Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and defender Rio Ferdinand have certainly stoked the fire in this season’s race for the title.
Both have been vocal in their issues with the blue half of Manchester on Friday morning, with Ferdinand questioning where City’s fans have been over the past decade and Ferguson taking issue with comments from Patrick Vieira.
Vieira, football development executive at the Etihad Stadium, enjoyed a tempestuous relationship with the Red Devils during his time at Arsenal. And earlier in the week, he questioned the decision to bring Paul Scholes back into the playing fold at Old Trafford.
“Paul Scholes is a player that I really love and admire, one of the best English players of the last few years, and seeing him come back is good for him and for United. But for him to come back just shows a little bit of weakness in United, because they had to bring a player back who was 37,” Vieira told The Daily Telegraph.
“I think it shows that, in the next few years, it will be really difficult for United to cope with other teams because, with all the respect I have for Scholes, him coming back shows that they don’t have talent in there to replace him.
“When you see United losing young players like Ravel Morrison and maybe Paul Pogba, they should be really worried because that wouldn’t have happened in the past.”
But Ferguson, regarded as the king of the mind games following Kevin Keegan’s public demise at Newcastle in 1996, couldn’t disagree more with Vieira over the 37-year-old’s return to action. His ‘debut’ came in the 3-2 FA Cup third round victory over City back in January.
Additionally, Ferguson was happy to question the decision to bring Carlos Tevez back into the fold against Chelsea on Wednesday night, taking his first swipe of an expected many over the Argentine international.
"If it's desperation bringing back the best midfielder in Britain for the last 20 years then I think we can accept that. I think he [Vieira] was programmed for that. Roberto had a dig a couple of weeks back. We're all going to play our hand that way. There will be plenty of ammunition for that,” said the Scot.
"If you talk about desperation, they played a player the other night who the manager said he'd never play again and he takes a five-month holiday in Argentina. What is that? Could that come under the description of desperation?"
Ferdinand’s issue comes with the sudden emergence of City fans in the streets of Manchester, with the recent successes under Roberto Mancini leading to a perceived rise in visible supporters.
City have always have a well-respected and large fan base, with crowds in excess of 20,000 during their dark days in what is now Npower League One – the third tier of English football.
But, with money, success and quality players comes a new level of support, which the England international defender has taken exception too.
"Walking around in town, you see more and more blue shirts than you probably ever would have seen over the last 10 years. Success sometimes brings people out of the woodwork,” Ferdinand told BBC Sport.
"So fingers crossed we can delay that and make sure that we get this title sewn up this season. Every game is a cup final now. Every result now is going to sway the title this way or that. If we win the games that we've got left, we win the league. But it's not as easy as that.”
The level of fans supporting the Red Devils was, of course, an issue of annoyance to many in the past. United’s dominance in domestic football led to a new group of young followers based specifically around the club’s success.
‘Glory Hunter’ was a phrase often used to describe the sudden rise in Manchester United fans, but that power could be shifting - especially if City claim glory in this season’s title fight. The potential ramifications could be huge, as young fans choose to support City over United.
How the clubs take advantage of their power across continents is another debate entirely, but the concept of ‘mind games’ is one that has helped United – and more importantly Ferguson – secure legendary status.
Newcastle’s self-destruction and Rafa Benitez’s facts rant are the two most high-profile examples, whilst Arsene Wenger’s need to constantly dodge and insist he wasn’t getting involved in such mental confrontation served its own purpose for Ferguson as they eventually showed their dominance against the Gunners after their ‘invincible’ era.
In Mancini, Ferguson appears to face a slightly different ‘mind games’ challenge, with Vieira looking to land his own blows off the pitch almost a decade after clashing with Roy Keane and Scholes on it.
How the Italian copes with the huge pressure that is coming his way could potentially define the manager’s time in English football, and a win for City this season could lay down a marker for years to come.
But, if Ferguson gets his way, as has been the case so many times over the past 25 years, then cracks will slowly start to show on the big-spending local rivals. The final humiliation would be United claiming the title when the two sides meet on Monday, 30th April.
How that would mess with the mind of City.
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