U.S. soccer legend Tim Howard says Manchester derby ‘like nothing American sports fans have seen’

first_img“There’s just a lot more nerves,” Howard, now an analyst with Turner Sports, told Sporting News. “You can feel it. It is palpable. When you go into a normal game, or even a big game, there’s nerves and people are anxious. But when you get into a derby, you know, both sets of fans are feeling it. It’s nail-biting; it’s just very intense. There’s an intensity about a derby that other games don’t have simply because there’s more than just a win or a loss. It’s about city pride and city supremacy.”The Manchester derby in which Howard appeared roughly 15 years ago was far different from the one that will be staged — or should we say waged — Saturday afternoon at Etihad. It will be the same in all the ways Howard described. In other words, it still will be a derby. It no longer is controlled by the team in red, however.It has been altered, for at least the foreseeable future, by the injection into City of so much incredible wealth through the purchase of the club by the Abu Dhabi Group in 2008, as well as by the subsequent retirement of Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson.City got richer. United got, well, less smart.Since the City purchase in September 2008, the record in league games between the two is City 10 victories, United nine victories and three draws. In this decade, though, the record favors City 10-7-3. And since Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012-13 season, it is City by a 7-3-1 margin. The derby has been played since 1894. More than 21 percent of City’s league victories in this series have occurred since the takeover, which represents only 9 percent of those 125 years.“It’s a wonderful case study, if you will, of the transition of these super clubs,” Fox Sports soccer analyst Alexi Lalas told SN. “You have your traditional, staid, old money, and then you have this nouveau riche that came in, and the juxtaposition between the two, and the competition between the two, from a locale standpoint. But also these are two — certainly at this point — global brands. One amassed that type of recognition globally very quickly, and one filtered over decades.“The ability for that old money to compete with this new money is as fascinating to me as the Xs and Os on the field. It plays out every day and every week, oftentimes through the scores of the games or the players that are signed or the coaches that are signed. It’s really amazing what they are, or what we perceive them to be, and how different it is from what they were 10 years ago.”When U.S. soccer hall of famer Claudio Reyna played at City from 2003 to 2007, or when fellow American great DeMarcus Beasley was there on loan in the 06-07 season, Manchester City was what might have been called, charitably, a “mid-table” team. City averaged 45 points in that period, flirted with relegation twice, only finished in the top 10 once.The two Americans were gone only a year when the ownership team arrived from the United Arab Emirates, with businessman Sulaiman Al-Fahim promising significant spending on player talent that was personified by the purchase of Brazilian star Robinho’s contract from Real Madrid.As the spending on players escalated — with Robinho, Nigel de Jong and Vincent Kompany followed by Carlos Tevez, Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott and Emmanuel Adebayor in 2009 (for a combined 100.5 million pounds), then Yaya Toure, David Silva, Edin Dzeko, James Milner and Mario Balotelli in 2010 (a combined 117 million) and Sergio Aguero, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy in 2011 (a combined 74 million) — City advanced from 50 points in 2008-09 to 67 and fifth place, to 71 points and a first-ever spot in the UEFA Champions League, to 89 in 2011-12 and the club’s first title since 1968.“I think it’s a little disingenuous to say that it’s all about money,” Lalas said. “Yes, it’s about money, but there’s plenty of money out there for other clubs. I don’t think City often gets enough credit for the smart way they have spent ridiculous amounts of money. You look at the infrastructure that’s been built, albeit very quickly … and it’s translated into success and results but, most important, it’s translated into relevance. I don’t look at Man City through the lens of what they were 10 and 20 years ago.”Brian Dunseth, the former U.S. international who now is co-host of the Counter Attack program on Sirius/XM FC, has a personal stake in the City-United derby and agrees with Lalas’ assertion.“I think the first thing everybody’s going to talk about is the money, and that’s rightfully so,” Dunseth told SN. “I think the thing that’s been incredible is you can throw as much money as you want at things, and we’ve seen that happen in the Premier League, but the reality is you’ve got to have a plan. You’ve got to have a vision. And you have to have the right people in place to execute said plan and vision. I think that’s what’s been one of the most amazing things to watch.“As a fan of the Premier League, to see the idea start to be put in play, and to see how they’re executing and the level of competition, and to see the amount of players around the world that want to be part of such an incredible project.”A veteran of more than a decade as a television and radio soccer analyst, Dunseth also happens to be a longtime Manchester United fan. You can hear it reflected in his conversations with co-host (and avowed AC Milan fan) Tony Meola on their afternoon program. Dunseth’s love of Man U began when he was a high school player in Southern California and teammates with a young man named Ben Hooper, whose family was from Oldham, a city in the Manchester region, where they had become loyal United fans.When Dunseth slept over at his friend’s house on a Friday night, he was puzzled to discover the family waking up at uncomfortably early hours. “I just kind of inadvertently fell in love with United watching the games with a friend.”As the group that came to be known as the Class of 92 developed — David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs — and coincided with the purchase of Eric Cantona midway through the 1992-93 season, following Man U became even more delightful for Dunseth, and he also got the opportunity to visit its training site and compete in training games with U.S. youth teams against the Man U reserves.From the time Dunseth adopted the Red Devils, they won four of the five Premier League titles between 1993 and 1997 and 13 in 21 years under “Sir Alex”. There also were Champions League titles in 1999 and 2008 and five FA Cup victories, including the one featuring Howard in 2004.Good times, right? And then came the City revolution, led by elite managers Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and, best of all, Pep Guardiola. And the Man U devolution, with Ferguson’s retirement followed by a series of managerial missteps including the overmatched (David Moyes) and the overconfident (Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho). United’s average finish in the Premier League since Sir Alex departed: fifth. The only trophies won were one FA Cup, one Europa League, one League Cup and one Community Shield. That’s a decent month for City at this point.“Obviously, being a Manchester United fan has not been the greatest,” Dunseth said. “We’re in a phase where they’ve passed Manchester United in a lot of ways. But being able to watch them, nonetheless, has been incredible.”There is a sense among some Manchester United fans that the heart of the problem with their club is ownership, specifically American ownership, with the club in the hands of the Glazer family of Florida. The anti-Glazer campaigns would have greater merit were they not launched almost immediately after the late Malcolm Glazer took control of the club in 2005 — at a time when Ferguson and his team still were a dominant force in the league.It is clear, though, that however much the club’s front office knew about the timing of Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 — he made his announcement just weeks before claiming his final Premier League title — there was no coherent plan regarding how to move forward without Sir Alex even though he had passed age 70. Dunseth contends that the departure that same year of chief executive David Gill also was an issue.“How do you replace two heavyweights that had created such an identity?” Dunseth said. “And on top of that, when Sir Alex walked away that was an incredible squad but also an aging squad. And I think to this day you’re trying to figure out how to replace that.”This has become a delightful time for Manchester City supporters around North America — not all of whom hopped on board what had suddenly become a shiny, gleaming vehicle during the past decade.Ryan Marshall launched the Man City supporters’ group in Indianapolis in 2016, so it seems a little like that’s how it went. The timing was somewhat connected to Manchester City expanding its outreach across the Atlantic. But he became a fan in the mid-2000s and chose the club specifically because it was not one of the established powerhouses.“I’ve always been kind of, more of an underdog,” Marshall told SN. “Which I know City is not seen as anymore. But I think I identified with that. And most of the City supporters I had met were always super friendly, no matter where I was. Maybe some of the criticism they get not only here, but also abroad, is for not being the loudest or the typical ‘empty-seat’ banter that they get.”Marshall loves City enough that even though he since has moved to Florida, he still runs the MCFC Indianapolis (@Cityanapolis) Twitter account and is active in the group. He does not, though, fly in each week to watch games at Chatham Tap in downtown Indy, instead watching with his new group in the Tampa area.And though he knows it would be better for the rivalry if Man U were, well, Man U again, and that those who follow the game worldwide would enjoy these derby games that much more if they regained the relevance in place during the brief period between the Abu Dhabi takeover and Sir Alex’s departure, he is enjoying seeing the Red Devils standing 10th in the league with just 18 points from 14 matches.“I love the way they’ve been playing. I hope they keep playing the same way for the next 50 years,” Marshall said. “I think in terms of just if you’re a fan of somebody outside the top six, it makes it more relevant and watchable and you get more excited for it if Manchester United is succeeding.”As we saw last weekend when Michigan played Ohio State and the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Cleveland Browns, American fans understand and appreciate rivalries as well as any fans in any country.Canadian fans understand it, too — the long rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens extends beyond the ice and into the political realm.  American soccer legend Tim Howard filled the most pressurized position in the sport in the FA Cup final, through 121 appearances with the U.S. men’s national team, in that harrowing 2010 World Cup group game against Algeria that ended with Landon Donovan’s magical goal. Through all of that, however, he experienced nothing quite like the feeling of a Premier League derby.He stood in goal for Manchester United against Manchester City at both Old Trafford and what is now Etihad Stadium. He felt the intensity course through the city — no, honestly, it raged through the city — in the week leading up to the game. There is a difference, though, between a rivalry and a derby that only occasionally infiltrates the North American sporting culture. It’s there in the basketball rivalries between North Carolina and Duke, Louisville and Kentucky and Cincinnati and Xavier — that sense of proximity, that one literally could be living next door to the enemy.The truth about the Manchester derby is that Manchester United’s rivalry with Liverpool probably is more hotly contested, more enduring and deeply felt. There are some Man U fans who will be conflicted regarding the inevitable by-product should the Red Devils win or draw in Saturday’s game at Etihad and undermine City’s pursuit of first-place LFC.“These derby matches are like nothing American sports fans have seen,” Howard told SN. “It truly is a city divided. It’s all people care about and its all you hear about. You know that you just have to win. It’s the bare minimum. When I was at United, Man City hadn’t quite been taken over and splashed all their millions and billions of dollars. So it was a known thing that we were meant to win every one of these games.”last_img read more

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