MANCHESTER // As fans return to earth following Sunday's epic Premier League encounter between the two Manchester clubs, defeated Blues supporters can at least console themselves with the thought that no one can now deny their team a place on the big stage.
Despite losing, the fact that the match was taken so seriously by pundits in the first place, coupled with the narrowness of the result - with United scoring deep into injury time to make it 4-3 - shows just how far City have come. For what a difference a year makes. Rewind to last September, before the official arrival of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed as owner and Khaldoon al Mubarak as chairman, and the feeling around the City of Manchester stadium could not have been more different.
City's executive chairman, Garry Cook, said: "September 23 marked a remarkable turn of events for this club and I think we sometimes miss the gravity of that change because we went from a future that looked mediocre, and that had been as presented for the previous 20 years, to a club full of ambition. Before Sheikh Mansour arrived, there had been months of uncertainty under the former owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand.
Mr Cook felt the "club had lost its compass", with jaded fans and disillusioned personnel. A clause in his contract meant that, following the takeover, Mr Cook could have taken a settlement, left and brushed up his golf skills. But he stayed, and has witnessed an overhaul of everything from training facilities to the purchase of players, with transfer fees totalling about £200 million (Dh1.2 billion).
"We were in such a state that I don't think it could have got any worse," said Mr Cook, who arrived at City in May 2008 after 12 years at Nike, where he went from various sales and managerial roles in the UK and Europe to president of the Jordan Brand. "The first thing we did was fix what we thought was wrong, but we had to build a vision and objectives. "There was a slogan I felt was detrimental to building a culture of success rather than of survival.
"It was the saying 'typical City'. It was almost like it's expected for us to be mediocre. If we aren't then that's a bonus. "This is opposed to it being accepted for us to be successful and, if we are not, then we have to look at it as a failure. "I will not allow anyone here not to give 100 per cent effort. Mark Hughes, the manager, has the same values. Pride, passion, professionalism and perseverance - those are the values that the club embraces.
"We look back over the past 15 years and some of the decisions could have been made because of the failure to keep up with United. "What ends up happening is you go the other way and the chasm gets bigger. "We are now focusing on making Manchester City sustainable and successful for the future. "Without ambition, there is no success. You look to be better than where you are and get yourself into what are classed as the leading clubs. Not just Manchester United, but Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, the Milans.
"Those names reel off the tongue and we want to join that company. They are great teams, great organisations, steeped in history, heritage and success." But with greater ambition comes even greater pressure, and it has not all been rosy. Mr Cook admitted mistakes had been made and things could have been done differently. None more so than the attempt to sign Kaka from AC Milan in January. City, and Mr Cook in particular, were derided over the affair, accused of trying to ruin football by paying excessive transfer fees.
Similarly, this summer, a move for the Chelsea and the England captain John Terry was met with incredulity. "That Kaka deal is a nemesis that will stay with us for a long time, but I am comfortable with that," said Mr Cook. "I think we should never not look at great players and bring them to this club. It wasn't so much that it didn't come off, it was the audacity that Manchester City had in going for that player.
"I can honestly say there are some things I wish I hadn't done. But they [Kaka and Terry] have made their decisions within the confines of what they know. "I know what the ambition is for this club and I know that I am committed to achieving a good portion of that. "A lot of players find it difficult to turn down the big teams. They are honoured when you start asking them to come play for them. "We want to be one of those clubs that says, 'that's a great opportunity, that's a great club to play for and I'm truly honoured to be playing for them'."
Mr Cook feels that City are now on a "straight road", with the promise of better times ahead. He has brought in Brian Marwood as a football administrator to assist Hughes, and he believes that they all have one objective. "In Brian, we have got a committed team member who wants the same success as what Mark wants, the same success as what I want and the same success as what Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon al Mubarak want."
There have been many defining moments over the year for Mr Cook, but a personal one came 11 days ago. "When we were 4-1 up against Arsenal and the crowd were singing at the top of their voice, I leant over to my wife and - I get very emotional about this - I said, 'I've worked all year for this moment'. "Somebody asked me if this was a good move for me. How could it not be a good move to listen and learn from people like Khaldoon? They have a wide variety of knowledge, understanding and humility.
"This past year has taken a lot out of me, a lot more out of my family, but I wouldn't have exchanged it for anything in the world." firstname.lastname@example.org