City v United: the player’s perspective

Monday’s title deciding Manchester derby is not the first time Reds and Blues have faced off for England’s top honour. Indeed, 43 years on many still remember the 1967-68 race between the two clubs – won by City on the last day of the season after United lost to Sunderland at Old Trafford.

Watching closely that day was 15-year-old schoolboy Brian Greenhoff, remembered fondly today as a versatile young midfielder, who went on to form a fine partnership with Martin Buchan in the heart of Manchester United’s defence. Decades later and Greenhoff remains a United fan, committed to seeing the Reds overcome the Blues this time round.

“I was offered a contract and it was up to me to decide where I went,” Greenhoff told United Rant this week.

“I went on holiday – it was my first time abroad – and then when I got back my dad asked ‘where are you going?’ It was always going to be United. Leeds wanted me too, but my dad would never have let me join them.”

It turned out to be a fine choice. Over six seasons in the United first team, and more than a decade with the club overall, the younger of the two Greenhoff brothers started 268 games and scored 17 goals for the Reds. Born in Barnsley, Greenhoff joined United’s youth team in August 1968 – just months after the team’s European Cup Final victory – having chosen the Reds ahead of a raft of suitors, including the aforementioned Leeds United.

The year is remembered by Reds for United’s emotional European Cup final win, coming a decade after the tragedy at Munich. Blues, meanwhile, recall City’s last domestic title triumph – soured when two weeks later at Wembley United trumped City’s achievement.

There will be no European Cup consolation for whichever team loses Monday’s game of course, although the emotions and rivalries remain intense.  And there are few who better understand the changing nature of both football and fandom between ’68 and the present title race than Greenhoff.

Local rivalries still ring true, but the media hype surrounding the build up to next Monday’s game has grown beyond recognition, says the 58-year-old.

“It wasn’t so much the media and TV, more local press in them days. Media was local then, but the hype with the game coming up is huge. It’s better not to watch it all. It’s going to be incredible,” says Greenhoff, who played in 10 derbies and holds supporters close to his heart.

“You are doing it for the fans; you want them to have the bragging rights and the big smile on their faces. I used to love playing in derby games, but don’t like watching them. I get too wound up, I want to kick somebody. I play the derby game more than any other.

“This is the biggest derby game since 1968. It went to the last game then and it’ll go to last game now, whatever happens.”

There was no title-deciding match-up in ‘68 – City beat United 3-1 at Old Trafford with 10 games still remaining – but the local edge to the clash was unmistakable. After all, while players from Shay Brennan to Nobby Stiles, John Fitzpatrick, George Best and Bobby Charlton may have hailed from all corners of the British Isles, many ‘grew up’ in United’s youth team.

“Danny Welbeck will probably be the only one,” adds Greenhoff, of the current crop of players.

“You want lads who’ve come through the ranks. When I’d played there were quite a few that came through. Even playing in the B team or the reserves we wanted to win the derby. It was always about putting one over your neighbour.

“I would knock around with [Manchester City’s] Dennis Tueart. We were all friends off the pitch, nobody hated each other. Fans seem to hate each other these days. It’s scary. The rules and intensity in football have changed.”

Loyalty is a theme Greenhoff returns to frequently. He was, after all, a player who “never had an agent” and would receive each contract offer via letter from the club.  Today’s players, Greenhoff says, are too often in it for the money. It gives the derby a different edge.

“When I made my debut I was only on £35 a week,” he adds.

“Tommy Docherty said ‘we’ll give you a rise every year as long as you’re in the side’. He kept his word, although it was never a lot because United were poor payers in those days.

“I do think modern players are mercenaries, but they’ll never admit it. Look at somebody like Nasri – it looked like he was signing for United, but then he was offered 75 grand more a week and went to City.

“Sir Alex had it right when he was talking about Pogba – when you play at Manchester United the money will come. Look at Welbeck, he’s in the papers today, and is going to earn 45 grand a week. That’s not bad for a 20-year-old is it? As a young lad you can see the rewards will be there if you dedicate yourself.”

Money remains a theme in Manchester though, with United seemingly burdened by debt, and City able to spend lavishly in the transfer market since the 2008 takeover by the Abu Dhabi royal family. The contrasting financial fortunes threaten United’s hegemony not only in Manchester, but the Premier League too – it’s a crown United will be fighting to retain on Monday night.

“City will be successful for the next 10 years, but will old Sheikh big pockets keep on subsidising the club or will he pull out?” asks Greenhoff.

“They’ve got to get the infrastructure correct – if they don’t do that it could fall apart quickly. It all depends on the Sheikh and if he keeps pumping money in. But if he makes them stand on their own two feet then they’ll have to look to the academy. And who would send their kid to that academy when they’re never going to get a game?”

Even if City’s strategy is based on trumping all in the market, Abu Dhabi’s investment looks likely to be long-term, with the Royal Family having ploughed more than £400 million into the club already.  It makes Ferguson’s ability to shape a side from youth, while coping with injuries this season, all the more impressive says Greenhoff.

“City have got a bottomless pit of money. They’ll spend until they win the prize. When you look at what they’ve spent already, for United to stay with them could be the greatest achievement, and with the amount of injuries it’s incredible.

“I’m sure the fans will blame the Glazers if United don’t succeed, but Sir Alex is always building for the future. He knows if players can still offer something to the game, and he buys players at a good age.

“United try to get players through from the academy all the time. Not just into the first team, but also think of all players they’ve sold from the academy.”

Greenhoff was eventually sold on to Leeds for £350,000  in 1979, but his affection for the club he calls “the greatest in the world” is undiminished more than 30 years on. After three years in Leeds he played in South Africa and then Finland before winding up a fine career alongside his older brother at Rochdale.

In retirement Greenhoff worked for a local sports wholesaler before spending several years living in Spain. Now back in the north-west, his focus is again on football, and the big derby match next Monday. And while some Reds may be nervous of City’s vast wealth and new-found power, Greenhoff isn’t.

“United won’t go away. This is what I say to the City fans. Whatever happens, United are still going to be there.”

It’s a message with which fans can concur, whatever Monday’s result.

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Comments

  1. han says

    nice article – as always – Ed
    but those were the days when £35 was considered a decent wage – how times have changed
    40k per week for Welbeck is probably the going rate for a player with his potential but Nasri getting £75k EXTRA per week on whatever united were offering is just obscene

    Anyway, roll on Monday night…

  2. Stevie D says

    Ah the good old days, jumpers for goalposts and all that!

    The last title deciding derby in ’68 was at Old Trafford and City won. Monday’s derby is at Ethiad….so does that mean United win??

    Makes sense to me!

  3. Herbie Simms says

    This game is not going to decide the title, unless Man City win. Its all City now. We blew it against Wigan. We are not going to beat Sunderland away. Martin O’Neill is too clever of a manager. Man City will beat Newcastle away. City have too many world class players and they have found their form again since the return of Tevez. But we should get a draw at least against City but we will drop points in the remaining two games. United are looking like a team burnt out, mentally and physically. SAF was right on today when he said Man City are now a force and the team to beat in the EPL because they have so much money, they can buy any player they want. He also confirmed that he will be buying players this summer because of the strength of Man City which is good news for the fans.

    • 19 and Counting says

      This game is definitely going to decide the title. City win and the title is theirs. United win or even draw and we will have enough to see it out. I just hope the defensive horror show vs. Everton was just a one-off or we’re in deep shyte.

    • Gabagool says

      You miserable sod Herbie. Defensive frailty against an “up for it” Everton doesn’t mean we have to throw the toys out of the pram.
      Positive thinking, we’ll get at least a draw at citeh

  4. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    An interesting thought…

    If City beat us, then we have two games left with one simple objective… score as many goals as possible.

    • Violent Banana says

      Say City beat us by the odd goal – even if we won both our remaining games by a 4 goal margin, it wouldn’t be enough if City won their remaining fixtures 1-0.

      If it comes down to goal difference it won’t be us who’s celebrating.

  5. shauno says

    City will not beat Newcastle away. The barcodes are fighting for third not fourth and will be up for it. We have enough to see off Sunderland and Swansea. Can’t wait for Monday even though its NOT the title decider.

  6. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Commenter said:
    Say City beat us by the odd goal – even if we won both our remaining games by a 4 goal margin, it wouldn’t be enough if City won their remaining fixtures 1-0.

    If it comes down to goal difference it won’t be us who’s celebrating.

    Maybe not, but what kind of football might we see if Fergies only objective is to get as many goals as possible out of this team?

    • DeadRevel says

      It’s something I’ve been thinking about too.

      It seems unlikely, but I can’t see City beating Newcastle by many goals, and QPR will probably be looking to scrape a draw.

      Swansea are a decent side but have their off days and can concede lots, Sunderland look crap at the moment.

      Would be an interesting end to the season. But one we probably wouldn’t win.

  7. sheesh says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    An interesting thought…
    If City beat us, then we have two games left with one simple objective… score as many goals as possible.

    Begs the question why we weren’t doing this vs the likes of west brom and fulham at home. The answer would be that we were complacent. We nearly fucked up against fulham because of it.

  8. han says

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    yep we’ve been shit against the riff raff as far as performances go, prime faffage

    so why the fuck didn’t you hotfoot it to SAF’s office and tell him to play berba you cunt

  9. bman says

    We ain’t going to win on goal difference. If teams play us needing a win, theres the potential for us to really cut them apart. But if theyre just doing damage limitation, you aren’t going to get 4+ goals off a side like Sunderland.

  10. han says

    bman said:
    We ain’t going to win on goal difference. If teams play us needing a win, theres the potential for us to really cut them apart. But if theyre just doing damage limitation, you aren’t going to get 4+ goals off a side like Sunderland.

    especially now that brucie is history there

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