Every single one of the 54,557 Citizens and United away* supporters (*a relative term in derby parlance) knew it as they filed in through the turnstiles at the Etihad Stadium for a Sunday teatime kickoff this past March. Whether in their hearts or in their heads, every football fan from Manchester to Bournemouth would have been hip to the fact that Pep and Jose, two titans of man management, two revered tacticians, two champions many times over, would be arriving in Manchester within a few months time, and that this derby would be the final one played before the Manchester rivalry took on a decidedly European, and acrimonious, flair.
And yet there was a match to be played, for city bragging rights as always and with a place in the Champions League up for grabs, even as a pair of much-maligned managers looked to be stalking the touchline of their final Manchester derby.
By all accounts, Manuel Pellegrini is a lovely man but the weight of pressure at the Etihad had sucked the life out of him by the time the beleaguered City boss disembarked the team bus on MCFC’s ‘City in the Community’ Day. He smiled, waved to kids and greeted the gathered throng of baby blue clad supporters with the grace and class football fans had come to admire from the 62-year-old Chilean.
On the other side of the coin, on the red half of Manchester, sat (quite literally, with clipboard in hand) Louis van Gaal, with his resting frowny face, his indignation to any who question his tactics (in so much that he employed any while in charge of United) or his style…or lack their of. United were tedious to watch under the Dutchman and all United fans were ready for a change, any change, let alone the Special change on the horizon.
This Manchester derby unfortunately was a tired affair with the most exciting player on the pitch, United’s homegrown teen Marcus Rashford, he of wide grin and boundless energy, netting the only goal in the 16th minute. Little did anyone know at the time (although considering Pep Guardiola’s taste for sweeper keepers it could easily have been foreseen) this would also be the final Manchester derby for longtime City keeper Joe Hart. He probably would’ve liked to finish his career in Manchester by walking off victorious over city rivals United, instead of being carried off 35 minutes after having conceded what would be the winning goal.
Fast forward six months and the Spanish rivalry of six years ago between Guardiola and Mourihno has been reborn in the northwest of England and with it, the passions and promise for both of these rich, and richly respected, football clubs.
City and United, their famous new managers, and a bushel of high priced summer transfer acquisitions will square off in a brand new Manchester derby at Old Trafford this Saturday; the first must watch match of the 2016-2017 Premier League season. Kickoff is 12:30pm local time, 7:30am ET / 4:30am PT here in the States, Saturday September 10 2016.
**Update on the managers I saw preside over the Manchester Derby: Pellegrini is now in charge of a Chinese Super League side while Van Gaal may have opted for retirement from football.
***Joe Hart was jettisoned to Torino in Serie A on a season long loan.
Here are more scenes of Manchester derby day, before and during the match, as it happened the Etihad during the 2015-2016 Premier League season.
*Visit Britian flew me to Manchester for this derby last season. All opinions expressed above are honest and unbiased. I was a neutral at the Etihad but I’m a rabid fan of all divions of English football.