So the head of Vincent Kompany follows the boot of Denis Law into blue legend, a moment of coruscating bliss that might yet eclipse the day the King back-heeled the carcass of Sir Matt Busby’s last great team out of football’s top tier.
United were ushered from the old First Division by police on horseback, called into action when fans charged across Old Trafford’s muddied acres fuelled by anger and impotence. Thirty-eight years on they were clapped on their way by that Kippax totem Liam Gallagher, who, via an impromptu press conference at the Etihad, suggested Fergie had been on the toot.
He might have been right. Gallagher’s demonic dance across the football landscape shifts to St James' Park, where a lunchtime victory on Sunday will leave City three points from a first championship since 1968. Meanwhile Sir Alex is left to ponder a power shift perhaps even more profound than that marked by the Lawman’s instinctive contribution to Mancunian myth.
The bush telegraph has the next Leo Messi, a diminutive Belgian by the name of Eden Hazard, heading to Manchester City; the vast wealth of City’s Abu Dhabi ownership proving once again more persuasive than United’s richer tradition.
Fergie has visibly drooled over Hazard in personal visits to Lille. His answer to City’s onward march last night was to partner Ji Sung Park’s limitless lungs with the ageing legs of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
The poverty of that option was laid bare by the towering presence of Yaya Toure and the waspish daring of David Silva and Samir Nasri, a multi-million pound midfield three ball that would have made Messi, Xavi and Iniesta blink. All three were loose-change additions at City but way beyond the purse of United, who are still scrubbing around for ‘value’ in the market.
City might yet find Newcastle reluctant to participate in their coronation. It might be that United find themselves top again on Sunday with a visit to Sunderland to come. But what of next year and the year after that? Ferguson was forced to betray the United template and send out a team to defend what they had. Very un-Manchester United.
City were committed to wresting the title initiative from them and felt no compulsion to adapt to counter any threat United might or might not present. We are City, here we come. United could not escape that fateful dynamic and fell into a negative spiral.
The industrious Park has neither the substance to shape a game positively nor the authority to influence outcomes negatively. Indefatigable lungs take a player only so far, an hour in this case.
Kompany’s header of mass destruction effectively marked the end of empire. The days of Giggs and Scholes are gone. The latter’s post-Christmas cameo was welcome yet damning in its necessity. When the chips were down Giggs, the mighty Ryan Giggs, was an irrelevant presence all night. The inclusion of Park ahead of Antonio Valencia was a desperate ploy by Ferguson to eke out one more definitive result. City just weren’t having it.
The outcome leaves Ferguson facing a challenge as forbidding as any he has met. In the struggle to overcome Liverpool’s hegemony 27 years ago, Arsenal’s episodic flowerings and Chelsea’s Russian revolution Ferguson found the means to compete. City have changed the rules.
Not only has the increasingly impressive Roberto Mancini access to pockets deeper than the rest combined, he has fashioned a group of gifted players wedded to a new City narrative, not one of endless despair but of glorious possibilities.
Welcome to Manchester.
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