Fresh off helping Manchester United kick off the new English soccer season in the most morale-boosting fashion possible, Wayne Rooney could not resist turning to Twitter to deliver a well-aimed taunt at his club’s fiercest rival.
“Today was a footballing lesson,” wrote Rooney. “Great win for the champions.”
United’s 3-2 victory over crosstown foe Manchester City in the Community Shield – the annual curtain raiser to the English campaign – not only gave Rooney license to boast but fired the first shot in a rivalry between two teams situated just a few miles apart which could decide the outcome of this season’s English Premier League title.
City, fresh from another summer of lavish spending thanks to the generosity of its billionaire Arabian owner, craves the day when it can match its more famous and prestigious neighbor and lift some serious silverware of its own.
For now though, in pure soccer terms at least, it is still very much the "little brother." For all the big-name signings brought in by City manager Roberto Mancini, United still has the structure and setup that breeds both a conveyor belt of talent and a steady stream of success.
It is that continuity that produces unshakeable belief, and that belief allowed the Red Devils to overturn a two-goal deficit at Wembley Stadium on Sunday and win the trophy with a goal deep into injury time.
Rooney’s comment was presumably designed to stir things up a bit, but in reality, he is absolutely right. City and its owners are learning in a hurry, that while money speaks loudly in soccer, it is does not come with a guarantee of glory.
City spends more than $600,000 every week in salaries for players who are not even in the first-team squad. Its summer was spent in pursuit of superstar Sergio Aguero, who cost $60 million in transfer fees and will earn around $15 million per year.
United’s financial approach has been far more restrained in recent years, in part because of doubts over the fiscal status of their American owners, the Glazer family, and partly because boss Sir Alex Ferguson understands the value in building from within.
The game winner came from Nani, who has blossomed into a genuine star following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo two years ago, and the late impetus behind United’s comeback was thanks in part to Tom Cleverley, an emerging talent in midfield who has been at Old Trafford since the age of 15.
“I am disappointed with the result,” Mancini said. “It was the first game of the season, and anything can happen because all of the team are not in good form. We are disappointed but it is important we understand why we made the mistakes.”
United rightly goes into the new season as a heavy favorite to lift the title, yet City remains a work in progress and cannot be discounted. City's owner has a bottomless pit of wealth and is displaying no signs of slowing down his spending. The checks will continue to be signed off until the dream of either an EPL or Champions League title is realized – expect some of the world’s biggest names to keep making their way to the blue half of Manchester.
City's extraordinary funding has given them greater depth than any other squad, a mightily useful factor during the middle stretch of the season where the schedule gets congested. With giant aspirations to be one of Europe’s superclubs, "little brother" will not rest until it gets there. For now though, United is still in charge of both the EPL and its hometown. And on Sunday’s evidence, it has both the resiliency and confidence to remain on top.