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Smith: Manchester Derby a red-letter game in US

DERBY DAY: How is the Manchester derby viewed in the US?

DERBY DAY: How is the Manchester derby viewed in the US?

Ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby, we spoke to the New York Times’ Rory Smith about the how game is viewed in the US.

Rory, it's a pleasure to have you on. I wanted to start with how this game is viewed in the US. Is the Manchester derby a big deal out there?

Yeah, it’s one of the red-letter games of the season, really. In terms of ratings it’ll be towards the top. It’s definitely be up there as one of the key fixtures and I can certainly say it’s a big game regardless but even more so this year as there seems so few opportunities where City will drop points so there’s a sense it takes on an extra dimension.

It’s not really a title showdown because City and United are competing for different things this year but there’s a sense it’s one of those days where City might be tested in a way that they’re often not.

It’ll always be one of the big fixtures, which I think is a relatively new thing. I suspect 10 years ago it probably wouldn’t have been. It would’ve been more of a Liverpool v Everton derby due to its historic and traditional fixture but not one that really engages people, but now with City’s success and the Guardiola v Mourinho thing the storylines pull together.

Is local rivalry and the fierceness of it in this country fully understood in America, given it's such a vast nation? 

I have to be careful as I’m not American but they have the concept and they have the derby game, like Red Sox and Yankees, which is a nationwide rivalry. But they tend to be more related to things like Barcelona and Real Madrid – they’re two cities who represent different things or dynasties like the Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in basketball.

In terms of actual local derbies is less common because it’s rare that there will be two team close together in the same division. The better parallel is like with college sport which attracts lots and lots of fans.

The concept is there but whether it’s as intense for fans in the states I don’t know, it’s difficult to say as an outsider. If you go to a Red Sox v Yankees game the experience of being a fan is so different that it’s not as intense, it’s a genuine rivalry and a genuine dislike but it’s not quite as emotional and defining as it is in football.

In America that’s partly because teams play each other a lot and they don’t mean a huge lot, whereas the Manchester derby only happens twice in a season and carries huge weight with it.

The MLS have tried to introduce rivalry weeks where NYCFC play the Red Bulls and Portland play Seattle, and they try to have these games all around each other and get that ‘derby spirit’ to show that derbies are unique to football, while the sense of rivalry isn’t.

It’s not a new concept but it’s a unique selling point for football that those games exist. The Manchester derby translates across the pond with the awareness that it’s a very European thing with a city being split down the middle.

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Give me an insight into Manchester City’s image and status out in the US?

They have such a reputation that people now want to watch as City have got players people want to see and a manager that people worship who has a massive following of his own. There’s an understanding that City is now at the highest level of football. There are still more popular clubs but the reputation pays off 5 or 10 years down the line when you’ve got a generation who grew up with City. Then you’ve got people who love City, watch City and teach their kids to love City as well.

It may take time to translate but it’s growing. I think having New York City helps as well as it’s a sense that City Football Group are interested in America, rather than teams who just come of a tour in the summer. City are involved properly in the country and that probably helps.

Given you're the first-ever European football writer in the States, is it fair to say the game is becoming increasingly important out there?

America is a really big country and there are four really important sports – ice hockey being low down in those four – but you don’t have to just like one, you can like NFL and watch the baseball.

In England we use this idea that football is the be-all and end-all and is the only sport which fills the papers and the only sport which has dedicated radio shows and all that stuff. US media doesn’t work like that, but I think what’s happened in the past 20 years with the rise of Latin communities in the states – which are heavily interested in football – they then pass that down.

There has been success in the women’s game and also a big influence is the internet, as that now means that people who couldn’t watch game before now have access to the games and results - you can look at Twitter, you can go on websites, or British papers’ websites. You don’t’ have to be in Manchester to follow City and that has increased the popularity.

It’s always been more than what people realise but now we are seeing it.

Does football ever get the front page of the New York Times sport pull-out? 

It depends on the story or what’s going on, obviously, but one of the hardest things is getting hang of the American sporting schedule. All sports writers know the way the British calendar works, but getting used to the US calendar is really hard.

I did a thing with Ilkay Gundogan about a year ago and that was on the front page, and I remember the Barcelona comeback v PSG got the front page.

What have you made of City so far this season?

They have got better from last season. They haven’t succumbed to complacency which is so easy to go when you win the title, especially so easily.

The players have kicked on, and they’re not far off that perfect run. They’ve played three of their direct contenders away from home and haven’t lost.

The best measure of how good City are is that you’ve got Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham all having their best start to the season so far, Arsenal haven’t lost since the second round of fixtures, they’ve all got insane points tallies and yet City are setting this excellent pace.

Fve teams are doing extraordinarily well, and because the team at the top is so imperious, you lose sight of how well these other teams are doing and that helps you gauge how good City are.

They’re the sort of team you always talk about and the team we will remember. Whatever happens this year or next year, they will always be in that conversation along with Arsenal’s Invincibles, the United treble winning side, Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea side.

And, finally, a word on David Silva, a player who gets better and better. Sum up his quality.

I’m intrigued why more people don’t talk about whether he is the best foreign player to ever play in the Premier League. He should certainly be in the conversation.

You could argue Cantona was more transformative, or that Henry was more explosive. Ronaldo was probably the player with the highest natural ability but we could argue whether we saw Ronaldo at his peak.

But Silva deserves a mention in that sort of company. At some point we will reflect back that he is one of the best foreign player - Bergkamp, I think, and Drogba would need to be mentioned in that conversation as well - but he’s in that calibre of player and he’s maybe somebody we don’t appreciate enough. It’s the same with City: this is a great team and we should appreciate what we’ve got.

The opinions published here are personal to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester City Football Club.

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