City's pyrrhic victory?

Manchester United 1:6 Manchester City

Manchester United 1:6 Manchester City

Scorelines don't come much more amazing than Sunday's Mancunian derby, but was there really much reason to celebrate, however many records tumbled at Old Trafford?

With a few days' recuperation from that shellshock of a final score, can the result be deemed a welcome riposte to or even whole scale power shift from the hegemony of moneybags Chelsea and Manchester United, or another symptom of the obscene, out-of-control spending in the English top division which is upsetting its natural order of competition?

Watching Fergie's nose rubbed into the dirt certainly had its charms for those of us who do not buy into the 'Glory glory Man United' hype machine, as the Scot's lazily applied moniker of 'football genius' suddenly hung by a thread after such a an utter pasting.

And it was not unpleasant to see City's supporters for once get the upper hand on their storied and hitherto more monied rivals. The Blues have played Torino to Juventus, Espanol to Barcelona for so many long and grueling years, that anyone's sense of fairness would not begrudge them a moment in the sun.

For my whole life Man City, who last lifted the Championship in 1968 and whose last taste of glory was the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup before last season's FA Cup win, have seemed cursed to underachieve. Even when they looked like winning the FA Cup in 1981, their goalscorer Tommy Hutchinson then put through his own net to let Tottenham back in to triumph, after a replay.

A sense of injustice turned into angry frustration among some fans, a similar phenomenon one can witness at Cardiff City or Leeds, but after an endless string of disappointments, along came rich men from the East bearing gifts. David could fear Goliath no more and City had arrived.

Yet the underdog tag which won City sympathy is fast evaporating in the face of such a merciless spending spree by the Abu Dhabian owners. Just take a look at the Blues' winning team. Whilst five were Englishmen, only one had come through the City youth system (Micah Richards). United by comparison fielded eight Brits throughout the 90 minutes, two of whom had been developed in-house. But City's foreign legion surely eclipsed United's, whose overseas stars comprised Anderson, David De Gea, Patrice Evra, Javier Hernandez and Nani.

Compare that to the ambrosial cornucopia of Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Gael Clichy, Edin Dzeko, Alexsandar Kolarov, Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri and Yaya Touré, plus the Premier League's top entertainer of the hour, David Silva. United had been outspent off the field and thus outgunned on the pitch.

With the Arab owners pouring money into a new academy complex and showing no signs of acknowledging any recession, City will soon spend their way to the heights of England, Europe and the world.

With no restriction on salaries, money does not just talk in the Premier League, it bellows. The pyrrhic element to this famous win will tell in the signal it has sent to soccer's governing bodies. If the Blues maintain their unerring march to European conquest, UEFA and FIFA will be forced to act and impose control on clubs' spending as the playing field will have become too tilted.

City's devastating victory shows the Premier League is absurdly top-heavy, listing like the Mary Rose into the waters of the Solent. There is no pretence of a 20-team competition and a gulf now exists even amongst the top teams. On any given Sunday, to plagiarise a term from American Football, Man U, the reigning champions, should not lose 6-1 at home to anyone. What made it so shocking was that it seemed no aberration, no one-off.

Does it have to be like this? No. Later that night some miles to the south, the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fought out a much closer NFL game at Wembley. In America, that well-known communist regime, a salary cap keeps its football field level, and the worse teams get first pick of the best young players.

The more the Premier League continues with no regulation, the more meaningless games like Sunday's will become. Bring on the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules.

Doubtless some new fans in Asia will be sporting blue shirts instead of their elder siblings' red ones, but there was a time when you supported a team for reasons other than it was far richer than the others, who are clearly finding it increasingly impossible to compete.

With this elephant in the room, Sunday's thrashing of United was less proof that the Premier League is unpredictable and competitive, but that its free-market model is in serious need of financial regulation.

For it seemed less a case of one club outplaying another through superior football than one simply outspending another, in an increasingly frightening way.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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