Manchester City, derided by Ferguson as "small club with a small mentality", have been used to living in United's shadows but all that is now changing.
City can do their talking on pitch
Perhaps it could be a sign of how worried he is becoming that Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager and so long in charge of one of England's top teams, gives the impression that he fears being usurped by his neighbours. Manchester City, derided by Ferguson as "small club with a small mentality", have been used to living in United's shadows but all that is now changing. A year after Sheikh Mansour bought the club, they boast players like Robinho and Carlos Tevez, and made headlines with their interest in Kaka and Samuel Eto'o.
For Garry Cook, City's chief executive, the club are not in competition with United. "We don't need to compare ourselves with Chelsea and Manchester United," he said. "I think sometimes - and I grew up with this in the Nike world - if you worry about your competitors you can take your eye off what it is you want to be. We are trying to define ourselves before we define what we want to be compared to."
That is all well and good, but City fans relish their derby wins and, with a title push still looking unlikely this season, will look to results against their neighbours to see how their big money players are fitting in. "Having lived in their shadow, you can see this competitive balance where we've always got to be better than them," said Cook. "But actually we've just got to better ourselves first and that will lead us to a better place."
Ferguson certainly seems concerned. The Scot is famous for his mind games, where he deflects attention from his players and on to rivals. He famously reduced Kevin Keegan, then Newcastle manager, to a raging wreck on TV and has had public disputes with Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez. City now seem to be seen as a rival important enough to merit a public put-down. Ferguson has lost Cristiano Ronaldo, his prize asset, and missed out on top target Karim Benzema to Real Madrid.
Ferguson claimed that Emmanuel Adebayor's agent tried to discuss a transfer to United and feels Tevez was overpriced at £25million (Dh150m) when his two-year loan deal came to an end. Tevez and Adebayor will both play in Manchester this season in the light blue of City. With Gareth Barry also joining them at Eastlands, and at least one centre-back to come, City can realistically aim for European qualification this term.
Mourinho, the former Chelsea manager, has tipped City as potential champions but this should be seen as his own attempts at mind games should his Inter Milan side meet United in the Champions League this season. City have been keen to stress their outlay this summer is part of a long-term plan to put them closer to the leading clubs, not show they have money to burn. Expectations are high, but patience will be key for City.
The top four is their target this season and during their tour of South Africa, Cook stressed they did not want to compare themselves with United or Chelsea, who have not spent as heavily on players as in the past. It is about City forming their own agenda, not following other teams. City do not have to get embroiled in Ferguson's mind games. If they maintain a dignified silence now, they will hold the moral high ground.
Liverpool's title challenge faltered last season when their manager Benitez took on Ferguson at his own game. That was a big mistake on the part of the Spaniard. If their talented squad can gel, City should let their football do the talking and prove Ferguson wrong. @Email:email@example.com