For being the man who coined the now famous and eloquently concise observation, “football, bloody hell,” Sir Alex Ferguson appears downright solicitous heading into tomorrow’s derby with City. Roberto Mancini, for his part, seems just as resigned, with both coaches insisting that the other has a better chance of taking the silverware this year, almost like two friends with a bitter, tumultuous past reuniting at the pub and arguing back and forth about who is going to show more munificence by picking up the tab.
Mancini did reportedly tell his players they have “one chance to make history” heading into the match, but he also played down City’s title hopes even with a victory. According to Football365, “Even though victory would take City back to the top of the table, Mancini insists United would remain title favourites and because of that, he says the pressure is yet to show.”
Considering both coaches’ reluctance to show any sort of confidence heading into this match, I’m forced to ask: do either of them even want it to happen?
Fergie, for instance, implied that only masochists do want it to happen, saying, “I am a confirmed masochist. I joined about 26 years ago. I do not know if you thrive on it. I can’t even say I can look forward to it but I am up for it, I am prepared for it and I think my players will be prepared for it.”
Not looking forward to it? Isn’t playing in (and hopefully winning) these kinds of matches the main purpose of his job as coach? I don’t know about you, but I don’t look foward to going to the dentist, or to waking up early in the morning under almost any circumstances. But arguably the biggest match of the year, and maybe the most important Manchester derby in living memory? I’m looking forward to that. Call me crazy.
Of course, I could be over-analyzing the calculated nonsense of two coaches trying to engage in press-driven mind games. Downplaying the match while trying to appear gracious towards the opponent is one way to keep one’s players calm, and if anything will prove valuable to the winner, it will be a settled and organized unit. If either line gets rattled and breaks formation, mistakes could be easily made and the floodgates could be torn open. In an otherwise pandemoniacal lead-up, perhaps any more excitement would be harmfully redundant.
Still, are we to believe that both coaches think the other has better chances to win the title?