Monday, October 24, 2011

Lessons of a 1-6

A derby is not a normal game. A city or a region or even a country gets divided in two sides. Football gets more tribal than ever, it is you or the neighbor. The game crosses the usual lines of sport to become a social event, especially in the local derbies, where the rival neighbor lives next door. The fans of both teams get mixed in their work places, pubs or even in the same family in a more or less healthy banter. This is why yesterday was a terrible day to be a Manchester United fan. Manchester City, their eternal enemy, crushed them at home in a historical 1-6 and the Theater of Dreams was the one of nightmares... the worst nightmare.

This game was interesting to watch for several reasons. First of all, it was the derby of the city of Manchester and this is enough to know that we are talking about a different game. But this time we were in front the most attractive Manchester derby ever. Manchester City was the leader, two points ahead United, who played at home to assault the first position. We were talking about two giants. Manchester United has been the team of the Premiership in the last couple of decades. In this time, Alex Ferguson has built an empire and has written the most memorable era in the history of the club. On the other hand, Manchester City was (still is) a rising power. Since the Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has the ownership of the club, he did not hesitate to spend whatever it takes to be the best team on Earth. They are still to prove that they can actually be the best, but things were working smoothly so far, since the team was leading the table of the Premier League with iron hand, not showing weaknesses in their football. All this mix made this game something really interesting.

Dzeko says six

What no one really expected was the 1-6 at the end of the match. Any victory (or defeat, it depends on your perspective) in a derby has a special effect. The winners get a dose of euphoria, while the losers get a painful slap in the face. But a beating of this kind crosses the usual lines, which are already exaggerated, of the usual feelings after a derby. This 1-6 will not be the result of one more derby, but a historical one, something that both sides will remember, each one in their own particular way. Alex Ferguson described the day as his "worst-ever day"... and Alex Ferguson is old enough to have lots of bad days, despite he has usually enjoyed more happy days. For the Manchester City fans, this result will be written in golden letters in their history, the chase of DVDs of the game has already started for sure and the years will pass and the City fans who watched this game will tell their children and grand-children about it: "The day we won 1-6 at Old Trafford".

Which kind of effect is supposed to have a 1-6? It is evident that this is the kind of result that has consequences. From the City point of view, it definitely is a turning point in their history. The petrol-money has given them the chance to build a super-team, but a collection of stars does not guarantee titles. In fact, they did not win a title yet, but this victory is so powerful, so noisy and so special that now they really have good reasons to believe that their dream is closer to be reality. It is evident that this result does not close the English league. There are lots of games to be played yet and the five point gap is not definitive. But something has changed. Until yesterday, Manchester City was one of the favorites to win the title. At this point, no one would hesistate to say that City is THE favorite to win the Premier League, not forgetting that the Champions League is a possibility too. This change is the minds of City fans and rivals is not irrelevant.

Balotelli, eccentric and brilliant

From the United point of view, this result is a shock. Manchester United is used to mistreat rivals, especially in recent times. During the last two decades, United is the owner of the Premier League and, even in the worst moments of this period, they have always been the reference, the rival to beat. But this time United was the mistreated team. When you are so used to win, a defeat is always painful... but this kind of beating is a torture. This result will have consequences. It does not matter how well United has been doing so far, this 1-6 sets a "before" and an "after". At this point, the United players, staff and fans will probably be wondering what has happened and how it actually happened. This result will mark the season of United or, at least, the following dates. This result will haunt them as a ghost during the entire year and it will not disappear. The following games will show us how Manchester United digested this terrible defeat. This digestion is a must, the result evidences a problem that requires solutions. It is impossible to know if the solutions are in hand or if they will have to be found at the end of the year. We are talking about the current winner of the competition and the runner-up of the Champions League.

In each case, the emotions must be focused in the right direction. The euphoria is dangerous for City. The title is not in hand, there are lots of games to be played, there are lots of moments of suffering to be suffered and, probably, lots of moments of joy to live too, but the league is only won when the maths say so. The 1-6 can only be good news, but Mancini's job is to put the team's feet on the ground. There are many precedents of failure celebrations.

Face-palm Rooney in the Theater of Nightmares

Depression is United's danger. The result is emotional, but Alex Ferguson must throw all the feelings to the garbage to build a bubble to isolate the team from the hostile environment. Emotions must turn into rationality. Nine matches have been played so far, so twenty-nine are yet to be played including one in City's home. United is only five point down, not an impossible distance to overcome in just a few weeks. And this is when history is a useful tool. Alex Ferguson and his boys must sit down, get calm and take a look to what they have done in recent years. It is not that we are talking about a veteran team without a future, but a collection of important players that are in their best age and their previous achievements are good and high enough to make a reference on the pride of the team. The 1-6 must be an accident, not a turning point, not the end of a cycle. As we said in a previous entry, if there is a word to define Alex Ferguson, that is competitiveness. Manchester United must use this game to learn. It is not time to regret, but time to compete, as their coach always did.

In one way or another, it has been the result of the weekend. A historical one in a year of historic results in the Premier League. This 1-6 is a result that has shocked the entire World, a memorable day for Manchester City and their fans, while the rest of the World look at them in a mix of envy, admiration and a certain dose of surprise. This result has made me turn my view to them. Until yesterday, a team that was a collection of individuals with an average coach, Roberto Mancini, and now a reference in Europe. Everyone will talk about them seriously now... but I also believe that, if there is a team and a coach that can actually turn a 1-6 into something positive that can only be Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. We will see.

1-6, a historic result

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