WHEN you’re a player for one of the Manchester clubs and you win the derby, there’s no better feeling.
On the other side of that, when you lose in the derby you feel very, very low. Even lower, if you have scored two own goals in the derby, at home, as I did once.
In February 2005, I was with Manchester City when we lost 2-0 at home to United. The first goal for United was given as an own goal by me. Then they scored again and it was given to Wayne Rooney but it was deflected in by me. I had tried to block it but it went in and I got the last touch. It was going in anyway but I changed the direction of the ball slightly.
So even though the own-goal committee gave it to Rooney, I’ll claim that – two OGs in a derby at home to your rivals. That’s a horrible, terrible feeling and those are the highs and lows of a derby like the one in Manchester.
My first Manchester derby was a real eye-opener. No-one remembers that it was a 1-1 draw, it was more famous for being the game where Roy Keane was sent off for stamping on Alf-Inge Haaland (below).
I learned early on at City what the Manchester derby meant. It’s not just the 90 minutes, it’s the whole build-up in the week. You know the fixtures in advance, you know the game is on the way, you try and put it out of your head but before you know it the game is upon you and you have to go out and play.
You are looking forward to it but at the same time you are dreading it and it’s the one game that everyone looks forward to.
When I started at City, United were the dominant team in England, not just in the derby, and City were only a mid-table team.
We were always the underdogs and not expected to get much out of it, but we seemed to do reasonably well in the derby.
I feel United thought then that we were nothing, that they’d beat us no matter what, even if it was a derby, so it was nice to get one over on them. I think the stakes were higher for us as we wanted to get one over on them as they were winning leagues and we weren’t.
The managers will try and isolate the players so they keep their focus but they are living in the city, so no matter where they go in the week of the derby people will want to talk to them about the match, let them know how important it is.
This is the one. It’s the game where fans expect at least effort from the players.
You can’t always get a result but you have to put in the work. City will be so well-prepared for every game but the derby is where the supporters want to see that extra bit of effort. It’s the fans who have to deal with the consequences if they lose. The fans go into work happy when they win and they’re distraught in work when they lose.
I had a few good battles in the derby over the years but some games stand out. Like in the 2002/03 season when we beat United at home. It was our last season at Maine Road, so we knew that was one match we really had to win for the fans.
And we did, we won 3-1. That City team on paper wasn’t as good as United’s: that was the United side of Giggs, Ferdinand, Scholes, van Nistelrooy and more, but reputations go out the window in a derby.
Shaun Goater scored twice for us. That showed how sometimes the derby throws up an unlikely hero. Players can make legends of themselves in a derby.
One year we beat United 2-1 at Old Trafford, with Darius Vassell and Benjani scoring for us. That means they will always be remembered by City supporters no matter what – even if anyone else has forgotten them.
That match was the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster, so the two teams wore retro kits with no sponsors. I think that was City’s first win at Old Trafford in a long time so it meant a lot.
It can be a hard game for the referee to keep control of as tensions are so high. At the times when United were expected to beat us, if they weren’t winning then frustration would boil over.
One time, Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off. He’d already been booked for a foul, then he was booked again for catching the ball when it came in for a corner. Your mind can go blank in a game like that – that’s the derby for you.
And with what happened in the midweek games, I don’t think United will fear anything from City on Sunday.
I was at the City game in the Champions League on Wednesday and what impressed me was how tough they were. It’s how quickly they get back. At one stage they were 4-0 up but they all sprint back after they score.
But it’s still a hard game for City. Two years ago it was a 0-0 draw in one of the worst games of all time, last season City were on their way to winning the league but United had this real determination not to lose, and the fact that City haven’t won at home in the derby in a while will motivate them on Sunday.
United have done well away to City so they have a plan that works for them when they go to the Etihad. It’s not that it’s important for United to get back into the title race but they do have to open it up.
If they can win away to City then other teams can do it too.
When you watch City play, and the number of goals they score, it’s hard to see anyone stopping them, so United will have a plan to do that this weekend. They will park the bus if they have to but they will still need to be very lucky to keep City from scoring.
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