Sir Alex 'S'Ralex' Feguson just knows what it's about; "It was a long night. We had to persevere and in the end we got our rewards for it. The goals came so late, which typifies the history of the club."
For fans of Manchester United, last night's 2-0 win away at Blackburn was a cause for delirious joy, taking their team five points clear at the top of the table. For everyone else it was a cause for grudging admiration and jealousy of a side that, despite being incredibly average at points this season has an unparalleled ability to produce results. And for Manchester City supporters, it produced a potent reminder that despite the fact that they have owners with pockets deeper than Barry White's voice, United's experience and unity gives them a vicelike grip on the Premier League title.
As a Liverpool fan, I've wanted Citeh to win this title from the off; the thought of United bounding even further away from our previous record of 18 crowns simply doesn't bear thinking about. And whilst this may be counting chickens before they've hatched, by the end of Saturday's 3-3 home draw with Sunderland, manager Roberto Mancini's looked completely shell-shocked as his side finally cracked up (Easter lolz). But after leading the race for so long, what has lead to this dramatic reversal in fortunes?
Part of this just comes down to sheer experience. United simply understand the business of winning titles better than anyone else; they know how to sit back and protect a lead when others would continue to attack and leave themselves exposed, they know how to play badly and win, especially against mid-table sides who play a physical game, and, most importantly they know how to deal with the psychological and media pressure that come with being the leaders.
In the 2008/09 season, Liverpool had a comfortable lead at the top of the table, yet their season unravelled after Rafael Benitez, before facing Manchester United, used a press conference to reel out all of the favourable refereeing decisions United had been granted in previous meetings between the sides.
United proceeded to coast to their record-equalling 18th title. Obviously Rafa's words didn't cost Liverpool the championship; but it indicated a lack of familiarity with how to handle being at the top. Similarly, in recent weeks, club ambassador Patrick Vieira, along with Mancini have produced similar comments, accusing officials of having a pro-United bias, with Mancini stating that 'big clubs' get away with things that others don't. Not only did these statements indicate an intense insecurity, and provide ammunition for Ferguson to get his team psyched up, but highlight that City still don't see themselves as a 'big club'; as we arrive at 'squeaky bum time', Mancini's team are being found out as just noisy neighbours.
If City's external image has been one of insecurity, their internal structure has been utterly chaotic. A recent catalogue of incidents have shown the inherent instability at Eastlands; from Gareth Barry petulantly hurling his boots off after being substituted against Swansea, to Mario Balotelli almost starting an on-pitch brawl with his own teammate Aleksandar Kolarov after being denied the chance to take a free-kick against Sunderland, City haven't looked like a team but a mere collection of individuals. That is the inevitable consequence of the way City have done their business.
Mancini, with the backing of the club's mega-rich Arab owners has assembled a team in the manner of someone playing FIFA 12, signing up some of the world's biggest stars (and biggest egos), just because he could. But this approach has resulted in a collection of individuals rather than a team, as the aforementioned incidents, and crucially the Carlos Tevez affair have highlighted. Mancini's willingness to bring the Argentine forward back into the fold is symbolic of why City have capitulated; a focus on instant success so blinkered that there has been no attempt to cultivate a team and the spirit that comes with it.
The old cliché seems true that 'money can't buy you success'; whilst Alex Ferguson often spends big, he does it in a more sensible and targeted way, and rather than perennially bringing in draft after draft of new players, identifies weaknesses in his team and seeks a long-term solution (see the signing of Phil Jones to bolster United's defensive line and in the process fill the spot for the next decade). Manchester United seem to understand that in order to be successful, you need to produce a team, through the blooding of young players, a structured transfer policy and, crucially, ensuring a cool head is kept as the pressure mounts. On recent evidence, unless drastic changes are made, it will take Manchester City a very long time to achieve the same.