed in the post-Ferguson era, earning 81 points in the Premier League only to finish second to City and their record-breaking 100-point season. Alluding to how tough life was at United behind the scenes, Mourinho later said, “I consider one of the best jobs of my career was to finish second with Man United in the Premier League, you will say, ‘this guy is crazy’”. He then added, “’He won 25 titles and he is saying that a second position was one of his best achievements?’”
While rebuilds and managers changed galore at a club that wanted to trust its managers the ‘old way’, City’s golden period under Guardiola began from 2017. He has won 10 trophies at the club, including three Premier League titles.
Their closest rivalry has come from a resurgent Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, who finally managed to win them their first-ever Premier League title in 2019, spending far lesser, but wiser. The Champions League is the only crown that evades the Spaniard but signing a striker like Erling Braut Haaland could only mean that that blemish is set to be wiped away soon as well.
Even now, days ahead of the cusp of winning his fourth league title in England, Guardiola has mentioned United on more than one occasion. Be it invoking Ferguson’s enviable records on the verge of being breached, or how his Barcelona team mauled United over two Champions League finals or recently even asking United fans to join City as long as they wore blue shirts – the Spaniard has spoken.
While United has stumbled from one mistake to another, City have continued their rise from 2008. They have focused on every tenet of football that a top club could pay attention to and maximised its utility to a hilt and within 14 years, created a dynasty of their own.