Two proud clubs are situated within a few miles of each other yet there is an absolute chasm between them when it comes to their fundamental cultures. Manchester United is without doubt the biggest football name in England while Manchester City is hell bent on taking over that mantle. It’s a fight to the death as far as the blue half is concerned but throwing hundreds of millions of pounds at the challenge may only succeed in winning a few battles rather than a war. If you listen to those who have experienced life at both clubs from the inside, you begin to see how wide those cultural differences really are.
Stephen Ireland joined Manchester City as a 15 year old but after eight years had fallen out of favour during the second half of last season having previously been a key player under Mark Hughes. He does not believe he was given a fair chance after Roberto Mancini came in as manager and admits it was a difficult period. “I did feel unwanted and didn’t feel part of the team” said the 23 year old “I was neither happy nor sad if we lost. I don’t think loyalty is much in anyone’s mind at Manchester City”
Compare that unhappy Ireland experience to that of Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique. He remembers Sir Alex Ferguson immediately taking him under his wing upon his arrival from Barcelona’s youth system “When I arrived there I was 17 and it was really hard for me to leave my family, to change club, to change all my friends” he said “for me, Sir Alex was like a second father. He helped in all the ways, not only in football terms but also how to find a house and all my relations out of football. I think that, for me, he was a really helpful person”
When Pique was faced with the difficult task of telling his manager he wanted to return to Spain, he recalls the emotional response from a character better known for his ruthless nature. “I remember when I went to his room to say that I wanted to leave because Barcelona was coming for me. It was my town, it was my club when I was young and I wanted to come back. He didn’t want me to leave and said I had a future at the club and he expected a lot from me. But I wanted to leave and he wrote me a letter saying that it was really difficult and really hard for him to let me go to Barcelona.”
That, in short, is a perfect comparison which highlights the difference between the two clubs. One went to City as a schoolboy from Ireland, the other to United from Spain. Both eventually broke into the senior team as youngsters, yet while Irelands years at Eastlands ended in heartache and bitterness, Pique speaks highly of his years at Old Trafford and his ‘second father’ to this very day.
As another former disillusioned Manchester City player Martin Pertrov confessed after he moved to Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer in the summer “The human relationships are lost and the trust is lost too. At City nothing is clear. The team is looking for identity.”
Would you have liked Gerard Pique to remain at Old Trafford?