Manchester derby pits a commercial machine against a footballing one

The Manchester derby pits a commercial machine against a footballing one… so how closer are City and United to closing the gap on each other in those respective areas?

  • Manchester City travel to Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday
  • United won the reverse fixture, but are 15 points behind their rivals
  • While City have flourished on the pitch in recent seasons, United are still the envy of every club in the world when it comes to their commercial arm
  • Here, Sportsmail looks at how the rivals compare on and off the pitch 

If Manchester had one club that combined City’s playing squad with United’s global popularity and financial revenues, they’d be unstoppable.

Fortunately for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool, Manchester is split into two – with the blue and red sides both strong in certain areas, but weaker in others.

City go into Sunday’s derby at Old Trafford with world class players who have won the last two Premier League titles and are joint-favourites to win the Champions League.

Pep Guardiola celebrates with his Manchester City players after their recent Carabao Cup win

But they haven’t got the worldwide fanbase of their rivals and are accused by UEFA of massaging financial figures to artificially inflate income.

United on the other hand have one of sport’s best brands but can only look with envy at the City dressing-room with names like Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.

Sportsmail assesses how United and City compare on and off the field ahead of their big showdown.

City and United have the most expensive squads in the Premier League with City’s costing £880million and United £700million.

On current record, you have to say City’s investment has been much sounder, having won two Premier League titles, three League Cups and the FA Cup since Pep Guardiola arrived in 2016.

In contrast, United finished 32 points behind City in sixth place last season and are 15 points adrift of their rivals again, despite winning at The Etihad earlier this season.

Six City players were in last season’s PFA team of the year; Ederson, Aymeric Laporte, Fernandinho, Bernardo Silva, Sterling and Sergio Aguero. 

De Bruyne missed large chunks of the campaign through injury but has been back to his best in recent months and is among a select number of Premier League stars who can be genuinely hailed as world class.

Kevin De Bruyne has proved his world class talent once again this season after injury problems

Record signing Paul Pogba was United’s only representative in the most recent PFA team but he has hardly played this season because of injury and has flirted with a move away from Old Trafford.

City aren’t perfect. Their recent big-money signings Riyad Mahrez, Rodri, Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo have a lot to do to replicate the golden generation of Vincent Kompany, Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure.

Neither are United without hope. Bruno Fernandes has made a very good impression since his January move from Sporting Lisbon and Marcus Rashford will be important when he returns from a back injury.

But overall there is a gap in class between the two squads. Apart from Harry Maguire, you’d be hard-pushed to think of many United players who would currently get in a joint-XI. That may change over the next two or three years.


City score big in this department, of course. Guardiola will go down as one of the all-time greats having led Barcelona to two Champions League triumphs, winning three straight Bundesliga titles at Bayern Munich, and then revolutionising the Premier League and making Manchester City the first, and so far only, team to break a hundred points.

Guardiola hasn’t built City around one superstar, as he did at Barca with Lionel Messi, but produced a team that can press to win the ball back, and rarely gives it away again.

He has pushed tactical boundaries, from goalkeeper Ederson using his feet to his full-backs pushing up like wingers. He has further improved stars like Aguero and Sterling, who were already top-drawer.

Guardiola’s intensity and inventiveness make him a manager most of the world’s leading players would like to play for.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can’t begin to compete with that glamour having previously been in charge of Cardiff and Molde.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was given a chance at Manchester United despite a limited c.v.

His main strength is knowing the ethos of Manchester United having played for the club and winning the Treble in 1999. That will help the development of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and other academy graduates. There is talk of a better culture around the club.

The question is whether Solskjaer will be able to attract the very biggest names to Old Trafford. It was deemed significant that his fellow Norwegian Erling Haaland chose to join Borussia Dortmund in January.


United and City both have problems in this area, but in vastly different ways.

United’s owners, the Glazer family from America, were unpopular with large sections of the fanbase from the moment they bought the club in 2005, loading £540million borrowing on a debt-free business, costing more than £1billion in interest, fees and refinancing penalties since.

For a long time, Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill were able to maintain the club’s on-pitch success until both left in 2013, leaving the new executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to cop the flak for United’s deterioration.

He is regarded as an astute businessmen, even finding revenue in noodle partners. Nonetheless he has made poor footballing decisions – he hired and fired three managers before turning to Solskjaer.

Ed Woodward’s home was targeted by protesting Manchester United fans earlier this season

Earlier this season, there was an unsavoury protest outside Woodward’s home. The backlash from that halted protests inside Old Trafford for the time being. However, failure to qualify for the Champions League would once again lead to fingers pointing at the directors’ box.

In contrast, City fans are happy with the massive investment Sheikh Mansour and his Abu Dhabi group have made towards the club since their takeover in 2008, despite Mansour only attending one match in person.

However, that hasn’t halted criticism of City being artificially pumped up by a nation-state, the United Arab Emirates. Besides outside political concerns on human rights, UEFA has become concerned about how City have continued to spend heavily under financial fairplay regulations.

The governing body recently handed City a two-year Champions League ban after they were found guilty of overstating their sponsorship revenues in accounts submitted between 2012 and 2016. City are appealing.

Long-term, if the ban is upheld and City supporters begin to debate whether the owners are gambling with the club’s proud reputation, the owners may no longer have the unquestioning support of their fanbase.


United trump their nouveau riche rivals despite a relatively recent lack of success in the biggest competitions.

Manchester City have proved themselves noisy neighbours off the pitch, but still have a long way to go off it. Instead, their business model is based on building the City franchise worldwide via new clubs in New York, Melbourne and Mumbai.

That may assist the overall City brand but not necessarily help Manchester City close the gap on Manchester United.

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak (left) in discussion with CEO Ferran Soriano

United are a phenomenon but there are a few worrying signs that prolonged lack of success – it’s seven years since they were last league champions – may eventually hurt them in the pocket.

Figures from Deloitte indicated United slipped into the third in the world’s money league in 2017-18, their revenues of £666million eclipsed by Real Madrid and Barcelona.

City stood fifth in the same table on £568.4million but until the UEFA FFP investigation has been exhausted and the result of City’s appeal is known, such figures have to be treated with caution.

The fear for the two Manchester clubs is if the revival at Liverpool continues under Jurgen Klopp, they may take support and commercial deals away from both of them.

Globally, it can takes a generation for fans to switch clubs on a massive scale. United still pack out stadiums around the world, with fans from Asia to America waiting at hotels for a glimpse of the club’s stars. It was a major reason for United to sign Pogba, and why they are reluctant to let him go.

City supporters are often outnumbered in pre-season games in Europe and America against more traditional powerhouses.

Judging levels of support isn’t always a scientific exercise. But United have 21.2million twitter followers compared to City’s 7.7million. That seems a decent guide to where both clubs are at.


Old Trafford is known as the Theatre of Dreams and for many years has boasted the biggest capacity of any club ground in England, and also the greatest sense of occasion.

Not just for United but the Three Lions also, most notably the 2001 World Cup qualifier against Greece when David Beckham became a national treasure.

However, modern stadiums like the new White Hart Lane at Tottenham and the rebuilt Anfield has made Old Trafford look a little tired and stale.

Despite its grandeur, Old Trafford is need of major renovations. Here, the roof leaks in 2012

It’s been reported that prospective buyers of United have factored in £200million as necessary expenditure to bring the stadium into the 21st Century.

There has been no significant upgrade since 2006 and last season the club were forced to repair a leaky roof.

The Etihad, originally built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, has had its capacity extended since the new ownership, with concepts like the Tunnel Club introduced where well-heeled fans can look up and see Aguero as they finish dinner.

City also benefit from good transport links provided by tram. Though older fans still can’t get used to why the stop is called ‘Etihad Campus’ rather than ‘City Stadium’.


Perceptions are considered important in many aspects of modern life, nowhere more so than in elite level football with so much money and political reputation at stake.

United have different layers of public relations expertise feeding into Ed Woodward and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with former journalist and Sky Sports presenter Neil Ashton appointed as a PR adviser in addition to the full-time media and communications staff already employed by the club.

Top of his in-tray has been reducing the increasingly hostile protests against the Glazers and Woodward occurring during matches at Old Trafford.

City’s PR is even more complex, given that the club’s reputation impacts on the whole United Arab Emirates region. Their rulers are using the football club as a vehicle to attract tourism and business.

Simon Pearce, a member of the City Football Club board, is an Australian public relations expert who for many years has been at the heart of Abu Dhabi’s strategic communications.

His name has cropped up in the FFP story and he is understood to have formulated City’s confrontational strategy in which they’ve argued UEFA’s punishment was pre-judged, with Europe’s ‘old money’ clubs keen to reduce City’s power.

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