Still No. 2? City plays for Premier League title

Manchester City always seems to be second best in its own

backyard, like a little brother overshadowed by his bigger and

stronger sibling.

He’s already done the things you want to do, and has done them

better anyway. And when you finally do something he hasn’t done?

Well, he’d probably beat that, too.

In England’s third biggest city, Manchester United always seems

to one-up Manchester City.

What happened when City won its most recent English league title

in 1968? United won the European Cup, the most prestigious trophy

in club football.

The season City was promoted to the Premier League after four

years away? United won it, for the 13th of its 19 league

titles.

That time City convinced Argentina striker Carlos Tevez to ditch

United and move across town? United still beat City in the League

Cup semifinals, and went on to win the trophy.

United’s dominance over its neighbor was even on display at Old

Trafford, the stadium nicknamed the ”Theatre of Dreams.” Hanging

from the stands was an annually updated banner counting the years –

it had reached 34 when it was finally brought down last season –

since City last won a trophy of any kind.

But little brother looks set to come out on top Sunday in the

world’s most popular league. After decades of watching its biggest

rival lift trophy after trophy, City can win the English Premier

League title in its final match of the season with a victory

against struggling Queens Park Rangers.

”I came to City to make history,” said Yaya Toure, the driving

force in City’s midfield. ”I want to win it for our fans.”

Satisfyingly for those fans, there is almost no chance of being

upstaged this time because of United’s failure to win the Champions

League or either of England’s domestic cup competitions. Instead,

City can become English champion for the first time in 44 years and

leave United empty-handed for the first time in seven seasons – a

remarkable reversal in a city where red has been the color of

success for more than a generation.

”Forty-four years is unbelievable,” Toure said. ”It is too

many years.”

The difference these days, of course, is money. City’s abundance

of it and United’s lack of it.

While United is still paying interest on debt incurred in the

2005 takeover by the Glazer family that also owns the Tampa Bay

Buccaneers, City has spent about 400 million pounds ($635 million)

on new players since being bought by in 2008 by Sheik Mansour, a

member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family.

”No one can match their financial resources. No one,” United

manager Alex Ferguson said. ”We have to accept that and try to do

things in a different way.”

City, however, knows all too well that money doesn’t necessarily

bring success. After all, the club paid a then British record 1.44

million pounds (then about $3 million) for Steve Daley in 1979. The

midfielder buckled under the pressure of the giant fee and left for

the Seattle Sounders in the NASL 20 months later, his European

career in ruins.

What matters this time around is that City has spent money

well.

Despite the flop of Brazil striker Robinho after a

British-record 32.5 million pound (about $60 million) transfer from

Real Madrid, the Abu Dhabi United owners were undeterred.

Tevez and Argentina teammate Sergio Aguero were brought in,

backed up in attack by Italy firebrand Mario Balotelli. And even

Edin Dzeko, a Bosnian who is the least known and least trumpeted

member of City’s forward quartet, has 13 Premier League goals this

season – more than any United player other than Wayne Rooney.

Under manager Roberto Mancini, City brought in Ivory Coast’s

Toure, Aguero, Dzeko, Spain midfielder David Silva and France

forward Samir Nasri. That depth helped City when Tevez stormed off

in September, apparently the only player unable to accept a place

on the bench.

Tevez is back, and is likely to start Sunday when City walks

onto the field looking for only its third league title in 132

years.

It’s a head-spinning turnaround for fans who watched as United

won two Champions League titles, 12 Premier League trophies, eight

FA Cups and four League Cups since City was last champion of

England.

Even then, years before anyone on the current squad was born,

George Best and Bobby Charlton were doing their best to upstage

their neighbors. With Best and Charlton leading the way, United

beat Benfica 4-1 to win the European Cup – two weeks after City

completed its last championship season.

But City’s spell as a contender didn’t last long, and the club

spent much of the 1980s and ’90s bouncing like a yo-yo between the

top two divisions. Only 14 years ago, City became the first former

winner of a European competition to fall into its country’s

third-tier league.

United fans were almost too busy to stop and laugh, with

Ferguson on his way to making the Red Devils the most successful

club England has ever seen. Ferguson has regarded Liverpool, Leeds,

Arsenal and even Chelsea as more important rivals to United and

only recently upgraded City from ”noisy neighbors” to ”direct

opponents.”

At the moment, both City and United have 83 points, but City has

the advantage on goal difference. So if City fails to beat QPR on

Sunday, United can outdo its hometown rivals once more if it beats

Sunderland.

”We have one match left to play at home and we have to deliver

in this game,” Toure said.

This may not be the last laugh, but little brother is definitely

growing up.