An Etihad on Sunday, players from all corners of the world will be ready for battle. From Norway to Argentina – and many in between – internationals will wear the blue and red of both Manchester teams to earn the much-coveted bragging rights.
Ask Pep Guardiola and he’ll tell you it’s another game a pro will be fully prepared for. Keeping a cool head and staying focused on the task at hand for 90 minutes is high on the agenda for those trained to execute a plan. However, derbies have an advantage, even if managers want to downplay the difference history makes to them. For fans, the outcome will define their week before it even begins.
In the ranks of City is a born and raised bluesman, Phil Foden, who certainly knows how important this game is. United boast Marcus Rashford, another who grew up in Manchester but in the red half. Their addition to the Derby melting pot is an important one, players who can still be seen as representative of those in the stands.
Guardiola says of Foden: “Of course it’s nice that he’s a City fan and it’s important not just for the game but for the day before and the day after they have to behave like a Manchester City player.
“What Foden has to do is play the game; Concentrate on what you have to do on the pitch, that’s what you have to do, all the work that you have to do. Just being a Manchester City fan doesn’t mean he will play well or badly, nobody knows, of course he wants to play well. But if he can beat United or win the Premier League, he’s already won some at that young age, that’s the most important thing for him.”
Premier League matches are watched by many millions of viewers worldwide, but at their core they are local rivalries that have grown organically over the years and are exploited by football’s propaganda machinery. When the first Manchester derby took place between Newton Heath and St Mark’s of West Gorton in 1881, no one knew where the game would be played 141 years later.
Meanwhile, local lads are running, rising through the ranks to achieve what is often a personal highlight of playing in a Manchester derby. From Neil Young to Andy Hinchcliffe to Foden, they are blue baton holders, while United have called up an academy graduate to their squad for every game since 1937. It might seem trivial, but that’s what matters to fans.
Guardiola knows from his days as a player and head coach how important games against big rivals are. Coming through Barcelona’s La Masia academy, he was able to draw on the likes of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Gerard Piqué during his coaching tenure to add the Catalan spirit to keep his team together.
“There is no more important game than this,” said Guardiola classic, and the Manchester fans feel the same way about a derby where the vitriol levels are toned down. “There is passion and you want to win a derby,” said Guardiola. “The winner will laugh and make fun of the loser, but that’s nothing. That’s the way it has to be, but no more.”
Rashford comes back into the game reinvigorated with a Premier League Player of the Month award. His stocks fell so low last season that he started the shy Derby losses on the bench. Foden is recovering from a much shorter form lapse but will be keen to show he’s back to his best.
There are many ingredients that add an edge to a game, but for fans geographic tribalism is still important and knowing that their clubs’ players have the same desire is what every fan wants.
City v United is the main event but Foden v Rashford is a poignant rivalry to add to the legacy.
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