City eyes domination as United reflects on failure

By Rob Harris

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 14 2012 10:11 a.m. MDT

A Manchester City supporter is forced to smile before his team's English Premier League soccer match against Queens Park Rangers at The Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday May 13, 2012. Manchester City won the game and in so doing the English Premier League for the first time in 44 years.

Jon Super, Associated Press

LONDON — It took goal difference to determine the destination of the Premier League trophy, but ending a 44-year championship drought has cemented Manchester City's status as English soccer's emerging force.

After enduring relegations and financial chaos while United won 12 of the last 19 English titles, the "noisy neighbors" derided by Alex Ferguson finally have something to shout about.

And the 70-year-old Manchester United manager will have to get used to it as he puts a brave face on being denied the title for the first time by City.

Ferguson insists he can rise to the task of restoring United's long-standing supremacy in English soccer and wrest the trophy from a team owned by Abu Dhabi interests.

Sergio Aguero's title-winning goal in stoppage time Sunday against Queens Park Rangers sent ripples around the world, from the Etihad Stadium to the Gulf oil wells that have funded the unprecedented $1 billion rejuvenation of City the last three years.

"It was absolutely incredible," striker Carlos Tevez said. "This club have got the players that can win lots of trophies, this is a real big step towards that."

A year after the FA Cup ended a 35-year wait for any sort of major trophy, City can now start focusing on becoming a power beyond British shores.

"I hope City will become a great club in the world," midfielder Yaya Toure said.

But they have a long way to go to catch United, which missed out on a 20th English title on Sunday as City collected its third.

"The history of our club stands us aside," Ferguson said. "We don't need to worry about that. I think we have a rich history, better than anyone and it'll take them a century to get to our level of history."

But the City trophy cabinet could start filling quickly in the coming years. Success is likely to come down to clever accounting.

There is no doubting Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan's wealth, but European soccer's governing body is determined to put a stop to such lavish spending sprees. City recorded a loss of $308 million in the 2010-11 financial year and the club risks being excluded from the Champions League by UEFA from 2014 if those excesses aren't curbed under UEFA's financial fair-play rules.

Curbing the excesses of his players is another priority for Mancini to ensure another season is not again blighted by rebellious or erratic behavior in the locker room.

Mario Balotelli and Tevez, a former United player, were to parade the Premier League trophy around Manchester on Monday night despite so nearly costing City the title.

Tevez's unauthorized six-month absence after refusing to resume warming up in a Champions League game at Bayern Munich in September not only undermined Mancini's authority but was a constant distraction. Balotelli continued to get into scrapes on and off the field: from red-card bust ups to a bizarre firework-induced blaze in his bathroom.

Mancini had said both were finished as City players, but both reaffirmed their commitment to the club after the 3-2 victory over QPR on Sunday.

"I am very, very happy," said Tevez, the former captain who failed to engineer an exit in the January transfer window.

How United could do with Tevez back in the team again.

City's collection of top talent makes it all the more remarkable United managed to maintain its duel with City until the final seconds of the season's 38th game.

While City owner Sheik Mansour has flooded the transfer market with his petrodollars and lavished his stars with bumper pay packets, a more frugal approach exists at Old Trafford, where United's money-making might is not always reflected in the cash spent strengthening the squad.

"The season we've just finished has been a miracle," United defender Patrice Evra said. "People were saying it was going to be the worst season but we are nine points better off than last year and we've scored more goals.

"We only think we've failed because we haven't won. Winning is the Manchester United spirit, it's the Manchester United way. It doesn't matter if you've only got one leg, you have to win. If I played for another team then maybe we'd say well done for coming second."

But Wayne Rooney was the team's only truly consistent attacking threat this season, contributing the goal that clinched Sunday's 1-0 victory over Sunderland and so nearly a second straight title, while Javier Hernandez failed to match his scoring exploits of the previous season.

The failure to lure a midfielder such as Wesley Sneijder led to Paul Scholes being persuaded to come out of retirement in January, while there is a continued reliance on another veteran approaching 40, Ryan Giggs.

That United had hauled City back into the title contention to take an eight-point lead in April will make it all the more frustrating for Ferguson that they finished second best.

Ferguson is now 70, but has no plans to surrender to City.

"They know I'm not going away," he said.

The battle resumes in three months.

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