Manchester dominant as racism rears head

Published: Dec 23, 2011, 13:19 IST | Agencies |

Manchester was confirmed as the football capital of England in 2011 as the long-dormant spectre of racism re-emerged to cast a shadow over the sport.

Manchester was confirmed as the football capital of England in 2011 as the long-dormant spectre of racism re-emerged to cast a shadow over the sport.

A quirk of fixture scheduling meant that in the space of a few memorable hours in May, Manchester City ended their 35-year wait for a trophy by winning the FA Cup shortly after Manchester United had clinched a record 19th title.

The unique double triumph for the Manchester clubs underscored the new paradigm of English football, with the recently enriched City joining long-time aristocrats United at the summit of the domestic game.

The pre-emimence of the Manchester duo was further emphasised by the opening months of the 2011/2012 Premier League campaign, where both teams got off to flying starts to annex first and second place.

Yet United's free-scoring start to the campaign unravelled spectacularly at Old Trafford in late October when City came to visit in one of the most eagerly anticipated Manchester derbies in years.

A brutal 6-1 drubbing -- United's heaviest home defeat since 1955 -- gave City a five-point lead at the top of the table and left Sir Alex Ferguson reflecting on what he described as his "worst ever day."

While the full implications of City's extraordinary victory remain to be seen -- and United have been prematurely written off many times before -- it left many wondering whether the blue half of Manchester was now poised to dethrone their more successful cross-town rivals.

Certainly few clubs, including United, can match City's crushing dominance in the transfer market. Abu Dhabi-based billionaire Sheikh Mansour has spent an estimated �800 million in the three years since he acquired City, a largesse that has allowed manager Roberto Mancini to construct a lavishly talented squad that looks capable of dominating English football for years to come.

A demonstration of City's sheer financial might can be seen in the way the club handled the saga over Carlos Tevez, who was accused of failing to appear as a substitute during a Champions League match against Bayern Munich in September.

Tevez, a darling of the fans who played a key role in the successes of the previous season, has been effectively cast into the wilderness since the episode. The received wisdom of the post-Bosman era dictates that all the power resides with players, not clubs.

City have bucked that trend by adopting a hardline stance over Tevez, happy to let the player rot in the reserves -- or, more accurately, on the golf courses of his homeland -- unless a suitor weighs in with an acceptable transfer offer. No other club in England has the wherewithal to allow a player paid an estimated �200,000 per week to sit idle, all in the name of making a point.

The question for City however is whether they can curb their spending enough to satisfy UEFA's looming Financial Fair Play regulations, which dictate that clubs must balance their books in order to play in European competitions.

A net loss of nearly �200 million in the last financial year suggests that City have plenty to do if they are to keep European football's rulers happy.

But while United and City remain in a league of their own in England, 2011 saw the European ambitions of both clubs suffer twin setbacks.

United had looked stylish as they romped into a dream Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley in May.

But 90 chastening minutes later and a glum Ferguson was left to ponder a 3-1 defeat that exposed the gulf between the English champions and the Spanish giants, who celebrated their second win in the competition in three seasons.

United's hopes of returning to avenge their defeat in the 2011/2012 competition were dashed in the group stage, with the club bundled out after a defeat by FC Basel in December which left them in third place.

City, too, fell at the first hurdle in the Champions League, eliminated after finishing behind Bayern Munich and Napoli.

Meanwhile, the closing months of 2011 were dominated by the twin racism controversies embroiling Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Chelsea and England captain John Terry.

Suarez was hit with an eight-match ban by the FA for racially abusing Manchester United's Patrice Evra, allegations that the Uruguayan international and his club Liverpool strongly deny.

Terry meanwhile faces a court battle to clear his name in 2012 after the bombshell announcement on December 21 that he had been charged with hurling racist abuse at QPR's Anton Ferdinand during a match at Loftus Road.

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