Thanks to the conflicting beliefs about how the game is played, the cult of personality associated with each, and the endless gold reserves available to both, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have made the Manchester derby the biggest game the Premier League has seen in nearly fifteen years.
No single clash has whet the appetite as much, since the glory days of Keane versus Vieira. While Wenger versus Ferguson was always the overriding arc, the battles took place on the pitch. Now, these two global brands represent schools of thought, as well as having a local bite on top of all that all the trophies that the pair have won.
Considering the budgets of both clubs, it might be the footballing equivalent of two Tory MPs having a spat in the House of Lords, but it’s bloody compelling.
Manchester United and Liverpool will be cited by many as the biggest clash in the country, but that rivalry seems to be completely confined to the locals, the Sky hype machine and a few Dublin pubs twice a year.
The Manchester derby is on a different level now. You wouldn’t see Dejan Lovren fling a pint of Cravendale off the side of Rui Faria’s head, would you? ‘Pizza gate’ has evolved, and been injected with a healthy dose of calcium.
Naturally, this is completely subjective. But the Premier League’s trade-off for an influx of cash means that meaningful perception stretches far beyond the realms of jolly old England.
Guardiola’s superstars will become ‘the’ club, just as United were in the nineties, for people from far and wide to support.
It doesn’t matter how passionately they support them – they’ll buy a rehash of any home kit every second year for no good reason.
If you can have coaches arguing over the ‘right’ approach to the game, while the prime examples of contrasting styles go to war on the highest level in front of them, they will take notice. If you have the two biggest brands in the world going head to head, children from all over the world will tune in to see their heroes.
If you have two of the most expensively-assembled squads on the planet, maintaining a local rivalry, battling it out atop the Premier League table for honours, the world will watch. Guardiola and Mourinho are the flag-bearers for the revolution.
It’s, of course, worth nothing that this too, will pass. Players have been bigger than clubs in the minds of millions of fans for years now. It’s not right, but it’s the way it’s going.
Managers are now skipping ahead of them, granted they possess enough ability. People don’t talk about Manchester City – they talk about Pep Guardiola. Where he’s plying his trade is almost irrelevant.
Both clubs sold their souls many moons ago, and while the hardcore remain, globalisation has brought this to another level.
As it did with Barcelona and Real Madrid. As it did would do with any clash of football clubs anywhere in the world.
The sense of tradition is fading with every fifty-bob note flying into the bank accounts of the ultra-rich footballers that don’t even pretend to understand the origins of Manchester football clubs – United and City.
The Manchester derby isn’t so much a derby anymore – it’s a worldwide marketing battle. As tragic as that may seem on a micro level, football has evolved beyond Cheetham Hill and Stretford.