It was almost 10 years ago that Sir Alex Ferguson made his famous “noisy neighbour” jibe at Manchester City.
It was mainly prompted by the Carlos Tevez ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster after the Man United star crossed town to sign for City in July 2009.
In the decade since, City have come a long way, a spectacularly rapid upward trajectory financed by Sheikh Mansour’s billions, while Manchester United have gone backwards at the same alarming pace.
And now, for all the wrong reasons, it’s United who are the noisy neighbours in Manchester, with City a stealth bomber flying under the radar.
The way this summer is developing shows just how far ahead of United City now are – in almost every way.
Even with United in Australia on a money-spinning pre-season tour, you can’t escape the Red Devils’ trials and tribulations. Doomed transfer pursuits, trouble with big stars like Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, who are both desperate for a way out of Old Trafford, David de Gea’s contract wrangle, and dissatisfaction with Ed Woodward’s running of the club… all is being played out in public on a daily basis.
It’s noise and exposure United could well do without. And it’s a million miles from what Fergie and his chief executive David Gill were all about.
Especially when City are purring along like the well-oiled machine they are from top to bottom.
The only noises coming out of the Etihad this summer are the clanking of trophies and medals being polished, and the gentle hum of anticipation ahead of next season.
City no longer need to be rowdy any more.
They are in a great place. United are simply all over the place.
Nothing sums it up quite like the way City handled the signing of Atletico Madrid holding midfielder Rodri on July 3. The 23-year-old Spaniard became City’s record signing at £62.5million, reason enough, you’d think, to shout about it from the rooftops.
Except City have moved on from their Tevez days. Now they just taunt United with trophies. Lots of them.
So for Rodri there was no poster, no fancy video rolled out on social media, and no fanfare. Just a simple unveiling to the media, without any bells and whistles. And you just know Rodri is going to be a smash hit at City, eventually fitting seamlessly into Fernandinho’s shoes.
Contrast that with the all-singing, all-dancing Alexis Sanchez piano-playing video from United in January last year – the last time they made a significant signing.
United’s global digital presence means the demand to announce big signings with some razzmatazz is obligatory, just at a time when they should be following City’s lead – keeping a low profile and doing their talking on the pitch.
If Sanchez had been a success, fair enough. But he’s been a disaster. A signing with no real thought or planning. Just another big name to keep the sponsors queueing up.
There’s plenty I don’t like about the way City have got to where they are. But you have to admire the way they’ve nailed every part of their management structure to leave once-mighty United looking like amateurs.
City have sporting director Txiki Begiristain and chief executive Ferran Soriano planning their domination on the pitch while a whole other layer of management plots their business development off it.
They have a squad rich in talent that oozes quality, hunger and desire to be the best.
Then they have Pep Guardiola – a manager on a 24/7 quest to make his team the best club side in the world.
United have made some massive mistakes since Fergie left. But the biggest was not getting rid of Woodward when they realised he was out of his depth. United’s owners, the Glazers, should have been ruthless just like when Fergie got rid of David Beckham, Roy Keane, Jaap Stam and Paul Ince.
But when an ownership is interested only in the numbers, what chance do you have?
If the Glazers really wanted to get the fans back onside they’d dump Woodward and bring in proper expertise, befitting one of the biggest clubs in the world.
And that’s why United fans are already preparing themselves for another car-crash season.