x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Torn between red and blue

I am a staunch Manchester United supporter but I also love watching City win matches - just not against United.

I have got two season tickets at Old Trafford and sit in the main stand in a normal seat. I am a United fan and just mingle in, paying my money like everybody else - though United's chief executive David Gill usually sees me. I saw him at halftime during the Arsenal game recently and he shouted: "Get your boots on, we need some goals."

He also asked me why my 14-year-old my son Devante was at Manchester City. He is a centre forward like I was and has been with City for seven years. I cannot fault the way they treat him and he has not had one problem in all his time there. He was really looking forward to this Sunday's Manchester derby - until I told him that I would not be able to take him. Me being me, I had agreed to be on television a while ago. Because I do not use calendars, I never appreciate the significance of dates. So, instead of watching two of my former clubs at Old Trafford, I will be watching from a studio. Devante is not impressed.

I enjoyed playing for both Manchester clubs and even though I am from Nottingham and have retired, Manchester is where my family call home. I spent more time at United than any of the 14 clubs I played with, scoring 121 goals in 275 games in six years between 1995 and 2001. I left because I was on the bench too much. I was 30 and there was a lot more football in me. I did not want to steal a wage, I wanted fans to come up to me and say that I had put a good shift in for my pay.

There are players who are happy to pick up their weekly money and see out their contract. I am not one of them. Roy Keane told me that I should not go, saying that I would regret it for the rest of my life. He was right, but I would not listen at the time. I was nervous when I joined City. I was 34 and had played at Blackburn and Fulham after leaving Old Trafford, but you never know how fans are going to be with you when you have played for their rivals. My fears were confirmed when a City fan came up to me on a pre-season tour of Bangkok and said: "I remember how you celebrated against us for United."

Like with every club I have played at, I decided that all I could do was work hard. When my career at City started, I got a few goals, played well and before I knew it the City fans were singing my name. I was still apprehensive about my first game at Old Trafford for City, but better players than me have returned without problems and the United fans were friendly. They knew I had always given my all, just as City fans did.

Fans do not always appreciate players signing for rival clubs, but fans are not professional footballers. They do not have to make such choices between football clubs, but in their working lives fans have to make choices and do what is best for their career at that time. As long as they give 100 per cent to the company they work for, it should not bother anyone. That is all I ever did, work my socks off to make whoever I played for a better team.

There was uproar when I left City in 2007. I wanted to stay there until I was 36, when I planned on retiring. City offered me a one-year contract, but Portsmouth offered two years. I wanted to stay in Manchester with my family, but the manager Stuart Pearce voiced concerns about my injuries. When I told him that I was going to Portsmouth, City budged and offered to pay me appearance money, but I had made my mind up. City did well out of me - they got me on a free and sold me for £500,000 (Dh3 million).

City have changed a lot since I left. United were far superior player wise and financially when I was there, but now City have serious money, talent and ambition. I could see that players like Stephen Ireland were going to be top class and Shaun Wright Phillips has always played well against United, but it is the players they have signed who have made the news. All have been good, considered and clever acquisitions, but Emmanuel Adebayor has been the best and they will miss him if he is absent on Sunday, especially if Tevez is out too.

City have won every game and they will go to Old Trafford thinking that they can win, but I do not think they will win the league this season. Top four? That is a real possibility. The game will hinge on two defences. Wayne Rooney has been on fire. He has come into his own this season since Ronaldo left and can seriously damage City's defence, like he did to Tottenham last Saturday. I want United to win, but I am one of the few United fans who likes to see City do well too. Just not against United.

sports@thenational.ae