Manchester Derby more than a match
For the red and blue half of Manchester, the derby is more than a football match
MAN UNITED v MAN CITY
(Tomorrow, 7.25pm, Singtel TV Ch 103 & StarHub TV Ch 228 - Eleven Plus)
It was August 1989, just before Manchester United's opening match of the 1989-90 season against league champions Arsenal.
Moustachioed businessman Michael Knighton - who was in talks to buy the club from long-standing chairman Martin Edwards for £20 million ($36m) - donned a United kit and performed a keepie-uppie routine in front of disbelieving fans.
He smashed the ball into the net and wheeled away in celebration like he had just scored the winning goal in a World Cup final.
It was a bizarre start to a strange season. Ninety minutes later, an expensively assembled United side had dispatched the Gunners by 4-1.
The Stretford End rejoiced. The good times were back at Old Trafford, and a first title in over two decades beckoned.
A month later, United visited arch- rivals City at Maine Road.
In contrast to the millions of pounds flying out of the Old Trafford coffers, the promoted Citizens were relying on a core group of youngsters who were born and bred in the city and knew what the rivalry with United meant to the blue half of Manchester.
The cream of that particularly youthful crop was Paul Lake - a man whose career was to be cruelly cut short by a crippling knee injury when greatness beckoned. This was his first Manchester Derby.
"Halfway through my journey to Maine Road that day, I pulled up to some traffic lights," he remembered in his autobiography I'm Not Really Here.
"There's a City fan in his thirties with his arm around his young son, both of them kitted out in replica shirts and the old-style blue, white and red scarves.
"Having seen me sitting there in my car, this fella nudges his lad and then does something that will stay with me forever. Pressing his palms together as if in prayer, he looks at me beseechingly and simply mouths 'Please... please... please'."
It encapsulated what this match means to the city.
That day, slick City won one of the most extraordinary Manchester Derbies ever by 5-1, leading to impassioned calls for Alex Ferguson to be relieved of his duties.
That momentous Manchester Derby in September 1989 was held up for eight minutes while several hundred United supporters, who had broken into the City end, traded blows with home fans.
That was the norm back then.
Twenty-seven years later, tickets for one of the most hotly anticipated Premier League matches in recent years are being exchanged for the equivalent of £2,000.
Indeed, the 2016 instalment of the rivalry boasts more sub-plots than a Hollywood script.
On the field, City are without their talisman Sergio Aguero. It's a huge blow, but it's not the big story here. It's off the field where the real drama may yet unfold.
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola worked together at Barcelona between 1996 and 2000, when Mourinho was a coach and Guardiola a player.
Guardiola even recommended Mourinho as his choice of successor to Frank Rijkaard when the Barcelona coach's job became available in 2008.
However, club legend Johan Cruyff intervened and instructed the board to appoint Guardiola instead. The rest, as they say, is history.
The rivalry between the two men in La Liga, when Mourinho managed Real Madrid, was bitter. Hateful even. But the battle lines were drawn before that.
Guardiola emerged victorious against Mourinho's Inter Milan when the pair first locked horns in the Champions League group stages in 2009.
The two teams later met in the semi-finals. After a first-leg 3-1 win for Inter at the San Siro, Mourinho slammed Guardiola's claims that Barca should have been awarded a penalty for a foul on Dani Alves.
The tension between the two men reached boiling point in the second leg when eventual winners Inter clung on to a controversial 3-2 aggregate victory, despite being reduced to 10 men.
Mourinho's extravagant celebrations and scuffle with Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes cast him as a hate figure in Barcelona and, just a month later, he took the reins at the Bernabeu.
Mourinho has won only three of his 16 meetings with Guardiola. The technical area at Old Trafford will make fascinating viewing tomorrow as he attempts to make it four.
- Richard Lenton is the lead presenter at Eleven Sports Network. Join Richard and his studio guests for Eleven's live coverage of the Premier League, which includes tomorrow's triple-header that starts with the Manchester Derby at 7.25pm, and finishes with Liverpool entertaining champions Leicester at midnight. For more details, visit www.elevensports.sg