By Matthew Galea
Since Manchester City found its new riches, it has felt as though every subsequent Manchester derby has been billed as, “the biggest derby yet”.
First, it was the former Thai Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra and the signing of Robinho that propelled City, so long in Manchester United’s shadow, into global relevance.
Then, it was the billions and billions provided by Sheikh Mansour which helped to transform City into more than just a nouveau riche outfit, but rather a genuine force in the Premier League competing for titles season in, season out.
Now, every time Manchester’s two clubs face off, there seems to be something bigger to play for.
Maybe that has not been so true in the last 24 months. United have not been genuine Premier League contenders since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, while City have always been there or thereabouts – even if their return of just two league titles for the hundreds of millions spent might be seen as a paltry return on the investment made.
Mind you, that never stopped Sky Sports and Co. from claiming that each meeting between the two sides took on some sort of global significance. Maybe it was about whether or not David Moyes would keep his job, or whether United could wreck City’s title campaign, but truthfully, the derby has not had a true significance to the Premier League title race since 2013, when both teams last truly competed for the title.
Of course, Manchester derbies remain incredibly important to both sets of supporters, but they have rarely been of the wider importance claimed in recent years.
That changes on Sunday, and personally I think this could be the first in an epic series of the most significant Manchester derbies in history and possibly because of two men who will not even be on the pitch.
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have already faced off several times as head coaches or managers of the fiercest of rivals in Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The drama off the field – in the press rooms of the Bernabeu and the Camp Nou – often matched what happened on it.
Take that and put it in the world’s most watched domestic league, in one city between two clubs whose distaste for one another has increased ten-fold in the last decade, and the stage is set for fireworks.
Already, both managers have had the desired impact at their respective clubs.
Guardiola has come in to replace the often sour Manuel Pellegrini and bought his coveted tiki-taka football with him.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach looks to have complete buy-in from his embarrassingly deep squad.
Players like Raheem Sterling and David Silva look re-born under the Catalonian football master as City have completely dominated – even if not on the scoreline – their opening three games of the season.
Across town, Mourinho has had a similarly revitalising effect on United.
Even without Champions League football on offer, Mourinho has instantly improved the squad with four additions that have completely changed the outlook at Old Trafford.
Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have come in and significantly strengthened United’s spine while Henrikh Mkhitaryan offers genuine pace and creativity that has not yet been fully unleashed, while the reinvention of Marouane Fellaini and Antonio Valencia have delivered further cause for optimism at the club.
Even the much-maligned Wayne Rooney is proving more effective under Mourinho, having scored or assisted in all three of his Premier League outings during United’s perfect start to the season.
I was lucky enough to attend a Manchester derby in 2011 and one of my enduring memories of that trip remains the anticipation that reeks throughout the city ahead of matchday.
I remember purchasing tickets to a United Nights event run by former United defender David May and that then being cancelled because of concerns that City fans might turn up and, quite literally, crash the party.
We still went out and did something anyway, but there was a unique cocktail of excitement and tension in the air.
I can only imagine what it must be like over there in the days leading up to Saturday’s contest.
Obviously, this weekend’s contest is far too early to have a telling impact on the final destination of this season’s Premier League crown and the title is certainly there for more than just United and City to win.
But for the first time in a long time, there is a global significance to the Manchester derby and I am absolutely pumped.