In football, clubs and players are remembered for the trophies they have won during their career. To quote Bobby Unser, a former American automobile racer,
“Nobody remembers who finished second but the guy who finished second.”
In simple terms, winning matters. This Premier league season we’re seeing a Manchester United side dominate the league. At the time of writing this Manchester United have not lost a game since December, and are unbeaten in 14 matches in all competitions. They sit top of the Premier league with a hefty 12 point lead over neighbourhood rivals Manchester City and are looking likely to win their 20th League title.
Last season it was arguable that the United vs Everton game was the title decider, having ended 4-4 leaving the premier league title in the balance, and as we know, City went on to clinch the title in what could be argued as the most exciting final day in Premier league history. Many funny and coincidental things happen in football, and funnily enough, the exact same game could be the title decider this season, having won 2-0 this time around.
There are a few factors that could explain why this season, things are very different, but what has changed?
A significant factor in the red devils surging lead in this season’s Premier league title race must be the arrival of a certain Dutch striker, Robin Van Persie. We have always known Van Persie had talent, but it was almost certain he was going to be a player with massive potential, but with a career marred by injuries. This was the case until the 2011-12 season, where he hit 30 premier league goals lifting Arsenal to 3rd in the table and securing Champions League qualification for another season. Last season we saw a striker that had been held back by injuries for so many years, at the top of his game. Then along came Fergie with a cheque of £24 million, and off to United he went.
Sometimes in football, when a player is playing brilliant football for one club, he or she may find it difficult to adapt to their new surroundings; as demonstrated by Fernando Torres’ move from Liverpool to Chelsea, or the now forgotten Afonso Alves who moved from Heerenveen to Middlesbrough. This was not the case for Van Persie, as he picked up where he left off at Arsenal, currently leading the scoring charts with 20 premier league goals and also providing seven assists. If he keeps up his good form, he will more than likely help his team to the league title and his first Premier League winners medal.
A factor that may have contributed to Manchester City not being so dominant this season could be psychological. Often, when athletes win championships or accolades they’ve wanted for a long time, they find it hard to keep on winning. This could be compared to the “second season slump” or in the USA the “sophomore slump”. This is where after having a successful first effort or season, an athlete or a team’s second effort or season isn’t as successful as the first. This can be caused by complacency and also the feeling of anticlimax. Having been so dominant last season, it is understandable that some of the players think they can “turn it on” whenever they like, but the reality is after last season’s triumph City “were” the team to beat.
Even though the two Manchester teams have the same amount of losses (3) City have drawn more (8). This season, United have looked a superb side, all areas of their game look complete, especially with the aforementioned van Persie. It could be said that losing the title to City last year has made United want to win it even more this year, a determination City don’t seem to have as much of this season.
A massive difference to the way things stand this season, and a reason why City and United are where they are is down to their managers. Mancini is a good manager there’s no doubt about it, but if you compare him to Sir Alex Ferguson, he has a long way to go indeed.
Mancini is an accomplished coach having won silverware in Italy with Lazio, Fiorentina and Inter Milan. He has a different style of management compared to Sir Alex, he uses mind games and the media. His players react to the things he says in the press, such as “We are not under pressure as we are not expected to win” even though that City were top of the table, and went on to win.
It could be said, that Mancini uses the media as a way of provoking opponents and putting pressure on his players, something his opposite at United does not as frequently. Fergie has been called the greatest ever by some (that’s another debate altogether) and his record backs up the praise he receives. I don’t know Mancini, personally, but you get the feeling players would rather play for Ferguson than Mancini.
Ferguson is a born winner that’s for sure, but as well he has a way of getting his players to produce season after season, because they want to play for him. They know that if they don’t produce they won’t be in the team, whereas you had Balotelli, who was given chance after chance, with Ferguson you would have guessed he wouldn’t stand for it.
It’s a case of success breeds success and therefore consistency. As far as talent goes, the two Manchester teams are neck and neck, but I do think that long term United have the edge, because of Ferguson’s experience. When asked in an interview how long he would be able to stay at a club like United without winning a trophy he immediately replied with a simple, confident “It wouldn’t happen”.
To conclude there are three main reasons why United are in the hunt for their 20th league title and why City still have much to learn. However, stranger things have happened in sport….