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Manchester City, greatest in the world? No way

 Manchester City's Carlos Tevez, react's after being defeated by Manchester United at the end of  their English League Cup second leg soccer match at ...
 Manchester City's Carlos Tevez, react's after being defeated by Manchester United at the end of their English League Cup second leg soccer match at O...
 Manchester United's Michael Carrick, second from left at bottom, reacts after scoring a goal with fellow team members during their English League Cup...

BRITAIN SOCCER LEAGUE CUP

Manchester City's Carlos Tevez, react's after being defeated by Manchester United at the end of their English League Cup second leg soccer match at ...

BRITAIN SOCCER LEAGUE CUP

Manchester City's Carlos Tevez, react's after being defeated by Manchester United at the end of their English League Cup second leg soccer match at O...

BRITAIN SOCCER LEAGUE CUP

Manchester United's Michael Carrick, second from left at bottom, reacts after scoring a goal with fellow team members during their English League Cup...

A very ill-advised football boast was made recently in a New York bar by the chief executive of newly rich club Manchester City. Merrily counting entire farms of chickens before they hatch, Garry Cook didn't even look like he'd been drinking.
"This football club is going to be, without doubt, the biggest and the best football club in the world," Cook declared to a gathering of City fans who seemingly had drunk enough to cheer as if they actually believed every word.
"I'll make no excuses for saying it."
Given how Manchester United put its noisy neighbor back in its place this week, in one of the most dramatic matches this season will deliver, Cook must be feeling sorry now.
Ultimately, all Cook proved is that the only cheap thing left in football these days is talk. Dethroning institutions _ because that is what they are _ such as United, Real Madrid, AC Milan or Barcelona is going to be far, far more expensive. Possibly too costly even for the deep wells of Abu Dhabi oil money being drained to refloat City, write off its debts and give the club's long suffering fans something they've dared not harbor for years: hope.
The bill so far: nearly 400 million pounds ($630 million).
What Cook clearly hasn't grasped is that knocking Manchester's Reds off their perch, as United's Alex Ferguson himself once famously said of his ambition to humble Liverpool, will take more than a fat book of those outsized cardboard checks that are handed to grinning lottery winners. Buying consistent year-in, year-out success isn't as simple as taking a trip to the supermarket.
City are sixth in the Premier League ahead of this Sunday's game against bottom-dwellers Portsmouth, 13 points behind leader Chelsea but tantalizingly close to a qualifying spot for Champions League football next season. As a school report might say: not bad, could do better.
It will take years for City to construct anything even close to the legacy and the cluttered trophy cabinet that Ferguson has given United in 24 seasons in charge. It may never happen.
It will take time, maybe years for City to cultivate the winning mentality that Ferguson has built into a habit cross-town at United. Not by chance over the decades have his teams been masters of scoring late winning goals. Under Ferguson, they have learned not to give up as the clock ticks down.
Remember Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer's stoppage-time strikes that won the Champions League in 1999? That 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich spawned another of Ferguson's famous quotes: "Football, bloody hell!"
This season, Michael Owen came off the bench to score six minutes beyond regulation for a 4-3 triumph in September, and Wayne Rooney put United into the final of the League Cup with a stoppage time header in a fevered Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
Both of those wins came against _ who else? _ City.
So much for Cook's silly New York talk of beating United "yet again."
"You like to win your derby games," Ferguson responded after Wednesday's 3-1 victory. "The fact that we scored so late in the game brought a special type of celebration."
What Ferguson is playing down, however, is that City is a longer-term concern. And rightly so.
The financing by Abu Dhabi royal family member Sheikh Mansour gives City spending power that United, deep in debt, is struggling to match. One reason Ferguson says he has not spent heavily this season is because he feels that player prices are too high _ inflation City surely didn't help by paying a British-record fee for forward Robinho and so handsomely for the likes of Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure.
The challenge mounted by the cross-city pretenders also means United has yet another front to fight on. One front too many? Ideally, Ferguson might have liked to rest stars like Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes on Wednesday to keep them fresh for the Premier League match against Arsenal this weekend. But instead, with so much rivalry and pride on the line, they all played for the full 90 minutes. Although the final result, as United's Web site gloated, offered "hard evidence that Manchester's football hierarchy remains intact," Ferguson's team selection showed how seriously he takes the City threat.
Should Arsenal win this Sunday because United is short on juice and should that defeat help ensure that Chelsea wins the Premier League this season then at least City will have the modest consolation of knowing that, in its own small way, it may have contributed to the champions' downfall.
But that is a long, long way from City becoming "the biggest and the best football club in the world."
So until then, Mr. Cook, a little modesty, please.
___
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org.


Updated : 2020-12-01 20:25 GMT+08:00